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Archive for the ‘Rock Progressivo Italiano (RPI)’ Category

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On May 25-26, 2013, the Italian “prog hub” of Genoa and its surrounding region of Liguria will be the undisputed protagonist of an event of international scope targeted to anyone who is in the business of making and promoting music. The FIM (Fiera Internazionale della Musica), the largest event of its kind organized in Italy, will take place at the Ippodromo dei Fiori in the medieval hill town of Villanova d’Albenga. The town lies about 50 km (31 miles) west of Genoa, in the hinterland of the famed Riviera di Ponente, the western stretch of the Italian Riviera, curving towards the French border and following the route of the Via Aurelia, the longest of the original Roman roads.

Over two whole days, the event will offer a unique showcase to up-and-coming bands and artists from all over Italy. Four stages and other dedicated spaces will allow musicians to perform with their own instruments, and the participants will also have a wide range of workshops, seminars and other happenings to attend – all covered by a daily entrance fee of € 15.

One of the core events of the fair, the Riviera Prog Festival will host a total of 13 bands (as well as the symphonic orchestra of the neighbouring town of Sanremo, known internationally for its Festival della Canzone Italiana)  in the afternoon and evening of both days, starting from 3 p.m. The bands that will take turns on stage during this event-within-the-event represent some of the best that Italian progressive rock has to offer, with an eye to its glorious past and another to the thriving contemporary scene – an example that US organizers would do well to follow, instead of focusing on foreign acts to the detriment of homegrown talent.

Though most of the bands and artists on the lineup are based in Liguria, other parts of Italy have not been neglected: Goad and Le Porte Non Aperte hail from Tuscany, while Claudio Simonetti/Daemonia and Biglietto per l’Inferno  (both protagonists of the original RPI movement in the early Seventies) are based respectively in Rome and Milan. The local talent includes veterans such as The Trip (who counted one Ritchie Blackmore among its early members), Latte E Miele (who were slated to headline the sadly cancelled Farfest 2012), DeliriumGarybaldi and Il Cerchio d’Oro, and modern bands such as Il Tempio delle Clessidre (whose career-defining NEARfest appearance endeared them to the US prog community), G.C. Neri Band, La Coscienza di Zeno and newcomers Flower Flesh.

FIM has been sponsored by a number of local agencies, including the region of Liguria, and partnered by media outlets such as local radio and TV stations, as well as the association Centro Studi per il Progressive Italiano (CSPI), independent label Black Widow Records and recording studio Maia (all based in Genoa). The event’s website (unfortunately only in Italian, at least for the time being) contains detailed information on the event, including tips for anyone who would like to combine the pleasures of music with those of sightseeing.

Links:
http://www.fimfiera.it/

http://cspigenova.blogspot.com/

http://www.blackwidow.it

http://www.maiagroup.it/maia/studio-di-registrazione

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1505

No doubt about it: 2012 was a difficult year for most of us. True to the Italian saying about leap years being unlucky, 2012 ran the gamut from weather-related disasters, wars and other acts of random violence to political malfunction and economic near-collapse, sparing almost no part of the world. There was no lack of disruption in my own little world either. In spite of all my good resolutions, the year started with a few weeks of less than stellar physical condition (nothing serious, but enough to grind most of my projects to a halt), and then I was hit by a double-whammy of bureaucracy-related problems that –  while obviously not tragic – caused enough distress to cast a pall over the remaining months.

It is not surprising, therefore, that in 2012 I have been less prolific a reviewer than in previous years, or that the views on this blog have somehow decreased, though not dramatically so. Constant stress can wreak havoc on inspiration, and at times it was hard to come up with a coherent sentence – let alone an 800-word review. However, in spite of the seemingly endless stream of worry and general annoyance, music has remained a source of delight and (as the title of this essay points out) comfort when things got really tough.

The number of progressive rock-related albums released during 2012 was nothing short of staggering. The second decade of the 21st century started indeed with a bang in 2011, and, at least for the time being, the trend does not show any signs of being reversed. Many of those albums were made available for streaming (at least for a limited time) by websites such as Progstreaming, Bandcamp or Soundcloud, allowing the often cash-strapped fans a “test run”. On the other hand, the sheer volume of new releases made it necessary to pick and choose to avoid being overwhelmed. While confirming the vitality of the genre, this also showed one of the downsides of the digital age – the oversaturation of the market, and frequent lack of quality control.

As my readers know, I do not do “top 10/20/50/100” lists, leaving this exercise to people who are interested in arranging their choices according to a more or less strict order of preference. From my perspective, there have been milestone releases, and others that – while perhaps not equally memorable – still deserve a mention. On any account, even more so than in the previous year, 2012 has emphasized the ever-widening gulf between the retro-oriented and the forward-thinking components of the prog audience. Sometimes, while looking at the reviews pages of some of the leading websites of the genre, I have had the impression that (to paraphrase Rudyard Kipling) the twain shall hardly ever meet. In the US, such a split has been detrimental to the festival scene – though the void left by NEARfest’s demise may lead organizers to step out of their typical audience’s comfort zone in order to attract a more diverse crowd.

Though I am most familiar with albums that I have reviewed, or otherwise own, there are others that have left enough of an impression to deserve a mention in this post. As my choices have been mainly informed by personal taste, I will apologize beforehand for any major omissions. While I may consider those albums essential listening, some of my readers will certainly disagree with me, and suggest their own personal picks –and this is exactly how things should be. Indeed, as the French would say, vive la différence!

Although I have built a reputation as a fan of the more “difficult” stuff, one of my favourite albums of the year (and one that is likely to be featured in many top 10 lists) is an album that, in many respects, is not even “prog” in the conventional sense of the word. However, Echolyn’s self-titled eighth studio album – unlike so many true-blue prog releases – is a masterpiece of songwriting, instrumentally tight without any concessions to self-indulgence, and packing a huge emotional punch. Another highly awaited, almost unexpected comeback – 18 years after the band’s previous studio effort – Änglagård’s third studio album, Viljans Öga, reveals a keen, almost avant-garde edge beneath its pastoral surface, well highlighted in their impeccable NEARfest appearance.

