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TRACKLISTING:
1. Aria (2:09)
2. Biocosmopolitan (3:36)
3. Concrete Clima (4:26)
4. The Discordia (3:42)
5. Kerouac in New York City (3:13)
6. Is Difficult to Fly Without Whisky (3:26)
7. Dandy Dog (2:12)
8. Danny Is a Man Now (1:42)
9. Biocosmo (3:39)
10. Lovecity (2:47)
11. Springstorm (3:21)
12. The Miss Kiss (2:57)
13. My Barry Lindon (1:28)
14. Closin’ Theme (2:32)
15. Crosstown Traffic (bonus track) (4:03)
16. Biocosmo (English version – bonus track) (4:14)

Bonus video:
The Miss Kiss

LINEUP:
Boris Savoldelli – all vocals and vocal instruments, piano (9, 16)

With:
Jimmy Haslip – bass (2)
Paolo Fresu – trumpet, flugelhorn (3, 5)

At a first glance, Boris Savoldelli’s second solo album does not spell ‘progressive rock’. With 14 songs (plus two bonus tracks) between 1 and 4 minutes in length, and a rather minimalistic instrumental accompaniment, Biocosmopolitan looks light years away from the lushly orchestrated productions of the flag-bearers of the genre. Moreover, even if the output of New York-based MoonJune Records (one of the few authentically forward-thinking labels in the business) is frequently placed under the used-and-abused ‘prog’ umbrella, this album displays a somewhat different approach to music-making, one that tries to offers something genuinely original rather than a more or less successful replica of Seventies modes.

My first encounter with Boris Savoldelli’s music dates back from 2009, when I reviewed his solo debut, Insanology – an album that impressed me for its unique blend of elegance and uncontrived cheerfulness. It was one of those truly enjoyable discs whose apparent simplicity reveals layers of complexity with every successive listen. It is, however, not the complexity for its own sake that can be sometimes encountered in ‘standard’ progressive rock, but is rather achieved with a lightness of  touch, a kind of consummate subtlety that is all too rare on the modern music scene – all accomplished with one main instrument, Savoldelli’s voice, a veritable one-man-orchestra of stunning versatility that has been compared to luminaries like Bobby McFerrin or Demetrio Stratos.

Indeed, Boris Savoldelli is much more than an ordinary singer – to quote our fellow Italians PFM, he is a real maestro della voce, a master of the art of shaping his voice in ways that would sound impossible to most people, replacing most of the conventional instrumentation used in jazz and rock with an array of awe-inspiring effects whose apparently effortless nature belie the years of hard work behind it all. While most of the songs, which blend traditional and unconventional features, have a similar structure – where two or more vocal lines (both percussive and harmonic) intersect and spar with each other – as a whole Biocosmopolitan does not sound monotonous or repetitive. In my view, his unique handling of the linguistic aspects is probably the single most important factor for the album’s success. English and Italian intermingle with astounding naturalness (while on most other albums a mix of languages would sound contrived) that lends the album a truly cosmopolitan feel – with devices such as alliteration and assonance used to bolster the musical content, creating intriguing rhythms and textures.

In the four years between Insanology and Biocosmopolitan, Boris Savoldelli has been quite busy, though on a more decidedly experimental level – releasing the album Protoplasmic in collaboration with Elliott Sharp, as well as three albums with avant-garde outfit S.A.D.O. While Insanology saw the presence of veteran jazz guitarist Marc Ribot on two tracks, this time Savoldelli avails himself of the collaboration of two outstanding musicians – renowned Italian trumpeter Paolo Fresu, and bassist Jimmy Haslip (of Yellowjackets fame). Haslip’s bass adds depth and interest to the title-track, complementing Savoldelli’s bluesy vocals in a song that is much more complex than it short running time would suggest. Fresu’s wistful-sounding trumpet punctuates the cheery, infectious repetition of the line “the corner is dirty” in the pause-laden “Concrete Clima” (the longest track on the album at slightly over 4 minutes), and its sudden bursts of sounds enrich the fabric of the bright, endearingly nonsensical “Kerouac in New York”.

