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Posts Tagged ‘AltrOck/Fading Records’

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TRACKLISTING:
1. La Città di Dite (6:46)
2. Sensitività (12:22)
3. Tenue (3:31)
4. Chiusa 1915 (7:04)
5. Tensegrità (7:18)
6. Pauvre Misère (7:49)
7. La Temperanza (10:38)

LINEUP:
Stefano Agnini – solina, synthorchestra, analog synths
Alessio Calandriello- vocals
Gabriele Guidi Colombi –  bass
Andrea Orlando – drums, percussion
Davide Serpico – acoustic, electric and classical guitar
Luca Scherani – piano, analog synths, mellotron, accordion, bouzouki

With:
Joanne Roan – flute
Sylvia Trabucco – violin
Melissa Del Lucchese – cello
Rossano Villa – mellotron

After the positive reception of their 2011 self-titled debut album, La Coscienza di Zeno’s sophomore effort, Sensitività, brings quite a few relevant changes to the Genoese band’s status. Keyboardist/lyricist Stefano Agnini, who had left the band prior to the first album’s release, is back in the fold, flanked by second keyboardist Luca Scherani of Höstsonaten fame (who had guested on the debut). The band have also joined the growing Fading Records roster – that subsection of AltrOck Productions dedicated to artists that reinterpret classic progressive rock in a fresh, contemporary key.

Sensitività, released in the early summer of 2013, and premiered at the AltrOck/Fading Festival, shares some features with the band’s previous effort, but is also in some ways rather different. While the number of tracks (seven altogether) has remained unchanged, and the album’s running time is only slightly shorter, La Coscienza di Zeno have decided to dispense with instrumental tracks, so that each of the songs provides a showcase for  Alessio Calandriello’s magnificent vocals, perfectly complemented by Stefano Agnini’s highly literate lyrics – a cut above the average of most prog bands. Alessio’s astounding pipes and crystal-clear enunciation anchor the words to the music, making his performance a delight even for those who do not understand a word of Italian. The eminently musical quality of the language itself does the rest, keeping the listener spellbound. Indeed, Calandriello truly shines when singing in his native language: as great as he is on Not A Good Sign’s debut album, English does not sound like a natural fit for his voice.

With two keyboardists – following in the footsteps of Banco del Mutuo Soccorso (one of the biggest influences on the band’s sound) – La Coscienza di Zeno’s sound is lush and melodic, but without any concessions to saccharine sweetness. The unmistakable (and occasionally a bit overpowering) whistle of the synthesizer is offset by gorgeously beautiful piano, while the ever-present mellotron confers the music a well-rounded, orchestral quality. Davide Serpico’s guitar is a discreet but indispensable complement to the keyboards, at times injecting some well-needed edge and beefing up the dazzling work of Gabriele Guidi Colombi and Andrea Orlando’s rhythm section. The latter’s drumming is the real driving force behind the album – in turns dramatic, powerful and understated according to need.

Each of the seven songs on the album – mostly between 6 and 12 minutes in length – can be seen as a vignette, illustrated by the stunning photography that accompanies each set of lyrics. With the exception of the short, subdued ballad “Tenue”, which aptly conveys its title (“faint, subtle”) through Scherani’s piano and Calandriello’s somber vocals, the remaining six tracks are packed with twists and turns, combining exquisite, almost catchy melodies with dazzling instrumental prowess that, however, never feels contrived or done just for its own sake. The elegant, classically-inspired piano intro to “La Città di Dite” lulls the listener into a false sense of security before moog and vocals suddenly barge in, intense and theatrical in the best classic RPI tradition – alternating majestic, riff-laden passages with gentler ones, all dominated by Calandriello’s impassioned but dignified vocals. In the title-track – one of two “epic” tracks over 10 minutes – the accordion adds a nostalgic, folksy tinge, while jazzy overtones lurk behind the powerfully melodic vocals and exhilarating keyboard runs.

“Chiusa 1915” – told from the point of view of Russian prisoners working in the construction of the railway line in north-eastern Italy during World War I – is suitably wistful, though the military tone of the drums and synth at the beginning hint at the subject matter; while “Tensegrità” (a term taken from Carlos Castaneda’s work about shamanic rites) hovers between restraint and buoyancy, with a distinct Italian feel conveyed by Calandriello’s intense vocal interpretation and the lush keyboard layers. The duo of songs that close the album blend different influences in a richly arranged tapestry. The dramatic, waltz-like “Pauvre Misère” sees Orlandi’s drums and Scherani’s piano in the starring role, merging hints of vintage Genesis and ELP with its uniquely Italian flavour; while “La Temperanza” – introduced by a splendid piano-led intro accented by flute and strings – boasts of a dense texture in which every instrument (including Calandriello’s voice) gets its chance to shine, all the while contributing to the fabric of the composition, creating a haunting Old-World atmosphere with the stately pace of a traditional waltz.