2012 was a milestone year for what I like to call the “new frontier” of prog – less focused on epic grandeur and more song-oriented. In the second decade of the 21st century, “progressive rock” and “song” are not antithetic concepts any longer, and going for 5 minutes instead than 15 is not a sign of sell-out. Three albums in particular stand out: 3RDegree’s The Long Division, a perfect combination of great melodies, intelligent lyrics and outstanding musicianship with the added value of George Dobbs’ Stevie Wonder-influenced vocals; the Magna Carta reissue of MoeTar’s 2010 debut From These Small Seeds, a heady blend of catchy hooks, edgier suggestions and Moorea Dickason’s stellar, jazz-inflected voice; and Syd Arthur’s delightful “modern Canterbury” debut, On And On – infused with the spirit of early Soft Machine and Pink Floyd.

As in the previous years, in 2012 the ever-growing instrumental prog scene produced some outstanding albums. Canadian multi-instrumentalist Dean Watson wowed devotees of high-energy jazz-rock with Imposing Elements, the second installment of his one-man project – inspired by the industrial Gothic paintings of Toronto-based artist Ron Eady. In the early months of 2012, French seven-piece Forgas Band Phenomena made a triumphant recording comeback with the exhilaratingly accomplished Acte V. Another two excellent Cuneiform releases, Ergo’s second album If Not Inertia and Janel & Anthony’s lovely debut, Where Is Home, while not immediately approachable, will gradually win over the discerning listener with their deep emotion and lyricism. In a similar vein, A Room for the Night by drummer extraordinaire John Orsi (the mind behind Providence-based collective Knitting By Twilight) provides a veritable aural feast for percussion lovers. On the cusp of prog, jazz and metal, the aptly-titled Brutal Romance marks the thunderous return of ebullient French power trio Mörglbl, led by Christophe Godin’s humour-laden guitar acrobatics. Leonardo Pavkovic’s Moonjune Records specializes in instrumental music of a consistently high standard of quality, and this year’s landmark releases were no exception: Indonesian powerhouses Ligro (Dictionary 2) and Tohpati Bertiga (Riot), Canadian quartet Mahogany Frog’s rivetingly eclectic Senna, and douBt’s towering Mercy, Pity, Peace & Love – all of them true melting pots of rock, jazz, avant-garde and psychedelia. Also very much worthy of exploration, Kotebel’s Concert for Piano and Electric Ensemble revisits and updates the marriage of classical music and progressive rock with a heady dose of traditional Spanish flavour.

The left-field fringe of the progressive rock spectrum was spearheaded by the tireless efforts of dedicated labels such as Cuneiform Records and AltrOck Productions. One of  2012’s musical milestones – the long-awaited sixth studio album by seminal US Avant outfit Thinking Plague, titled Decline and Fall – was released in the very first weeks of the year. Mike Johnson’s monumentally intricate, intensely gloomy reflection on humankind’s impending Doomsday was complemented by a Thinking Plague-related project of a vastly different nature  – the charming, Old-World whimsy of 3 Mice’s Send Me a Postcard, Dave Willey and Elaine Di Falco’s transatlantic collaboration with Swiss multi-instrumentalist Cédric Vuille. By an intriguing coincidence, almost at the tail end of the year came the stunning live album by one of the foremost modern RIO/Avant outfits, Yugen’s Mirrors – recorded at the 2011 edition of the Rock in Opposition festival in Carmaux (France). A special mention is also deserved by Cuneiform’s touching tribute to RIO icon Lars Hollmer, With Floury Hand (sketches), released four years after the artist’s untimely passing.

On the Zeuhl front, founding fathers Magma made their comeback with the short and unusually low-key Félicité Thosz, proving once again Christian Vander’s versatility and seemingly endless reservoir of ideas; while the US produced an astonishing example of Zeuhl inspired by Aztec mythology – multi-national outfit Corima’s second album Quetzalcoatl. Eclectic albums such as Cucamonga’s Alter Huevo, Inner Ear Brigade’s Rainbro (featuring another extremely talented female vocalist, Melody Ferris) and Stabat Akish’s Nebulos – as well as chamber-rock gems such as Subtilior’s Absence Upon a Ground  and AltrOck Chamber Quartet’s Sonata Islands Goes RIO – reinforced AltrOck’s essential role in the discovery of new, exciting talent on the cutting edge of the progressive rock scene. Also worthy of a mention as regards the Avant-Progressive field are the politically-charged Songs From the Empire by Scott Brazieal, one of the founding fathers of the US Avant scene; the exhilarating Sleep Furiously by English outfit Thumpermonkey;  the wacked-out return of cult Finnish band Alamaailman Vasarat, titled Valta; and French quartet Jack Dupon’s energetic double live CD set, Bascule A Vif . The Avant-Progressive scene was also celebrated in the second episode of José Zegarra Holder and Adele Schmidt’s documentary film series dedicated to progressive rock , Romantic Warriors II – About Rock in Opposition.

The year was also noted for hotly anticipated comebacks from high-profile acts:  first of all, Rush, who were also finally inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, for the joy of their substantial following. Their Clockwork Angels, while not a life-altering masterpiece, is definitely their strongest effort in almost 20 years. 2012 also saw the release of Ian Anderson’s Thick As a Brick 2, mixed by none other than Steven Wilson (also responsible in 2012 for the 40th Anniversary edition of King Crimson’s seminal Larks’ Tongues in Aspic) – a solid, well-crafted album, though not on a par with the original. While King Crimson seem to have been put on hold indefinitely, Robert Fripp has not been idle, and the elegant Travis/Fripp CD/DVD package Follow offers a complete aural and visual experience – suitably rarefied yet spiked by almost unexpected electric surges – to diehard fans of the legendary guitarist.

On the “modern prog” front, standard-bearers The Mars Volta’s sixth studio album Noctourniquet marks a return to form for the band, as it is their tightest, most cohesive effort in quite a long time. The Tea Club’s third album, Quickly, Quickly, Quickly confirms the status of the New Jersey band (now a trio) as one of the most interesting modern outfits, with a respectful eye towards the golden age of the genre; while Gazpacho’s deeply atmospheric March of Ghosts offers another fine example of English label KScope’s “post-progressive” direction. In a more accessible vein, Canadian/Ukrainian duo Ummagma’s  pair of debut albums, Ummagma and Antigravity,  will appeal to fans of Kate Bush, Dead Can Dance and Cocteau Twins with their ethereal yet uplifting feel.

