Welcome to O'2L, the dynamic collaboration of two extraordinary New York-based artists: pianist/keyboardist/sound designer Jane Mangini and guitarist Al Pitrelli. The duo's self-titled debut album on Peak Records is a revelation: an eclectic blend of jazz, world, rock, funk, electronica and new age. With boundary-bending prowess, Mangini, who composed and arranged the CD's 13 tunes, and Pitrelli, who textures the numbers with an array of guitar rhythms, riffs and leads, have fashioned a distinctive techno-acoustic style. The music of O'2L (pronounced o-tool) teems with samples, grooves with soul-jazz funk, speeds with fast beats and chills with atmospheric lyricism. The scope of the sonic diversity ranges from the upbeat, supersonic opening track "NYC/Dublin/NYC" to the charged then tender "Stolen Beat Box" to the sober piano melody "Something's Missing."
"It's difficult to categorize what we do," says Mangini, who studied music at Berklee College of Music in Boston, gigged in a variety of bands (including Jonathan Mover's trio) and learned the ins-and-outs of high-tech sound design writing TV and radio jingles for Bang Music. "O'2L has been evolving for the last three years as my compositional world has come together with the commercial world where I mastered music-making computer skills."
Pitrelli adds, "Jane's music expresses all the different facets of her personality. It's whimsical, aggressive, angry, sensitive. She comes up with the soundscapes and I add my guitar parts in service to her songs. It's a great partnership." Mangini agrees: "The pieces I write and arrange never make total sense until Al comes in and brings them to life."
A classically trained musician, Pitrelli has made his mark in the rock world performing with heavy metal groups like Megadeth and Savatage. He also worked with Alice Cooper, Asia and Dee Snider's group Widowmaker. Pitrelli says he plays rock for a living but finds the O'2L setting an "outlet to perfect the art form, to use an acoustic guitar or mandolin if a song calls for it." He jokes that you couldn't ask for two collaborators to come from more opposite worlds. "Jane is a great musician and composer as well as the Mozart of Madison Avenue," he says, then adds with a laugh, "and here she is recording an album with a spawn-of-Satan guitar player."
In fact, Mangini and Pitrelli collaborated previously in the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, the group best known for its Christmas Eve & Other Stories CD and tours that feature reworkings of traditional carols delivered in a hybrid style of classical, rock, R&B, Broadway and gospel music.
Mangini says O'2L grew from a small seed. "I was playing piano with a guitarist at a little place in the Village when Lyle Greenfield from Bang Music heard me. I sent him a demo of my work and he hired me to write music for a couple of commercials. I gave myself a crash course in learning how to use a computer program and was later hired fulltime as a sound designer." Her 9-to-5 job soon spilled over into her own creative pursuits. "In the commercial world, you have to turn around music quickly. I started to write my own material in the same way."
Mangini improvises chordal and solo structures on her keyboards and then experiments with various arrangements. "The arranging part is easy," she explains. "I slice up my own work and use various chunks. Then I experiment with lots of samples. Sometimes I'll play the samples in other octaves to get a different feel. I even create some tunes based on a strange-sounding sample that I then write around." When Pitrelli adds his parts, Mangini changes the arrangements again. "I hone in on what I want the tune to sound like. I start quick, then leave a piece alone. When I come back to it, I usually hear something new."
With the exception of a few musical guests (vocalists on two songs, a bassist on two and a trombonist on one), all the instrumentation on the CD is by Mangini and Pitrelli, who also co-produce. The O'2L journey begins with "NYC/Dublin/NYC," highlighted by a clipping beat, vocal snippets from a flight attendant, a peaceful piano-and-strings interlude, bagpipe samples, Mangini's fleet-fingered single-note piano runs and Pitrelli's sharp-edged guitar solo. "That's an example of experimenting with sounds and arrangements," says Mangini. "It's about the weekend trips that I take sometimes with my friend whose family lives in Dublin."
The funk-inflected "Shopping for Camels" features soul-jazz organ grooves, an acoustic piano excursion, an acoustic classical guitar break and hand-clap rhythms reminiscent of Miles Davis' circa-1970 funk fusion. The origin of the tune? An "Arabian music" patch on Mangini's Roland 1080 keyboard. The ballad "Fingerprints" is the only tune on the CD based on a commercial Mangini worked on, but she hastens to note that Pitrelli's contribution takes it to a whole new level.
Some tunes, such as the quiet and textured "Lullabye," the straight-ahead "Cecily" and the moody "Stories," started out as piano pieces. Others, like the lyrical "Crystal Stair" and "Stormy Monday," developed from Mangini's improvisational sketches. The funky, organ-driven "Aunt Jane," spiced by trumpet samples and Pitrelli's blazing electric guitar, includes Jane's aunt's voice on her message machine. "If I like a sound, I'll throw anything into the mix," says Mangini.
Other live-wire, high-energy tunes include the phat funk "Dream River" with trippy samples, acoustic guitar strums, electric guitar stings and a sparkling piano solo and "Somebody Dance with Lotti" with time and texture changes fueled by a hot dance groove.
It all adds up to a heady brew. Mangini notes that there are pockets of ambience throughout the CD, but jokes, "O'2L is way more heavy-handed than new age." As for coming up with the group's name, she says it's a long story. "Let's just say, we're fans of Peter O'Toole."