Most of the songs share the same sunny, upbeat nature and exude a genuine sense of warmth, reminding the listener of exotic vocal styles or of the sensuality of Latin rhythms, combining modernity and a charming retro feel (most evident in the Fifties’ doo-wop style of the hugely entertaining “The Miss Kiss”). Boris’s voice ranges from gritty, passionate blues tones to elegant, jazzy smoothness, infused with a genuine sense of humour and enjoyment. The only number that clearly differs from the rest is the melancholy ballad “Biocosmo”, a slow-burner (also present as a bonus track with English-language vocals) accompanied by piano and ending with solemn, choir-like chanting and distant clinking sounds, which one can almost imagine Savoldelli performing in the semi-darkness of a smoky night club. The album is then wrapped up, in cinematic fashion,  by two humorous complementary pieces, “My Barry Lindon “ – basically a series of ‘thank you’, handclaps and assorted sounds with occasional vocal harmonies thrown in – and “Closin’ Theme”, where a voice recites the album’s credits in English with mock seriousness. The second bonus track, a cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Crosstown Traffic”(already included on Insanology), is the closest the album goes to traditional rock, with Savoldelli offering a more than credible performance as a hard rock vocalist.

Biocosmopolitan is one of those rare albums that are potentially appealing to all music lovers, regardless of genres and labels – though it might disappoint those who require songs to be over 10 minutes in length, or object to the lack of ‘proper’ instruments, or even shun any kind of music that is not dead serious or just plain depressing. Progressive without necessarily being ‘prog’, entertaining and at times even exhilarating, Biocosmopolitan is an ideal showcase for the amazing vocal and compositional talents of an artist whose work proves that impeccably performed music can also be fun.

Links:
http://www.borisinger.eu

http://www.moonjune.com

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TRACKLISTING:
1. U-5  (7:13)
2. BB-2  (5:07)
3. Q-1  (7:39)
4. W-1A  (3:21)
5. W-5  (7:28)
6. W-1B  (2:19)
7. T-6  (4:55)
8. AA-5  (5:41)
9. Q-2  (7:19)
10. AA-4  (5:04)

LINEUP:
Willie Oteri – guitars, live loops
Dave Laczko – trumpet, effects

With:
Dino J.A. Deane – lap steel dulcimer, beat jockey
Scott Amendola – drums, percussion

Born in California, though currently based in the university town of Austin (Texas),  guitarist and composer Willie Oteri is something that has become increasingly rare in this day and age – a professional musician. Although he may not be a household name for most readers of this blog, he has got as impressive a  résumé as they come, with numerous high-profile collaborations under his belt (he has worked with the likes of Tony Levin, Pat Mastelotto, Mike Keneally and Stu Hamm). His latest project, WD-41, was put together in 2009 by Oteri and trumpeter Dave Laczko, after Oteri came back from spending almost four years in the Italian town of Padova (home to one of the oldest universities in the Western world). Indeed, the album’s Italian-language title pays homage to Oteri’s own roots, as well as his love for the boot-shaped Mediterranean peninsula.

Unlike WD-41’s debut album, entirely performed by just Oteri and Laczko, Temi Per Cinema sees the participation of two guest musicians (as implied by the +2 added to the outfit’s name) – multi-instrumentalist Dino J.A. Deane (known for his collaborations with John Zorn and Jon Hassell) and drummer Scott Amendola. Their presence adds depth to compositions that are largely based on live loops, with Oteri and Laczko creating trippy, highly cinematic soundscapes, at times soothing, at others somewhat disquieting. Though the guitar, together with the trumpet, is the main driving force of the album, Temi Per Cinema can be said to be the polar opposite of those ‘guitar hero’ efforts who seem to be very popular nowadays, especially with the younger generations. Thankfully, there is no shredding involved here, nor any such vanity showcases: for Oteri, the guitar is a starting point for a variegated range of modes of expression, a means to an end rather than an end in itself.