Though I cannot call myself a fan of progressive metal, the debut albums by female-fronted German band Effloresce (Coma Ghosts) and Israeli outfit Distorted Harmony (Utopia) made enough of an impression to deserve a mention here; while Diablo Swing Orchestra’s Pandora’s Piñata – the band’s most mature effort to date – transcends the boundaries of the genre.  At the very beginning of the year, Steve Brockmann and George Andrade’s opus AIRS: A Rock Opera updates the classic rock opera format while deftly avoiding the cheesiness of other similar efforts, concentrating on a moving tale of guilt and redemption interpreted by an array of considerable vocal and instrumental talent.

The thriving contemporary psychedelic/space rock scene also produced a slew of fine albums that combine modernity and eclecticism with an unmistakable retro touch: among many others, Øresund Space Collective’s mellow West, Space and Love, Earthling Society’s eerie pagan-fest Stations of the Ghost, Colour Haze’s Krautrock-influenced double CD set She Said, Diagonal’s fiery The Second Mechanism, Astra’s highly awaited (though to these ears not as impressive as the others) second album, The Black Chord. Fans of Krautrock, and Can in particular, should also check out Black and Ginger by Churn Milk Joan, one of the many projects by volcanic English multi-instrumentalist Colin Robinson (of Big Block 454 fame); while Australian band Tame Impala’s Lonerism will appeal to those who like psychedelic rock in a song-based format.

As prolific and varied as ever, the Italian progressive rock scene produced a number of remarkable albums ranging from the classic symphonic prog of Höstsonaten’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner Pt. 1, Alphataurus’ comeback AttosecondO and Locanda delle Fate’s The Missing Fireflies (featuring both older and new material) to more left-field fare such as Nichelodeon’s live album NO, Stereokimono’s Intergalactic Art Café and Daal’s Dodecahedron. Another of Fabio Zuffanti’s many projects besides Höstsonaten, L’Ombra della Sera, presents an appealingly Gothic-tinged, almost completely instrumental homage to the soundtracks of cult Italian TV series of the Seventies. Aldo Tagliapietra’s Nella Pietra e Nel Vento, his first release after his split from Le Orme, a classy, prog-tinged singer-songwriter effort, boasts a splendid cover by Paul Whitehead. The prize of most impressive RPI album of the year, however, goes to Il Bacio della Medusa’s ultra-dramatic historical concept Deus Lo Vult, with side project Ornithos’ eclectic debut La Trasfigurazione a close second.

Of the many “traditional” prog albums released in 2012, one in particular stands out on account of its superb songwriting: Big Big Train’s English Electric Pt 1, an effort of great distinction though not as impressive as its predecessor, 2009’s The Underfall Yard. Autumn Chorus’ debut The Village to the Vale also celebrates the glories of England’s green and pleasant land with a near-perfect marriage of pastoral symphonic prog and haunting post-rock; while Israeli outfit Musica Ficta’s A Child & A Well (originally released in 2006) blends ancient and folk music suggestions with jazz and symphonic prog. Released just three weeks before the end of the year, Shadow Circus’ third album, On a Dark and Stormy Night (their first for 10T Records), based on Madeleine L’Engle’s cult novel A Wrinkle in Time, fuses symphonic prog with classic and hard rock in an exhilarating mixture. On the other hand, Pacific Northwest trio Dissonati’s debut, Reductio Ad Absurdum, gives classic prog modes a makeover with influences from new wave and avant-garde. Highly touted outfit District 97’s sophomore effort, Trouble With Machines, proves that the Chicago band is much more than a nine days’ wonder, showcasing their  tighter songwriting skills, as well as vocalist/frontwoman Leslie Hunt’s undeniable talent and charisma.

With such a huge wealth of releases, it was materially impossible for me to listen to everything I would have wanted to, and my personal circumstances often impaired my enjoyment of music, as well as my concentration. Among the releases of note that I missed in 2012 (though I still hope to be able to hear in 2013), I will mention Beardfish’s The Void, Anathema’s Weather Systems, Dead Can Dance’s comeback Anastasis, Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! (another comeback, released after a 10-year hiatus), AranisMade in Belgium, The Muffins’ Mother Tongue, Alec K. Redfearn and the EyesoresSister Death, and Motorpsycho’s The Death-Defying Unicorn. All of these albums have been very positively received by the prog community, even if they will not necessarily appeal to everyone.

As was the case with my 2011 retrospective, quite a few highly acclaimed prog albums will be missing from this article. This implies no judgment in terms of intrinsic quality, but is simply determined by personal taste. Albums such as The Flower KingsBanks of Eden, Marillion’s Sounds That Can’t Be Made or IZZ’s Crush of Night (to name but three) –although thoroughly professional and excellent from a musical point of view – failed to set my world on fire. A pure matter of chemistry – as further demonstrated by my lack of enthusiasm for Storm Corrosion’s self-titled album (which reflected my reaction to Steven Wilson’s Grace for Drowning in 2011), or Mike Keneally’s undoubtedly outstanding Wing Beat Fantastic, co-written with Andy Partridge of XTC fame.

2012 was also a great year for live music, with both big names and new talent hitting the road. While we missed some of the former (such as Rush and Peter Gabriel), as well as this year’s edition of RoSfest,  the one-two punch of NEARfest Apocalypse and ProgDay 2012 more than made up for it. Unfortunately, the all-out Seventies bash named FarFest, organized by a veteran of the US prog scene such as Greg Walker, and planned for early October 2012 – was cancelled due to poor ticket sales, reinforcing the impression that the era of larger-scale prog festivals may well be coming to an end (in spite of the announcement of Baja Prog’s return in the spring of 2013). On the other hand, the much less ambitious ProgDay model is likely to become the way forward, as are the smaller, intimate gigs organized by people such as Mike Potter of Orion Studios, the NJ Proghouse “staph”, and our very own DC-SOAR.

With an impressive list of forthcoming releases for every progressive taste, 2013 looks set up to be as great a year as the previous two. In the meantime, we should continue to support the independent music scene in our best capacity – not just by buying albums or writing about them, but also attending gigs and generally maintaining a positive, constructive attitude. I would also like to thank all my friends and readers for their input and encouragement, which has been invaluable especially whenever the pressures of “real life” became too hard to bear. If this piece has seen the light of day, it is because you have made me feel that it was still worth it.

