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Archive for June 9th, 2011

TRACKLISTING:
1. Overture 3.07
2. Il Tredici 11.46
3. Dark Age 6.18
4. The Guillotine 6.00
5. Timepiece 5.30
6. Sobriety 8.19
7. Tema 1.08
8. Steam 9.30

LINEUP:
Gadi Ben Elisha – electric and acoustic guitars, mandolin
Sagi Barness – bass guitar
Aviv Barness – keyboards, saxophone
Igal Baram – drums, percussion
Shem-Tov Levi – flute

With:
Michael Lam – English horn
Elinoy Yogev – bassoon

The name Sanhedrin will not fail to ring a bell with those who are familiar with the Gospels – either because of their religious upbringing or inclination, or for reasons of historical interest – as the name indicates the supreme court of ancient Israel by which Jesus Christ was tried. Though there are also three extreme metal outfits bearing the same name, this particular band (unlike the others, and like the original institution)  hails from Israel, a country whose contribution to the progressive rock scene has been steadily growing – especially in terms of quality – over the past few years.

Originally formed by brothers Sagi and Aviv Barness as a Camel tribute band, Sanhedrin soon started writing their own material, influenced by the golden era of progressive rock. After going through the usual turmoil of line-up changes, in 2006 they started recording their debut album. Four years in the making, Ever After was mixed and mastered by renowned Israeli sound engineer and  producer Udi Koomran, and completed in 2010 – to be released in February 2011 as on the Fading Records division of Italian label AltrOck Productions.

The musical connection between Sanhedrin and Camel will soon become evident even to a first-time listener. Andy Latimer’s crew, even if not as hugely influential on the younger generations of prog bands  as the likes of Genesis, Yes or ELP,  have clearly been a source of inspiration for many outfits who choose a more melodic direction while avoiding the excess of bombast that occasionally characterizes symphonic prog. Even if Camel have sometimes been rather unkindly indicted of being purveyors of ‘elevator prog’, or just a second-tier band lacking the clout of the bigger-name acts, it is undeniable that their restrained elegance has won over a lot of fans.

While Ever After may not be the most original album released in the past few months or so, it is definitely not overtly derivative – at least not as much as other albums which I have recently heard, and which are quite highly rated. Fading Records has been created for albums with a more traditional prog bent than the material usually issued by AltrOck Productions, and their first release, Ciccada’s A Child in the Mirror, was a stunning example of ‘retro-prog’ that managed not to sound like a carbon copy of the great Seventies bands. Ever After is much in the same vein, a classy product performed with impressive technical skill, yet exuding a sense of warmth and pastoral beauty that makes listening a genuinely enjoyable experience. While Camel are obviously the most relevant influence, on numerous occasions Pink Floyd (especially their early Seventies output) spring to mind, and echoes of early Genesis can also be detected. However, Sanhedrin also bring their own signature to the table: the ethnic references subtly scattered throughout the album (not just Middle Eastern, but also Celtic and central European) remind the listener of Israel’s multicultural milieu. Like Camel, the basic combination of guitar-bass-drums-keyboards is enhanced by the exquisitely soothing sound of the flute, with additional woodwinds also employed to add depth and dimension. Unlike the English band, though, Sanhedrin have opted for an exclusively instrumental format, which is quite an interesting choice, and a deviation from the standard symphonic tradition, where vocals play a rather important role.

As Israel is part of the Mediterranean region, it is not surprising to find echoes of vintage Italian prog right from the opening track, appropriately called “Ouverture”, together with a nice pinch of Middle Eastern spicing and jazzy touches. The 3-minute number sets the album’s mood very effectively, with its beautifully clear guitar tone, gentle flute and airy keyboards, the various sections flowing seamlessly into each other. The nearly 12-minute ”Il Tredici”, the longest track on the album (which runs at a very sensible 51 minutes), brings the Camel and Pink Floyd influences together in a majestic slice of gently melancholy symphonic prog, with magnificent Latimer- and Gilmour-inspired guitar leads and layers of keyboards. In spite of its slightly macabre title (suggested by the faint recorded sounds of an angry mob heard throughout the piece), “The Guillotine” alternates atmospheric, almost meditative moments with brisker ones driven along by organ and march-like drumming.