Though not really alike sound-wise, I believe Temi Per Cinema might be successfully compared to two albums released earlier this year by another guitarist driven by a rather unconventional creative impulse – Seattle’s very own Dennis Rea. In particular, the album shares its wholly improvised (though far from haphazard) nature with Iron Kim Style’s self-titled debut – though the latter has a more ‘mainstream’ jazz-rock bent; while its meditative yet intense atmospheres bring to mind Rea’s View from Chicheng Precipice (reviewed elsewhere on this blog). Oteri and Rea are both artists whose passion for music shines throughout their work, both keen on exploring their instrument’s endless possibilities beyond a conventional rock approach.

Oddly enough, while undeniably anything but an easy, comfortable listen, Temi Per Cinema is not the kind of album that will fade in the background unless approached with the utmost concentration. On the contrary (probably on account of  its essentially ‘soundtrack-y’ nature), its demanding, frequently angular musical content possesses an undefinable quality that seems to capture the listener’s attention. Apparently unstructured, yet never gratuitously chaotic, it takes elements from ambient, free-jazz, avant-garde and psychedelic/space rock and fuses them in a compelling though challenging  mélange.

Running at a very sensible 52 minutes, Temi Per Cinema features ten numbers that, while sharing a similar mood and conception, are in no way carbon copies of each other – indeed, repeated listens will reveal peculiarities and otherwise hidden nuances. Interestingly, none of the tracks have been given conventional titles – a highly unusual choice, whose main aim is to encourage the listener’s own interpretation of the music by eliminating the images normally conjured by conventional titles. By rendering their compositions somehow impersonal, Oteri and Laczko try to promote a more active role on the part of the listener – in the words of Miles Davis, “Call it Anything”.

With track times ranging from 7 to 2 minutes, Temi Per Cinema lends itself equally well to being approached  piecemeal and as an organic whole. Opener “U-5” presents a subtle yet clearly perceivable Eastern spicing amidst the moody, ambient-like waves of electronic effects punctuated by Laczko’s floating trumpet – a dense, multilayered track, with all the instruments blending and sparring at the same time. The eerie, intensely atmospheric “Q-1”, led by the mournful sound of the trumpet, brought to my mind images of the vast expanse of the sea, reinforced by Oteri’s low-key guitar work; while in the entrancing “W-5” the guitar takes centre stage, albeit in a slow, measured way, creating the perfect soundtrack for a vintage Gothic movie. On the other hand, other tracks (such as “BB-2” and “W-1B”) come across as distinctly free-form, and quite devoid of melody (at least intended in a conventional sense) – therefore much harder to swallow for the more conservative set.

Temi Per Cinema is, indeed, the kind of album that not every fan of progressive rock is bound to appreciate. While the actual ‘rock’ component is rather thin on the ground, at least in conventional terms, the lead role played by the trumpet may put off those who generally shun jazz. However, fans of King Crimson, Robert Fripp’s solo output (with or without Brian Eno), and all those bands (like, for instance, US prog veterans The Muffins) whose line-up and compositional approach somewhat diverge from the mainstream rock tradition, are likely to warm to this impressive effort, brought to us by an extremely talented, dedicated duo of musicians who clearly deserve more exposure.

Links:
http://www.myspace.com/wd41music

http://www.myspace.com/willieoteri

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TRACKLISTING:
…Rattlin’ All the Time
:
1. Tarabos  (5:10)
2. Chloe And The Pirates  (7:56)
3. All White  (6:24)
4. The Man Who Waved At Trains  (3:54)
5. As If  (4:14)
6. Hibou, Anemone And Bear  (3:28)
7. Out-Bloody-Rageous  (8:36)
8. Pig   (4:28)
9. Esther’s Nose Job   (6:04)
10. Slightly All the Time  (9:32)

…Before the Moon:
11. Leonardo’s E-Mail  (4:11)
12. Moonvision   (2:17)
13. Many Moons, Many Junes  (3:05)

…After the Moon:
14. Lunar Impression  (1:17)
15. Circular Lines In The Air  (2:46
16. Moon Geezers (to Elton and Hugh)  (3:27)

LINEUP:
Beppe Crovella – Mellotron, Wurlitzer E200 electric piano, Fender Rhodes Stage 73 electric piano, Hammond organ M102, Hohner electric piano, Hohner Clavinet D6, Roesler Grand Piano, Farfisa Professional

This is meant as the second instalment in a trio of reviews of albums released by one of the most forward-thinking independent labels on the current music scene  – New York-based MoonJune Records. As a follow-up to View from Chicheng Precipice, here is another album that many listeners may very well see as nearly unapproachable, but whose authentically progressive nature can hardly be denied.