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Invocazione alle Muse (2:02)
2. Indignatio (Infedeli in Terra Santa) (8:03)
3. Urbano II Bandisce la Prima Crociata (3:07)
4. Simplicio (4:27)
5. Deus Lo Vult (7:15)
6. Verso Casa (3:49)
7. La Beffa (Non un Trono, Non un Regno…Solo Sdegno) (5:10)

LINEUP:
Simone Cecchini – lead and backing vocals, acoustic 6- and 12-string guitar, harp
Diego Petrini – drums, percussion, mellotron, organ
Federico Caprai – bass
Simone Brozzetti – electric guitar
Eva Morelli – flute, piccolo, alto, soprano and tenor sax, theremin

Almost 7 years after their breakthrough second album, Discesa agli Inferi di Un Giovane Amante, and 10 years after their foundation, Il Bacio della Medusa have made their recording comeback with an album that is bound to  leave a lasting impression. Hailing from the beautiful medieval city of Perugia in central Italy, the band (now a quintet after the departure of violinist Daniele Rinchi) have also parted company with Genoa-based label Black Widow, in a bold move that is becoming increasingly common with new bands.  However, the quality of their product has not suffered one bit from dispensing with a label’s support.

Like side project Ornithos’ La Trasfigurazione, Deus Lo Vult  is a concept album, but, unlike the former, it places a strong emphasis on vocals and narration. In a drastic reversal of the current trend for endless, filler-packed releases, the album concentrates a lot in a mere 33 minutes (the average running time of a vinyl LP), and this rather unusual leanness protects it from the usual pitfalls of the concept format. Even though Deus Lo Vult has drawn some criticism on account of its supposedly “incomplete” feel, it is extremely refreshing to see a band managing to describe a complete story arch in barely over half an hour, without relying on the gimmicks that often give concept albums a bad name.

The band also strike a near-perfect balance between words (penned by lead vocalist Simone Cecchini) and music, avoiding an excess of wordiness and allowing the music to convey as much emotion as the vocals. All the members of Il Bacio della Medusa are superb instrumentalists, and the music (written by drummer Diego Petrini, also a member of Ornithos like reedist Eva Morelli and bassist Federico Caprai) runs the gamut from gentle, folk-tinged balladry to no-holds-barred heavy prog. Cecchini’s extremely versatile voice, firmly rooted in the great RPI tradition of charismatic singers such as Jumbo’s Alvaro Fella or Biglietto per l’Inferno’s Claudio Canali (to name but two), at times blends with the instruments, at others completely dominates them, performing two or more roles at once in thoroughly convincing fashion.

Lavishly packaged with striking, medieval-style cover artwork  and a very thorough 18-page booklet, Deus Lo Vult blends musical quality and visual appeal in true vintage prog fashion. As those well-versed in the history of the Western world will know, the album’s title (meaning “God wills it” in medieval Latin) refers to the rallying cry of the people when the first Crusade was declared by Pope Urban II at the end of the 11th century. However, rather than with the bigger picture, the album deals with the story of a young lordling, Simplicio (whose very name hints at a naïve, trusting nature), who joins the Crusade in search of fame and fortune – only to meet with bitter disappointment upon his return home.

In spite of Deus Lo Vult’s limited running time, none of the tracks sound alike. Opening with an homage to classical epic literature in the shape of an invocation to the Muses (“Invocazione alle Muse”) – a soothing, pastoral-sounding piece in which Cecchini’s melodic yet assertive voice is accompanied by acoustic guitar, mellotron and flute – the album immediately dives into the thick of things with its longest track, the 8-minute “Indignatio (Infedeli in Terra Santa”. Introduced by majestic mellotron and expressive flute (which reminded me of Delirium or Quella Vecchia Locanda rather than Jethro Tull), the song is driven by Diego Petrini’s imperious drums and Cecchini’s intense, theatrical vocal performance, paralleled by Eva Morelli frantically blaring sax and Simone Brozzetti’s searing lead guitar; the music reflects the tone of the lyrics – an invective against the Muslim presence in the Holy Land conveyed in almost visionary terms. The mphatic, march-like “Urbano II Bandisce la Prima Crociata”, with its trumpets, drums and martial chanting, strikes a half-serious, half-comical note, allowing Cecchini to interpret two different characters with deadpan effectiveness; while in the folksy ballad “Simplicio” Cecchini’s voice displays its melodic potential, well complemented by guitar and flute.

With the title-track, Il Bacio della Medusa deliver another showstopper. After a deceptively mellow, piccolo- and mellotron-led intro, a Gillan-like, banshee wail leads into a veritable hard rock feast that sounds like Iron Maiden jamming with Balletto di Bronzo, with no less than three blazing guitar solos, raging Hammond organ runs, aggressive sax and flute in the tradition of Jethro Tull’s heaviest episodes. “Verso Casa” relates Simplicio’s journey towards his home (where a nasty surprise awaits him) with a lively, waltz-like pace and very expressive, slightly histrionic vocals. The story reaches an unexpected climax in “La Beffa”, dominated by Cecchini’s suitably deranged vocals, then wrapped up by a galloping, exhilarating flute-guitar section, and ending with the ominous sound of a crackling fire.

Besides the outstanding quality of the music, which successfully blends a vintage feel with a thoroughly modern allure, Il Bacio della Medusa should be commended for the painstaking attention devoted to the lyrics – though, unfortunately, non-speakers of Italian are bound to miss out on this aspect, as even the best translation is unlikely to convey the stylistic subtlety of Simone Cecchini’s work. In any case, Deus Lo Vult  is undoubtedly  poised to become one of the standout Italian prog releases of this first part of the 21st century. Especially recommended to fans of bands at the heavier end of the RPI spectrum (such as Osanna and the already-mentioned Balletto di Bronzo and Biglietto per l’Inferno), this intense slice of top-notch musical skill and exquisitely Italian drama will probably be mentioned in many “best of 2012” lists at the end of the year.

