1. Beginning (1:51)
2. Progressions (4:53)
3. What (2:23)
4. In Memoriam (5:39)
5. Guantanabu 1 (7:07)
6. Guantanabu 2 (1:38)
7. Guantanabu 3 (4:15)
8. Straviko (5:59)
9. Before the End (0:32)
10. Mereditika (7:34)
Carolina Restuccia – vocals
Pol González – vocals
Paul Torterolo – drums
Fernando Taborda – guitars
Nahuel Tavosnanska – bass
Alan Courtis – guitars
Carlos Lucero – guitars
Fabian Keroglian – vibraphone, percussion
Sebastian Schachtel – accordion
Sergio Catalán – flutes
Federico Landaburu – clarinet
Will Genz – bassoon, double bassoon
Mauro Rosales – soprano sax
Nolly Rosa – alto and baritone sax
Dana Najlis – clarinet
Mauro Zannoli – electronic processes
Chamber orchestra directed by Marcelo Delgado
Hailing from Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina (a city generally not associated with progressive music, rock or otherwise, in spite of its venerable musical tradition), Factor Burzaco are the brainchild of composer Abel Gilbert. However, Gilbert is not part of the impressive line-up performing on the band’s second album – while he was directly involved as a musician on Factor Burzaco’s debut, released in 2007 on the homegrown label Viajero Inmóvil. The album was greeted with lavish praise in RIO/Avant prog circles, and also managed to win over a few of the more conservative fans of ‘mainstream’ prog. Their sophomore effort, simply titled II, was recorded between 2008 and 2010, and released in the first half of 2011.
Calling Factor Burzaco a band in the rock sense of the word would be very limiting, as well as rather inaccurate. With a staggering sixteen musicians credited as playon on the album, the term ‘chamber ensemble’ would definitely sound more appropriate. Additionally, the music showcased on II only bears a slight resemblance to conventiona ‘progressive rock’, even more so than in the case of other RIO/Avant outfits. Though Abel Gilbert mentions bands like King Crimson and Henry Cow among his chief sources of inspiration, while listening to the album I was sharply reminded of the work of classical composers such as Debussy or Stravinsky (also listed by Gilbert as major influences on his writing).
Though the album, at under 40 minutes, is very short for today’s standards, it is definitely not an easy listening experience, not even for devotees of all things RIO/Avant. The 10 tracks, rather than as individual numbers, are meant to be seen as movements of a single composition, a true chamber piece that commands the utmost attention from the listener, and will not tolerate being relegated to the role of sonic wallpaper. Indeed, II is not for the faint-hearted, and will appeal to those who like music to stimulate the mind rather than the body. As the liner notes illustrate quite clearly, this is a highly intellectual musical effort, and not one for the casual listener.
Factor Burzaco’s most distinctive feature lies in Carolina Restuccia’s acrobatic, unconventional soprano, which has drawn comparisons to Kate Bush and Dagmar Krause. A couple of tracks also brought to mind another intriguing new band in a similar vein, Italian outfit Nichelodeon and their outstanding singer Claudio Milano. While Restuccia’s voice is pivotal to the fabric of the music, it does not dominate it, performing the function of an additional instrument rather than overwhelming the others. In a few tracks she is flanked by male vocalist, Pol González, which creates an intensely dramatic contrast imbued with a sort of skewed operatic quality.
In spite of the sheer number of musicians involved, the music on II comes across as somewhat minimalistic, and eminently sophisticated – the kind that you cannot just let run in the background and more or less ignore. Its complexity does not come from piling up elements, or packing more tempo changes into a single track than anyone can wrap their heard around. Its layers are gossamer thin, its moods a play of light and shade, the music itself forming sharp peaks and valleys of sound, with sudden climaxes and equally sudden pauses, moving from whispers to screams. Some passages are intensely cinematic, their sparse, ominous quality the perfect foil for some movie based on psychological horror rather than in-your-face gore. Though conventional melody may be thin on the ground, the dissonant patterns are expertly handled, so they never feel gratuitously jarring.
With an album of this nature, a detailed track-by-track description would be ineffective, as well as counterproductive. In fact, as previously intimated, II should be approached as a single composition divided into separate movements, the shorter ones intended as interludes or introductory pieces – as in the case of the aptly-titled “Beginning”, in which slowly mounting keyboards and vocals set the tone for the entire album – and making use of electronic effects to evoke a sense of anticipation or sheer tension. Mallet percussion instruments produce cascades of tinkling sounds to fill the pauses, while melancholy reeds paint delicate soundscapes reminiscent of Debussy – especially noticeable in “Straviko” and “Mereditika”, a magnificently atmospheric number that provides a perfect ending for the album. On the other hand, “In Memoriam” relies on the theatrical effect produced by vocal and guitar bursts interspersed by whispers; while “Guantanabu 1” and “Guantanabu 3” revolve around the stunning interplay of Restuccia and González’s voices emoting and chasing each other over a loose, haunting instrumental backdrop.
As the previous paragraphs should make it abundantly clear, Factor Burzaco’s sophomore effort is not recommended for those listeners who find it difficult to step outside their individual comfort zones. Those looking for the rock component in the ‘progressive rock’ definition are also quite likely to be disappointed, as II qualifies more as modern chamber music than conventional rock (though typical rock instruments such as guitar and bass are featured in the line-up). Open-minded, inquisitive listeners, on the other hand, will find a lot to love in this album, although it may need repeated spins in order to fully sink in. All in all, another excellent release from the ever-reliable AltrOck Productions, and a must for fans of RIO/Avant prog.