1. Mattino (2:09)
2. Caduta massi (6:07)
3. Dal recinto (3:58)
4. Palude del diavolo (4:14)
5. Tema dei campi (5:01)
6. Ed io non c’ero (4:59)
7. Dite a mia moglie (5:05)
8. Il giardino disincantato (8:43)
9. Sopra tutto e tutti (9:01)
10. Per mano conduco Matilde (4:35)
11. Terre emerse (Bolero primo) (7:43)
Valeria Marzocchi – flute, piccolo, vocals
Nicola Bimbi – oboe, English horn
Lorenzo Del Pecchia – clarinet, bass clarinet
Maicol Pucci – trumpet, flugelhorn
Stefano Giannotti – lead vocals, classical and electric guitars, banjo, componium, harmonica, synth, teponatzli, metallophone, plastic bottle
Emanuela Lari – piano, organ, vocals
Valentina Cinquini – harp, vocals
Gabriele Michetti – bass guitar, double bass, vocals
Matteo Cammisa – drums, xylophone, tympani
Thomas Bloch – glass harmonica (1)
The name OTEME – an almost-acronym for Osservatorio delle Terre Emerse (Observatory of Dry Lands) – will in all likelihood not ring familiar to most progressive rock fans, even though the ensemble’s founder, Stefano Giannotti, has had a long and distinguished career in the field of contemporary music. Hailing from the beautiful medieval city of Lucca in Italy’s Tuscany, Giannotti has been writing and performing music for over 30 years, and his work – which encompasses songs, orchestral scores, chamber music, radio and video art, and much more – has received numerous international awards, especially in Germany. OTEME is one of his most recent projects, begun in 2010, though the compositions were developed over a period of about 21 years. The ensemble’s debut album, Il giardino disincantato (The Disenchanted Garden), was recorded in 2011, and finally released in 2013 by independent French label Edd Strapontins (internationally distributed by Ma.ra.cash Records).
Il giardino disincantato’s lavish, lovingly assembled packaging goes to show that fortunately not everyone subscribes to the theory of the visual aspect of music-making (embodied, in this case, by the “physical” CD) being on its way out. With his extensive artistic background (which includes videomaking), Giannotti obviously still believes in the partnership of music and visuals. The 27-page booklet features gorgeous photography that juxtaposes nature and everyday objects (such as the vintage saucepan that represents the “dry lands” in the ensemble’s name, in a modern take on the classic still life), as well as detailed notes and all the lyrics in both Italian and English. The understated elegance of the package, blending minimalism and an appealing “shabby chic” feel, will whet the listener’s appetite, hinting at the nature of the musical content while avoiding sensory overload.
Right from the very first notes of Il giardino disincantato, Stefano Giannotti’s mastery of a wide range of expressive modes becomes evident. Though he is credited as the sole writer, the album is very much a group effort. The richly variegated instrumentation merges traditional rock and classical/chamber music staples with rare instruments such as the componium (a programmable music box) and the teponatzli, an Aztec wooden drum. However, Giannotti’s understated yet well-modulated voice works much as an additional instrument, assisted by the ethereal backing vocals contributed by some (mostly female) band members. His interpretation of the beautiful lyrics – fusing literate references with an everyday, matter-of fact tone, and making full use of the many distinctive features of the Italian language – is riveting in its simplicity, far removed from the theatrics to which many prog and avant-garde singers are prone. While listening to the album, I was occasionally reminded of Franco Battiato’s effortless mix of the popular and the highbrow.
Though not a concept album, Il giardino disincantato should be heard as a whole rather than by picking and choosing songs in the manner of the iPod generation. In fact, even if the various tracks date back from different times, they work seamlessly rather than coming across as a disparate collection of items. The intriguing minimalism of opener “Mattino” – in which Giannotti’s voice is accompanied by renowned French musician Thomas Bloch’s eerie glass harmonica – immediately catches the attention and prepares the listener for what is to come. Out of the album’s four instrumentals, “Caduta massi” and the title-track decidedly veer into RIO/Avant territory – the former’s angular, expressive texture interspersed by gentler moments with an appealing Canterbury tinge, the latter taking an almost free-jazz direction with its buoyant, blaring horns – while the haunting “Tema dei campi” evokes reminiscences of Oriental music and the rarefied “Terre emerse (Bolero Primo)” evidences a clear modern classical matrix.
On the other hand, the songs draw upon Italy’s rich singer-songwriter tradition, painting charmingly surrealistic images through Giannotti’s cultivated vocal delivery and a discreet yet unmistakable instrumental presence: the delightfully lilting “Dal recinto”, the delicately wistful “Palude del diavolo” and the wry “Dite a mia moglie”, where the voice is punctuated by English horn. “Per mano conduco Matilde” is a mesmerizing, minimalistic sound sculpture in which the intersecting five voices are complemented by the componium’s eerie tinkling. The 9-minute “Sopra tutto e tutti”, however, is the album’s highlight, bringing all the main components together in an easily flowing, irresistibly melodic song that subtly introduces elements of prog’s trademark intricacy through the seamless interplay of piano and woodwinds.
Even though Il giardino disincantato may have flown under the radar of most prog fans, especially those dwelling outside Europe, anyone who is keen to explore new challenging music should make an effort to get this album – in particular, those who in 2013 appreciated the likes of Five-Storey Ensemble’s Not That City and Francesco Zago’s project Empty Days. The excellent English translations in the booklet allow non-Italian speakers an insight into Giannotti’s thought-provoking lyrics, helping them to gain an even deeper appreciation for the essential synergy between words and music. A true gem (for the discovery of which I cannot thank my fellow writer Donato Zoppo enough) and one of the standout albums of 2013, Il giardino disincantato will be a treat for all discerning music lovers.