Links:
http://www.ilbaciodellamedusa.com/

http://www.myspace.com/ilbaciodellamedusa

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TRACKLISTING:
Il Trittico del Tempo Che Fu:
 1. L’Orologio (5:43)
2. La Persistenza della Memoria (3:11)
3. Somatizzando l’Altare Di Fuoco (7:46)
4. L’Ipostasi (3:19)
Presa di Coscienza del Presente:
 5. Al Torneo (3:32)
6. L’Arrivo dell’Orco – Fuga (4:34)
7. Nuvole e Luce (2:23)
8. Ritorno al… (Reprise) (1:47)
9. Salamandra: Regina di Psiche e di Saggezza (7:40)
Quiete e Redenzione del Domani:
 10. Nel Crepuscolo (3:49)
11. La Notte (4:05)
12. L’Alba del Nuovo Giorno (6:01)
13. This Is What We Got: The Flute Song (7:31)

LINEUP:
Diego Petrini – drums, organ, piano, mellotron, percussion, vocals
Eva Morelli – flute, alto, soprano and tenor sax
Federico Caprai – bass guitar, vocals
Antonello De Cesare – lead guitar, backing vocals
Simone Morelli – rhythm guitar
Maria Giulia Carnevalini – lead and backing vocals

Hailing from the beautiful central Italian region of Umbria, Ornithos (Greek for “bird”) features three members of Il Bacio della Medusa, one of the most interesting Italian progressive rock bands of  the past few years. However, Ornithos predates Il Bacio della Medusa by a few years, and was originally created by multi-instrumentalist Diego Petrini and bassist Federico Caprai in 1999. The two musicians were joined by Eva Morelli in 2007, and subsequently by the three remaining members, vocalist Maria Giulia Carnevalini and guitarists Antonello De Cesare and Simone Morelli La Trasfigurazione, their debut album, was completed in 2011 but released in the early months of 2012. The cover artwork by Federico Caprai features the band’s symbol, the ibis, which is a reference not only to their name, but also to Thoth, the Egyptian god of knowledge, music and time.

For a debut album, La Trasfigurazione is a very ambitious endeavour, bearing witness to the many years of work and dedication behind it. With 13 relatively short tracks arranged in three chapters, it is a concept that hinges on a man’s spiritual journey through the past, the present and the future. True to the Italian progressive tradition, it is also boasts dramatic flair, gorgeous yet occasionally intense melodies, and plenty of variety to keep the listener on their toes. However, unlike many albums that share similar features, the concept is mainly conveyed through music rather than singing. Indeed, the majority of the tracks are instrumental, showcasing the amazing technical skill of the individual members, as well as very tight band dynamics and a remarkable ability in developing a narration without the use of too many words.

Eclecticism is the name of the game on La Trasfigurazione, an album that honours the golden age of Italian prog while at the same time searching for new avenues of expression. The lush  symphonic apparatus of mellotron and other keyboards is beefed up by a twin-guitar approach more typical of classic rock than prog, and the prominent role of Eva Morelli’s saxes lends a sleek, jazzy allure to the sound. While the synergy between flute and guitar, hovering between gentleness and aggression, inevitably evokes Jethro Tull (a big influence on many RPI bands, both old and new), Ornithos’ sound rests on a tightly woven web that relies on the contribution of each instrument, finely detailed yet part of a whole. The vocals, on the other hand, almost take a back seat, although the contrast between Diego Petrini’s low-pitched, almost gloomy delivery (sharply different from the quasi-operatic style favoured by many Italian prog singers) and Maria Giulia Carnevalini’s soaring, blues-tinged tones deserves to be further exploited in the band’s future outings.

The sounds of tolling bells and a ticking clock lead into “L’Orologio”, whose brisk, dance-like pace introduces the album, illustrating the band’s modus operandi. The strong hard rock component of Ornithos’ sound emerges at the end, with a driving guitar solo propelled by high-energy drumming and supported by sax and organ. Petrini’s distinctive vocals make their entrance in the low-key “La Persistenza della Memoria”, and lend a somewhat ominous flavour to the first half of “Somatizzando l’Altare di Fuoco”, a cinematic number that blends echoes of Morricone’s iconic spaghetti-western soundtracks with a vintage hard-rock vibe and an unexpected, laid-back jazzy ending. The nostalgic tango of “L’Ipostasi” wraps up the first chapter.

Introduced by the upbeat “Al Torneo”, the second chapter develops in eclectic fashion with the blaring sax – almost in free-jazz mode – of “L’Arrivo dell’Orco – Fuga”; then it takes a more mellow turn in the Canterbury-tinged “Nuvole e Luce”, which introduces Maria Giulia Carnevalini’s soulful voice paralleled by melodic flute – before plunging deep into hard rock territory with the raging Hammond organ of “Ritorno al… (Reprise)”. “Salamandra: Regina di Psiche e di Saggezza”, probably the album’s climactic point, begins in subdued, almost mournful fashion, then soon unfolds into a dramatic, riff-laden jazz-meets-hard-rock workout that brings to mind the likes of Colosseum, Banco and even The Doors. The third chapter opens with the blues-rock suggestions of “Nel Crepuscolo”, while “La Notte” ’s slow-paced, riff-laden heaviness conjures echoes of Black Sabbath, compounded by a wild, distorted guitar solo and aggressive, almost harsh flute. Then the serene textures of “L’Alba del Nuovo Giorno”, with a lovely sax solo that made me think of the airy, jazz-tinged elegance of Delirium’s magnificent comeback album Il Nome del Vento, bring the main body of the album to a close. In fact, while the jazzy “This Is What We Got: The Flute Song” is undoubtedly a beautiful piece of music – showcasing Antonello De Cesare’s guitar skills in a great solo backed by organ and sax – it feels like an afterthought of sorts, especially on account of the English-language lyrics, which detract from the uniquely Italian character of the rest of the album.

As is the case with most Italian progressive rock, La Trasfigurazione can be somewhat of an acquired taste, and definitely not for those who favour a minimalistic approach. Musically speaking, even if the album might command the controversial “retro” tag, there is also a sense of modernity in the band’s omnivorous approach which pushes Ornithos’sound into the 21st century. True, the album occasionally comes across as a tad overambitious when it wants to cram too many ideas into a limited running time of 56 minutes. However, this is a band that possesses talent in spades, and La Trasfigurazione will make a strong impression on lovers of everything RPI – as well as providing a fine complement to Il Bacio della Medusa’s newly released third album, Deus Lo Vult.