The subtitle to Beppe Crovella’s  What’s Rattlin’ on the Moon? reads “A Personal Vision of the Music of Mike Ratledge” – which alone should put paid to any allegations that this is yet another run-of-the-mill tribute album. An extraordinary musician in his own right, with an impressive career both as a solo artist and the mind behind Italian jazz-rock outfit Arti e Mestieri, Crovella is clearly not interested in faithfully reproducing music that is available elsewhere – but rather in offering his own reinterpretation of some of the legendary Soft Machine keyboardist’s ground-breaking compositions. The result of this daring, enlightened operation (conceived by Crovella and MoonJune Records mainman Leonardo Pavkovic) is a disc that, while anything but easy to approach, and obviously possessing very limited mass appeal, is a fascinating listen, especially for anyone with a keen interest in vintage keyboards.

Since the music of Soft Machine is undeniably an acquired taste in itself, commanding an almost fanatical adoration on the part of its fans, and an equally strong rejection on the part of ‘unbelievers’, an album offering an apparently one-dimensional take on said music is very likely to send a lot of people running for the exits. First of all, it requires quite a bit of patience on the part of the listener, even from those who should be used to the less than easily digestible nature of most progressive rock. Moreover, the distinct lack of the ‘rock’ part of the genre definition can prove a turn off – and the sheer length of the project (close to 80 minutes) is not likely to help sceptics warm to it.  However, those who will stick with the album and give it the attention it deserves will reap their rewards, because  What’s Rattlin’ on the Moon? offers many moments of real interest, and some of sheer delight.

A master of his craft, Crovella recreates the sound of an entire band with his array of vintage keyboards – ruling out the use of those synthesizers and their ilk that have become so indispensable in modern music-making. It is often astonishing to hear those keyboards fulfil the role of the bass or drums, though in most cases they just weave layers of sound in the Softs’ typically free-form style. As the album is divided into three recognizable parts,  the pauses between the individual numbers are almost non-existent – as if each part was meant to be listened to as a single track. This makes for a very distinctive listening experience, the polar opposite of a conventional song-based approach – though equally far removed from the somewhat sterile displays of technical dexterity that are often an integral part of ‘prog’ recordings.

The ten Soft Machine compositions are reinterpreted in such a way as to be nearly unrecognizable. This is especially the case of the two tracks from the band’s iconic Third album, “Out-Bloody-Rageous” and “Slightly All the Time”, the latter being possibly the highlight of the disc with its hypnotic yet melodic line and fascinating use of the Mellotron to provide choral effects. All the compositions share the same rarefied, riveting texture, which is intended to be savoured slowly, possibly not in one take. At every successive listen, different effects will unfold – pulsating,  surging, solemn, sometimes flowing, sometimes choppy, creating subtly shifting layers of sound. It is the kind of music that will fade in the background if left unattended, so to speak – meant to be listened to, not just heard.

The two mini-suites at the end of the album are original Crovella compositions intended, in some ways, to ‘describe’ the creative process behind the album. Both are largely piano-based and less idiosyncratic than the first part of the disc, with a stronger melodic development and some jazzy touches. “Moon Geezers”, dedicated to the sadly deceased former Soft Machine members Elton Dean and Hugh Hopper, closes the album on a suitably measured, melancholy note.

As already intimated, What’s Rattlin’ on the Moon? is not an album that will appeal to everyone, especially not those with short attention spans. It does, however, stand head and shoulders above the many hackneyed tribute albums that flood the progressive rock market. Experimental and very personal (even if a tad overlong), this is a must-listen for Soft Machine fans, and highly recommended to lovers of genuinely personal takes on prog classics.