More ethnic influences emerge in the first half of “Dark Age”, possibly the highlight of the whole album, dedicated to fellow Israeli musician Arik Hayat of Sympozion, who committed suicide at the end of 2008. The lively, Celtic-tinged tune, described by lilting mandolin and flute, reminded me of some instances of Italian ‘minstrel’ Angelo Branduardi’s output, while the somber, organ-dominated mood of the middle section lifts towards the end, with a slightly dissonant passage suggestive of King Crimson. “Sobriety”, true to its title, merges the Celtic flavour of its flute-and-drum opening with the spacey yet majestic tone of Pink Floyd circa A Saucerful of Secrets (clearly referenced in a particular organ passage), and an intricate ending that brings martial drums and sharp, clear guitar to the fore. While “Timepiece” adds some almost tentative bouts of heavier riffing to a framework that combines the pastoral feel of Camel with the atmospheric mood of Pink Floyd, closing track “Steam” (introduced by the short acoustic interlude of “Tema”) explores definitely heavier territory, especially in its second half, where the assertive tone of the guitar and the subtle shifts in tempo commanded by bass and drums seem to suggest a running train; the electric piano section in the middle brought instead to my mind Ray Manzarek’s stunning performance in The Doors’ iconic “Riders on the Storm”.

While, as the previous paragraphs make it abundantly clear, Ever After may not be the most innovative proposition on the current prog scene, it is an album whose every note spells class and a deep love of the musical craft. A thoroughly enjoyable listen, highly recommended to fans of classic symphonic prog, especially those who lean more towards the instrumental side of things, it is an excellent debut from an equally excellent new band.

Links:
http://www.myspace.com/sanhedrin1

http://www.reverbnation.com/sanhedrin1

http://production.altrock.it/index.htm

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Bella Lee (3:34)
2. Parliamone (5:43)
3. Infraditi (7:36)
4. Fungo (6:42)
5 Cane di Schiena (6:32)
6. Pappa Irreale (2:27)
7. Antenna (7:59)
8. Klez (4:16)
9. Max Dembo (8:47)

LINEUP:
Filippo Cantarella – violin, viola
Marco Ravera – electric and acoustic guitar, synthesizer
Tommaso Rolando  – acoustic bass, electric bass, acoustic guitar, synthesizer, sampler, trumpet
Nando Magni – trombone
Nicola Magri – drums

With:
Cosimo Francavilla – soprano saxophone (2)
Antonio Carletti – weird vocals (7)

In my writings I have often mentioned the lively music scene of the great port of Genoa – not surprising for a city that, throughout its long history, has been one of the many melting pots of the Mediterranean region, bringing together East and West, North and South in a heady mixture of tradition and modernity. This is the kind of fertile ground from where Fabrizio De André’s Creuza de Ma, one of the undisputed masterpieces of the whole ‘world music’ scene, originated. Five-piece Calomito, a relatively recent addition to the variegated Italian music scene, bring an unique twist to the time-honoured musical heritage of their home town, with a sound that marries the warmth of the Mediterranean with a strong international bent.

Calomito have been around since the mid-2000, releasing their debut album, Inaudito, in 2005. After a five-year hiatus and some line-up changes, the band have made a comeback with Cane di Schiena, issued in the first half of 2011 by Milan-based label AltrOck Productions (also responsible for outstanding, cutting-edge releases such as Yugen’s three albums and mirRthkon’s Vehicle). Though they have been almost forcibly placed under the RIO/Avant umbrella, Calomito are one of those bands that – luckily for fans of genuinely interesting music, much less so for those who delight in labelling everything – are extremely hard to pigeonhole, due to their boldly eclectic approach to music-making.

As a fellow Italian reviewer  jokingly stated at the beginning of his own review of the album, you may want to consider taking a couple of days off in order to listen to Cane di Schiena properly. Indeed, though clocking in at a mere 53 minutes, the album presents an  incredibly dense (though never claustrophobic) amount of music which unfolds with each successive listen, and therefore devoid of any immediately digestible tunes. On the other hand, unlike what many believe about any kind of music that bears even a faint whiff of ‘avant-garde’, there is nothing discordant, abrasive or random about Calomito’s sound. Each of the tracks is clearly very carefully structured, as it is nearly always the case with ‘chamber rock’ outfits – a definition that, in my view, fits Calomito to a T. Like their label mates Yugen, they transcend the boundaries of the RIO/Avant classification, and should rather be seen as purveyors of eclectic yet oddly intimate music tha requires all of the listener’s attention to be fully appreciated.