Links:
http://www.ornithos.it/

http://www.myspace.com/ornithos

https://www.facebook.com/ornithosfreeformusic

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Prologue (7:00)
2. Part I (12:25)
3. Part II (9:09)
4. Part III (16:52)
5. Part IV (13:30)

LINEUP:
Fabio Zuffanti – bass guitar, Moog Taurus bass pedals, cymbals, tambourine
Luca Scherani – Mellotron, Minimoog, Korg Sigma, Hammond organ, grand piano, Fender Rhodes and Wurlitzer electric piano, accordion, mandolin
Maurizio Di Tollo- drums
Matteo Nahum – electric, acoustic and classical guitars
Silvia Trabucco – violin
Joanne Roan – flute
Edmondo Romano – bagpipe, soprano sax, tin whistle, bodhran

With:
Alessandro Corvaglia –  lead vocals (Parts I and IV)
Carlo Carnevali – recitation, vocals (Part I)
Davide Merletto – lead vocals (Part II)
Marco Dogliotti –  lead vocals (Part III)
Simona Angioloni – lead vocals (Part IV)

In spite of its name (an homage to Ingmar Bergman’s 1978 film, Autumn Sonata in the English translation, which marked Ingrid Bergman’s final appearance on the big screen), Höstsonaten -one of the many projects in which bassist/composer Fabio Zuffanti (known to US prog fans for his work with Finisterre and La Maschera di Cera) is involved – hails from the Italian port city of Genoa. Its self-titled recording debut came in 1996, followed in 1998 by Mirrorgames, and then by the four albums comprising the Seasoncycles (Springsong, Winterthrough, Autumsymphony and Summereve), released between 2002 and 2011. Though Höstsonaten is a solo project rather than a conventional band, every one of its albums has been conceived as a group effort with the contribution of a number of talented Italian musicians, some of them members of Zuffanti’s other projects (such as Finisterre, La Maschera di Cera and Aries).

Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s iconic 9-part poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (published in 1798 as part of the ground-breaking first edition of  Lyrical Ballads), is one of those literary works that seem to have been created expressly to be put to music, especially in a progressive rock setting. A riveting tale of guilt, atonement and redemption set largely at sea, it epitomizes Romanticism with its heady blend of Christianity, pantheism and Gothic horror (masterfully captured by 19th-century illustrator Gustave Doré, one of whose etchings is reproduced at the end of the CD booklet). Most rock fans will be familiar with Iron Maiden’s stunning, 13-minute rendition that was included on their fifth album, 1984’s Powerslave. Indeed, Iron Maiden’s epic (by many considered a full-fledged example of progressive rock) was the original inspiration for Zuffanti’s own interpretation of Coleridge’s poem – which first appeared in Höstsonaten’s first two albums (as Part I and Part II). However, Zuffanti was not satisfied with the results, and decided to expand his vision and present the poem in its entirety (while the Iron Maiden song condensed Coleridge’s story, quoting the poet’s words only briefly), even if split between two albums, with Chapter Two’s release planned for 2013.

The ambitious scope of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (as well as its respected literary source) will remind dedicated prog fans of the the numerous Colossus Project CD sets released by Musea Records in the past decade or so. Zuffanti himself has frequently collaborated with those endeavours, and graphic artist/drummer Davide Guidoni (one of Colossus Project’s mainstays) has contributed his accomplished artwork to the disc. Coleridge’s original text is interpreted by four different singers plus a reciting voice. As good as the vocal performances are, however, the music is the real strength of the album, effectively conveying the dramatic development of the story – from the joyful departure of the ship to the culmination of the tragedy caused by the Mariner’s wanton killing of the albatross, the “bird of good omen” that steers the ship through a deadly ice field.

The instrumental “Prologue” sets the scene with ominously tolling bells and the haunting sound of the waves, then builds up to a rich tapestry of keyboards (manned by Luca Scherani of La Coscienza di Zeno) laced with violin and Matteo Nahum’s stately, melodic guitar. Though the Genesis influence hovers on the whole album, Zuffanti also introduces heavier elements to bolster the work’s quintessentially dramatic nature. Part I (with vocals by La Maschera di Cera’s Alessandro Corvaglia, assisted by long-time Zuffanti collaborator Carlo Carnevali) is the most consistently symphonic episode, juxtaposing lush keyboard textures, choral mellotron and melodic guitar with the lyrical touch of the violin and the pastoral sound of the flute, and then gradually increasing the intensity quotient, leading to the mournful, melancholy mood  that accompanies the killing of the albatross.  After a deceptively subdued opening, Part II quickly builds up to a powerful climax, with roaring Hammond organ and synth slashes complementing Davide Merletto’s vocals, while some sax inserts add interest, and the eerie, rarefied sound effects at the end aptly convey the plight of the ship becalmed in the middle of an empty ocean.

Part III (at 16 minutes the longest track on the album) marks a definite change of pace, often veering into prog-metal territory and bringing to mind the melodic yet powerful style of bands such as Symphony X. Marco Dogliotto’s clear, assertive tenor (reminiscent of a less histrionic James LaBrie) navigates the shifts in the narrative with confidence and flair, while Silvia Trabucco’s violin alternately soothes and roars, sparring with guitar and organ in almost aggressive fashion. The slow, inexorable approach of the ghost ship is rendered in a chillingly understated way; then the music gains momentum once again to describe the death of the ship’s crew. Piercing bagpipes at the opening of Part IV convey the plight of the Mariner, alone on a ship with the corpses of his mates, whose staring eyes curse him. Corvaglia’s vocals blend with Simona Angioloni’s pure soprano, and the folksy suggestions are reinforced by the use of typical Celtic instruments such as the tin whistle and the bodhran, as well as the accordion, which perfectly complement the wistful, romantic note of the violin. Then, grandiose mellotron and powerful riffs, propelled by Maurizio Di Tollo’s imperious drumming, lead to the climactic moment of the Mariner’s redemption.