Links:
http://www.beppecrovella.com/

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TRACK LIST:
STAGE:
1. Hipster Spinster  (6:06)
2. March To Orion  (5:11)
3. Mystic Jam  (7:28)
4. Market Square  (8:13)

STUDIO:
5. Hide & Seek  (3:58)
6. Jazzmin  (5:07)
7. Say What?  (3:38)
8. The Timekeeper  (2:53)
9. 28 Degrees  (4:34)
10. Neon Noodle  (4:17)

FILM:
11. Z’Hadum  (10:26)
12. Phantom Lair  (4:41)
13. Break A Leg  (4:03)
14. Christine’s Theme  (2:40)

LINEUP:
Vic Samalot – electric and acoustic guitar
Bobbi Holt – keyboards, 2nd guitar (10), percussion (5)
Jeffrey Scott – bass guitar
Ivan George – drums
Vince Broncaccio – drums (8, 10)
Phil Quidort – trumpet (4)

Sessions is the fifth album released by Cleveland-based outfit Rare Blend, founded by guitarist Vic Samalot and keyboardist Bobbi Holt in 1993. Celebrating their 17th year of activity in 2010, Rare Blend are indeed aptly named – a band that successfully blends jazz-fusion, traditional progressive rock and jam-band attitudes, coupled with a healthy dose of sterling musicianship and a genuine sense of enjoyment. A remarkably tight band, capable of tackling complex compositions and recording them in one take, they emphasize live performance rather than polished studio recording – as their long experience and affiliation with local festivals, supported by their obvious dedication to their music, allow them to take advantage of every opportunity to perform before an audience.

Sessions clearly proves that the band have come a long way since their debut as a duo, Cinefusion, released in 1995. Honed by years of regular gigging,  they have gradually moved from the generic ‘prog’ approach of that first release towards a fluid form of jazz-rock rooted in the golden years of the genre, though infused with a personal touch. Rare Blend are in the habit of recording everything they play, be it in the studio or on stage, which spells a remarkable confidence in their craft. Though never rehearsed, their music shows a kind of discipline does not so much stem from endless hours spent perfecting each and every one of their compositions, as from an easy familiarity with the demands of performance.

The first part of the album contains four tracks recorded live in various venues (including the legendary Orion Studios in Baltimore, recently featured in the documentary film Romantic Warriors). Opener “Hipster Spinster” blends fluid, vintage jazz-rock stylings with atmospheric keyboards à la Pink Floyd – an influence that also surfaces in the Middle Eastern-tinged “Mystic Jam”; while “March to Orion” is driven by Jeff Scott’s solid bass line (a constant of the album, like glue holding the fabric of the compositions together), underpinning Samalot’s ever-reliable guitar forays. “Market Square” (named after the place in Cleveland where the track was originally recorded) sees the impromptu participation of Phil Quidort on trumpet, adding a wistful note to a dynamic yet oddly mesmerizing number, and sparring with Samalot’s guitar over Scott’s pumping bass line.

The six studio tracks (recorded in one take during rehearsals) display more of the band’s trademark free-form, yet appealingly melodic approach, with a loose texture ensuring that every instrument gets the chance to shine. All the tracks are rather short (with the aptly-titled “Jazzmin” the longest at 5 minutes), the funky, uptempo “The Timekeeper” and “Say What?” nicely balanced by the atmospheric mood of “Neon Noodle”, enhanced by some beautiful interplay between electric and acoustic guitar.

The Film section features four compositions conceived as soundtracks to two famous silent movies of the 1920s. The album’s longest track, the strongly cinematic “Z’Hadum” (inspired by Fritz Lang’s iconic Metropolis),  is a suitably Gothic offering,with a peculiar structure broken down by frequent pauses that create a sense of palpable tension, its hypnotic pace providing an ideal backdrop for synth and guitar excursions. The three remaining numbers (inspired by the 1925 version of The Phantom of the Opera), all markedly shorter and veering towards classic  progressive rock territories, share a similarly ominous mood.

If I had to level some criticism at Sessions, it would be on account of its running time of almost 72 minutes. Though somehow justified by the album’s distinctive format, I still feel that some judicious editing would not have gone amiss. However, the album aims at offering as complete as possible a picture of Rare Blend’s varied output, and its three-part structure makes it easier to break it down into sections for listening purposes. In any case, Sessions is packed with energetic, brilliantly executed compositions that will definitely appeal to fans of jazz-rock/fusion, especially those who enjoy spontaneous, unscripted performances. It is also an excellent introduction to Rare Blend for those who are not yet familiar with the band.