This does not imply that Cane di Schiena is one of those deadly serious albums that command a quasi-religious devotion. Calomito’s humorous disposition, which descends directly from the likes of Stormy Six and Picchio dal Pozzo (as well as the Canterbury scene, which is also a clear musical influence), immediately comes across from titles such as “Pappa Irreale”(a pun on pappa reale, the Italian for “royal jelly”) or “Infraditi” (an intentionally ungrammatical spelling of the  word meaning “flip-flops”). The music itself, while quite light-hearted at times, can on occasion reach for a more subdued, sober tone. On the whole, Cane di Schiena comes across as a flawlessly executed album that never descends into a depressing or overly involved tone.

As is the case of other ‘chamber prog’ ensembles, Calomito employ a number of other instruments alongside the traditional rock trinity of bass, guitar and drums, assisted by various synthesizers. The substantial contribution of the horns evokes parallels with bands such as Miriodor, which emerge quite clearly right from the album’s opening track, “Bella Lee” – an incredibly dense 3 minutes of music; while the equally important role played by strings (violin and viola) brings instead to mind one of the best modern‘chamber rock’ outfits,  Seattle-based band Moraine, as well as vintage Frank Zappa. The more upbeat passages, suggesting a jazz-rock or Canterbury matrix, made me think of Forgas Band Phenomena, though Calomito sound slightly more angular than the French band. Furthermore, while Univers Zéro’s broodingly apocalyptic production seems to be the polar opposite in tone to Calomito’s essentially cheerful approach, Nicola Magri’s stunning, beyond-merely-propulsive drumming style cannot but evoke the way in which Daniel Denis supports the whole fabric of the Belgian outfit’s sound.

Trying to describe any of the nine tracks in detail would not do any of them justice. While “Infraditi” is probably the one track with the strongest connections to the RIO/Avant school of progressive rock – an astoundingly complex, 7-minute rollercoaster ride apparently throwing in anything but the proverbial kitchen sink, from carnival-like music to jazzy touches to jagged, almost dissonant passages – the somewhat low-key “Parliamone”, true to its title (meaning “let’s talk about it”) seems to reproduce a dialogue between two persons, with horns and synthesizers in the role of human voices. The choppy, dynamic “Fungo” exemplifies the way in which Calomito use pauses to create interest, rather than produce an impression of patchiness; while the title-track’s slow, meditative mood, some passages so low as to be barely audible, produces an intense, almost mesmerizing effect.

Especially in the second half of the album some intriguingly exotic influences show up, which bring to mind comparisons with Slivovitz, another über-eclectic Italian outfit hailing from Naples, my home country’s second biggest port (and musical capital). “ Pappa Irreale”’s lilting, dance-like pace punctuated by violin is sharply redolent of Irish folk, or even American country; and the upbeat, drum-driven “Klez”, as the title points out, contains elements of klezmer and Eastern European gypsy music. A folksy also tone emerges in parts of the initially low-key “Antenna”, possibly the most complex number on the album (and the only one briefly featuring ‘weird vocals’), ending with an exhilarating crescendo in which guitar, trombone and violin seem to engage in a sort of conversation. Closing track “Max Dembo” introduces some new elements, such as spacey sound effects that  enhance the powerful, rolling tone of the drums and the echoing guitar lines, as well as shades of Brazil in the relaxed, almost sultry pace of first half of the track.

In spite of the density of its musical content, Cane di Schiena is far from inaccessible, and – while undoubtedly a challenging listen – does not rely on spiky, jarring sounds to make its impact. There is plenty of melody to be found on the album, and the music possesses a natural flow and easy elegance that make listening a pleasure rather than a chore. Even though fans of traditional symphonic prog may be daunted by anything bearing the label of ‘avant-garde’, I would encourage everyone who loves progressive music to give Calomito a try. With their successful blend of technical skill, seemingly boundless creativity, eclectic influences and keen sense of humour, they are one of the most interesting bands heard in the past couple of years, and definitely one to watch.

Links:
http://www.calomito.com/

http://www.myspace.com/calomito

http://production.altrock.it/start.asp

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