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner – Chapter One keeps to a restrained running time of about 58 minutes, and I have to applaud Zuffanti’s choice of splitting such an ambitious endeavor in two parts, rather than  releasing a double CD that would have probably been indicted as overly pretentious. Displaying all the symphonic splendour of the golden age of prog, with a tantalizing sprinkling of folk and jazz influences and occasional forays into metal territory, the album manages nevertheless to sound modern (though obviously not “innovative”), avoiding the unabashedly retro stance of some highly praised releases of the past couple of years. Moreover, the lasting appeal of its literary source removes that whiff of cheesiness that often accompanies such ambitious productions. Highly recommended to fans of classic symphonic prog, with particular regard to the Italian school, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner – Chapter One is a very accomplished effort, and a loving homage to one of the milestones of English-language literature.

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

http://www.zuffantiprojects.com/

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TRACKLISTING:
Studio:
1. Crescendo (8:51)
2. Sequenza Circolare (2:41)
3. La Giostra (7:27)
4. Non Chiudere a Chiave le Stelle (3:41)

Live (Asti, Teatro Alfieri, 1977):
5. Non Chiudere a Chiave le Stelle [coda] (1:02)
6. Crescendo (4:31)
7. Vendesi Saggezza (7:48)

LINEUP:
Studio album:
Leonardo Sasso – vocals
Luciano Boero – bass guitar, acoustic guitar
Oscar Mazzoglio – Hammond B3 organ, Mellotron M 400, Yamaha Motif XS6, Roland V-Combo VR-760, Korg X50
Giorgio Gardino – drums, percussion
Max Brignolo – electric guitar
Maurizio Muha – piano, minimoog, Mellotron M 400

Live album:
Leonardo Sasso – vocals
Luciano Boero – bass guitar
Ezio Vevey – guitar
Oscar Mazzoglio – Hammond organ, keyboards, minimoog
Giorgio Gardino – drums, vibraphone |
Michele Conta – piano, keyboards
Alberto Gaviglio – flute, guitar

Locanda Delle Fate’s fairytale-like name stems from a rather unromantic place – a brothel in their home town of Asti, in north-western Italy (well-known to wine lovers for its fabulous sparkling dessert wine). Originally a seven-piece, the band got together in the early Seventies to play covers of the legendary English prog acts, then moved on to writing their own material. Their first demo attracted the attention of the high-profile record label Phonogram, and their debut album, Forse le Lucciole Non Si Amano Più was released in the summer of 1977. Unfortunately the days of prog’s widespread commercial success were numbered, with the punk and disco movements already in full swing. Disappointed by the lack of response to the album, Locanda Delle Fate disbanded shortly afterwards; their partial reunion in 1999  for the pop-oriented Homo Homini Lupus was also short-lived.

In spite of being plagued by bad timing, in later years Locanda Delle Fate and their 1977 album have become a cult object of sorts for fans of classic Seventies prog, especially those more oriented towards a lush, romantic sound steeped in the Italian tradition as well as in the symphonic stylings of early Genesis. Indeed, they have often been tagged as the Italian answer to Genesis, and those who prefer the edgier side of the Italian prog scene tend to dismiss them as overly sweet and melodic. However, it cannot be denied that Locanda Delle Fate are more than just a bunch of Genesis wannabes: besides their obvious talent as musicians and composers, they can also boast of the magnificent vocals of Leonardo Sasso (who did not participate in the 1999 reunion).

Locanda delle Fate got together once again in 2010, taking full advantage of the much-touted prog revival, and the success that eluded them the first time around seems to have finally headed their way. The release of The Missing Fireflies at the beginning of 2012 presents their loyal fans with some previously unreleased material, including some original 1977 live recordings. Thanks to Marcello Marinone of AltrOck Productions and his father Davide (who had been the sound engineer on Forse Le Lucciole…), the “missing fireflies” have finally seen the light of day;  the original live tapes have been painstakingly cleaned up, and the proofs for the cover artwork of the 1977 album have kindly been put at the band’s disposal by artist Biagio Cairone. The stylishly packaged album is enhanced by Paolo Ske Botta’s graphics and classy photography; while AltrOck stalwart Udi Koomran has lent his expertise to the mastering of the finished product.

For obvious reasons, The Missing Fireflies… will be seen more as a collectors’ item than a genuine new release. The four studio tracks, however, reveal the strength of Locanda Delle Fate’s current line-up, which includes most of its founding members. Only one of those tracks, “Non Chiudere a Chiave le Stelle”, appeared on the band’s debut album, though  the keyboard-heavy “Crescendo” (also present in a shorter live version) and “La Giostra” also date back from their early days. The only completely new track is the 2-minute piano bravura piece “Sequenza Circolare”, composed and interpreted by keyboardist Maurizio Muha, which introduces the stunning “La Giostra” – a gorgeously melodic composition with tightly-woven instrumental parts complementing Sasso’s warm, smooth vocals, melding Genesis influences (particularly evident in Max Brignolo’s airy, stately guitar work) with Italian flair.

The live tracks amount to less than half of the album – which, at around 35 minutes, is already quite short for today’s standards. In spite of the less than stellar sound quality, they allow the band’s collective talent to shine. In  the exhilarating version of “Vendesi Saggezza”, Sasso’s passionate vocal performance brings to mind Francesco Di Giacomo (to whom he has often been compared), while powerful, Banco-like keyboard parts blend with a pastoral feel in true Genesis style.

All in all, The Missing Fireflies will be a worthwhile investment for dedicated followers of the band and fans of the original RPI scene, while newcomers might want to try Forse Le Lucciole Non Si Amano Più before taking the plunge. In any case, the release of the album, together with the success of Locanda Delle Fate’s recent live outings (at the time of writing, they have just returned from Japan, where they appeared at a festival in Tokyo together with other historic Italian prog bands), bodes well for the future of the new incarnation of the band. US prog fans will have the unique opportunity to see them at Farfest, which is scheduled to take place on October 4-7, 2012, at the Grand Opera House in Wilmington, Delaware.