Link:
http://www.rareblend.net

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Tracklist:
1. Northern Hemisphere (5:03)
2. Isadora (4:19)
3. Waterways (7:00)
4. Centaur Woman (7:09)
5. Bathers (4:57)
6. Communion (4:02)
7. Moth (4:03)
8. In The Stable Of The Sphinx (8:20)

Bonus tracks  (Eclectic re-issue, 2004):
1. Waterways (demo) (6:40)
2. In the Stable of the Sphinx (demo recorded in July 1968) (11:10)
3. Eight Miles High (recorded at Tangerine Studios, London, 3rd September 1969) (6:51)

Lineup:
Dave Arbus – electric violin, flute, bagpipe, recorders, two saxophones
Ron Caines – soprano & alto saxophones (acoustic & amplified), organ, vocals (4)
Dave Dufont – percussion
Geoff Nicholson –  guitars, vocals
Steve York – bass guitar, harmonica, Indian thumb piano

Though I have neglected my blog for some time, I have definitely not forgotten about it (and hopefully neither have you, my dear readers!). Unfortunately, my other reviewing commitments sometimes have to take precedence – unless I want to find myself even more backlogged than I already am.

Anyway, for the first update for almost three weeks, here is another 1969 album, and one of the lost gems of the earliest years of progressive rock. As a matter of fact, having been released a few months before In the Court of the Crimson King, Mercator Projected might very well be considered as the first prog album – though, sadly, nowhere as well-known as King Crimson’s iconic debut.

Mercator Projected marks the debut of East of Eden, one of the most exciting, authentically progressive acts of  those golden years, now unfairly overlooked by most.  Drenched in exoticism, from its stunning, surprisingly modern cover (depicting a heavily tattooed woman’s back) to its evocative title (a Mercator projection is a cylindrical map projection that distorts the shape and size of large objects),  the album is a thoroughly exhilarating listen, blending Eastern sounds with jazz, blues, heavy rock and psychedelia in a heady brew that might at first sound dated, but still holds a deep fascination for the  discerning music fan.

One of East of Eden’s strengths lies in their use of an impressive array of instruments that, at the time, were not yet common currency in rock music. Dave Arbus’ electric violin (which, incidentally, also graces The Who’s “Baba O’ Riley”) dominates the proceedings, weaving ethereal melodies or bringing a strident note to the compositions, while saxes and flute add their distinctive character to the band’s sound. In the best tradition of the original progressive rock movement, and not unlike the mighty Crims’  seminal debut, the songs on this album are at the same time accessible and experimental, harsh and gently soothing. While the band do not reject their rock and blues roots, they also push the envelope with their richly textured soundscapes, which evoke many different moods.

Closing track “In the Stable of the Sphinx”, a jazzy, sprawling instrumental (also present in a longer version in the 2004 remastered edition), is possibly the album’s masterpiece: mainly guitar-driven, unlike most of the other tracks, it features some brilliant sax and violin work. Flutes take centre stage in the dreamy, hippyish “Isadora”; while “Waterways” and “Bathers” conjure images of Eastern-style languor and sensuality, with lashings of sumptuous violin and keyboard melodies. On the other hand, the bluesy, harmonica-driven “Centaur Woman” sounds somewhat grating, and is in my view the weakest offering on the album, even though the slightly distorted, dramatic vocals add some spice to the song.

As even a cursory listen will make it clear, Mercator Projected is not the accomplished work of a seasoned band. However,  even in  its undeniable rawness,  it shows the promise than East of Eden would fulfill in their sophomore effort, Snafu. It is a great pity that they did not achieve the fame they would have deserved for their highly individual, creative approach to music-making – they could have become as big as Yes or King Crimson, but now they are forgotten by almost everyone but the real aficionados of the ‘golden era’  of the genre.

On any account, Mercator Projected is highly recommended to anyone who likes their prog to be eclectic and challenging, even if a bit rough around the edges. This is an album that every self-respecting prog fan should  try at least once.

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