Links:
http://www.locandadellefate.com/

http://production.altrock.it/prod2.asp?lang=ita_&id=125&id2=176

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Nella Pietra e Nel Vento (5:10)
2. Silenzi (5:00)
3. Il Santo (4:04)
4. La Cosa Più Bella (4:00)
5. Un Grande Giardino (3:20)
6. Sette Passi (4:36)
7. C’è Una Vita (4:27)
8. Tra il Bene e il Male (4:11)
9. Dio Lo Sa (3:37)
10. Il Sutra del Cuore (3:14)

LINEUP:
Aldo Tagliapietra – vocals, bass, bass pedals
Aligi Pasqualetto – piano, minimoog, keyboards
Andrea De Nardi – Hammond organ, keyboards
Matteo Ballarin – electric and acoustic guitars
Manuel Smaniotto – drums, percussion

With:
Claudio Galieti – bass (8)

At the end of 2009, the news that legendary bassist/vocalist Aldo Tagliapietra – one of the most immediately recognizable voices of the original prog scene – had left Le Orme after over 40 years together caused widespread consternation among the fans of the iconic Italian band. The subsequent legal hassles related to the use of the band name added a sour note to the ending of such a long-standing, successful partnership. However, neither the remaining members of Le Orme nor Tagliapietra himself have let this unpleasant set of circumstances have a negative impact on their career. Le Orme’s 2011 album, La Via della Seta (recorded with former Metamorfosi vocalist Jimmy Spitaleri replacing Tagliapietra) got a very positive reception. On the other hand, Tagliapietra reactivated his collaboration with former Le Orme keyboardist Toni Pagliuca, as well as guitarist Tolo Marton (who appeared on Le Orme’s 1975 album Smogmagica), for a series of sold-out performances following their appearance at the first edition of the festival ProgExhibition in 2010, with violinist David Cross (of King Crimson fame) as a special guest. In May 2011 Tagliapietra released a double CD, Unplugged, featuring acoustic versions of Le Orme classics as well as his own compositions.

Besides the above-mentioned activity, after his split from Le Orme Tagliapietra had been steadily working at his fifth solo album, eagerly awaited by his many fans. The album, titled Nella Pietra e Nel Vento, and released at the very beginning of 2012, is a summation of his artistic and personal experiences of the past few years, and marks a new stage in the artist’s career. It also sees his renewed collaboration with English artist Paul Whitehead, the author of legendary album covers such as Genesis’ Trespass, Nursery Cryme and Foxtrot and Van Der Graaf Generator’s H to He Who Am the Only One and Pawn Hearts (as well as Le Orme’s above-mentioned Smogmagica). Whitehead’s touch is immediately recognizable in the delicate pastel hues and peaceful, pastoral feel of the album cover, which is somewhat reminiscent of Italian Renaissance painting with its bold use of perspective. The painting’s title, The Stonecutter, is the English translation of Tagliapietra’s surname.

A word of warning: those who are looking for Felona e Sorona # 2 need not apply, because – as even a cursory look at the track list will show – Nella Pietra e Nel Vento adopts a song-based, singer-songwriter style rather than a traditional progressive rock one. Those familiar with Le Orme’s early albums (especially Collage) will not fail to recognize the similarities between them and the elegant, exquisitely melodic compositions featured on Nella Pietra e Nel Vento. The prog imprint is present in the rich instrumentation, with the keyboards manned by Aligi Pasqualetto and Andrea De Nardi expertly weaving layers of lush melodies, supported by Manuel Smaniotto’s discreet drumming and Matteo Ballarin’s clear, flowing guitar work (De Nardi, Ballarin and Smaniotto are also members of The Former Life).

All the songs on Nella Pietra e Nel Vento have a straightforward structure that privileges melody and accessibility over complexity. Though a couple of tracks border dangerously close to commercial melodic pop – with “Tra il Bene e il Male” (featuring original Le Orme bassist Claudio Galieti) being the main offender – the album leans towards a prog-tinged song form with occasional classical and folk influences that occasionally bring to mind the output of another outstanding Italian artist, Angelo Branduardi . The vocals (and thus the lyrics) occupy centre stage, which may not fly very well with those who are more inclined towards the instrumental showcases typical of conventional prog. Though those who are not familiar with Italian will inevitably miss out on the content, Tagliapietra’s deeply personal, positive lyrics feel like a breath of fresh air if compared to the current trend for doom and gloom. While his life-changing experience with Indian music and culture is often referenced in the songs, the influence of Eastern music is conspicuously absent from the album, which is instead permeated with the warmth and melodic flair of the Mediterranean.

Clocking in at around 41 minutes, Nella Pietra e Nel Vento comprises 10 songs between 3 and 5 minutes long, in which the highly accomplished musical accompaniment provided by Tagliapietra himself and his young band act as a framework for the artist’s trademark vocals, slightly plaintive yet confident and expressive. While his voice may be an acquired taste for some, it is undeniable that, unlike what happened to many of his contemporaries, it has remained as strong as it was in the Seventies, and possibly grown even better with age. The title-track, introduced by the solemn note of a church organ, develops in a mid-paced, catchy tune that highlights Tagliapietra’s immaculate vocals and Aligi Pasqualetto’s rippling piano. Andrea De Nardi’s Hammond organ, discreetly yet unmistakably present to add fullness and a touch of spice to the sound, in contrast with the more lyrical voice of the piano, really comes into its own in the last two tracks –  the upbeat, almost singalong “Dio Lo Sa”, whose folksy feel may recall PFM’s more light-hearted efforts, and closing track “Il Sutra del Cuore”, where the clear, chime-like tone of the guitar offset by the earthier rumble of the organ will not fail to evoke vintage Genesis.  In contrast, “Sette Passi”, whose lyrics reference Buddha’s life story, is meditative and atmospheric, with mellotron providing a symphonic foil for Tagliapietra’s intense vocal performance.

A classy, heartwarming album that, while not exactly prog, bears nonetheless the strong imprint of Tagliapietra’s long involvement with the genre, Nella Pietra e Nel Vento will appeal most to those who prize melody and singing rather than intricate instrumental flights. Lovers of Italian music are very likely to appreciate it, as are those who are seeking a respite from the many overambitious, convoluted productions of today. The positive attitude emanating from both the music and the lyrics is refreshing, as is the mix of child-like simplicity and wisdom that contrasts so strongly with the world-weariness (or even outright pessimism) of so much modern music. Nella Pietra e Nel Vento is clearly not for everyone, but still highly recommended to fans of the more melodic side of classic prog.

Links:
http://www.aldotagliapietra.it

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