Lavishly packaged in Paolo Ske Botta’s sophisticated artwork (carefully composed, sepia-tinted still-life photographs that will delight lovers of everything vintage), while sounding thoroughly modern thanks to Udi Koomran’s priceless mastering work, Sensitività is also firmly rooted in the great Italian prog tradition of the Seventies. Although, as I previously hinted, at times the synth sounds may be a bit too reminiscent of neo-prog modes, the Italian flair for exquisite melodies and dramatic yet remarkably un-cheesy atmospheres shines through the album, and makes it essential listening for any self-respecting RPI fan. A supremely classy work, Sensitività is a grower, and even fans of more left-field fare may find a lot to appreciate in it. The band have also announced the intention of publishing English translations of the lyrics, so that non-Italian speakers will also be able to share in the experience of connecting the words to the music.

Links:
http://www.allmusic.com/artist/la-coscienza-di-zeno-mn0003137199

https://www.facebook.com/pages/La-Coscienza-di-Zeno-CDZ/145847225475623

http://www.altrock.it

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Some Stories (3:07)
2. Dance of the Sun/The Remark/Dance of the Sun (Birth of the Light) (6:16)
3. The Withered Throne (7:22)
4. We All Stand in Our Broken Jars (5:32)
5. A Safe Haven (3:40)
6. Knight’s Vow (4:00)
7. Clumsy Grace (2:45)
8. Mellow Days (9:38)
9. ‘Til the Morning Came (4:54)
10. Some Stories (Reprise) (3:47)

LINEUP:
Valerio Smordoni – lead and backing vocals, Minimoog, keyboards, piano, harmonium, acoustic guitar, tambourine, Taurus pedal
Manolo D’Antonio – acoustic and 12-string guitars, electric guitar, classical guitar, ukulele, backing vocals
Marco Avallone – bass, bass synthesizer, Taurus pedal, percussion

With:
Francesco Favilli – drums, percussion
Carlo Enrico Macalli – flute
Andrea Bergamelli – cello
Eliseo Smordoni – bassoon
Giovanni Vigliar – violin

The Morning Choir: Valerio Smordoni, Manolo D’Antonio, Marco Chiappini, Marco Del Mastro, Francesco Macrì, Simone Giglio, Giovanni Peditto, Igi Tani.

One of the newest additions to the Fading Records subdivision of AltrOck Productions, Camelias Garden are also very much of an unknown quantity to most progressive rock fans  – and not only on account of the band members’ young age. Hailing from my own hometown of Rome, they originally started as vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Valerio Smordoni’s one-man project, and subsequently turned into a full-fledged band with the addition of guitarist Manolo D’Antonio, bassist Marco Avallone and drummer Walter Palombi. Their debut album, You Have a Chance, produced by Massimo Dolce of Gran Turismo Veloce, was released in March 2013.

Labeling themselves as “post-progressive”, Camelias Garden (who are quite active on the live front, even if most of their gigs happen outside recognized prog circles) cite such diverse influences as  Genesis (an essential reference point for practically every Italian prog band), The Beatles and Porcupine Tree, but also post-rock icons Explosions in the Sky and crossover hotshots Tame Impala. In fact, unlike most currently active Italian prog bands, Camelias Garden are firmly rooted in the English musical tradition – both progressive and vintage folk-rock – although echoes of some of the RPI greats of the past occasionally surface. Rather unusually for an Italian band, their grasp of the English language is outstanding, and Smordoni’s enunciation is nearly accentless.

On You Have a Chance, the three core members of the band (drummer Walter Palombi joined after the album had been recorded) are supplemented by a number of guest musicians. A look at the lineup will also reveal a prevalence of acoustic instruments – and, in fact, in Camelias Garden music the electric component is kept to a minimum. As hinted by the deceptively naïf cover artwork – with a slightly disturbing, surrealistic touch in the eyeballs replacing the flower centres – You Have a Chance, much in the way of Genesis’ early output, is not as airy-fairy as the band’s name might initially suggest; while the melancholy, somewhat world-weary lyrics have a late Romantic feel. With its circular structure, the album can be seen as a concept of sorts, and the tracks flow into one another without discernible breaks.

The short, sweet “Some Stories”, a delicate, pastoral vignette highlighting Smordoni’s harmonious, medieval-storyteller’s vocals, complemented by dreamy birdsong and gentle acoustic guitar, provides a fitting introduction for the album, its veiled melancholy enhanced by flute and the solemn drone of the cello. The mood picks up with the folksy, lively “Dance of the Sun” and its sweeping Moog sharply reminiscent of PFM’s iconic “Celebration” (and, occasionally, of vintage Genesis), culminating in a lively Celtic jig.

Most of the album, however, rests on muted, gentle melodies, its whimsical English folk matrix bolstered by the haunting presence of the mellotron, whose interplay with the acoustic guitar enhances the catchy ballad “The Withered Throne” (which reminded me a lot of The Decemberists), and lends classic prog appeal to the romantic instrumental “We All Stand in Our Broken Jars”, with its charming juxtaposition of the acoustic and the electric component. The album’s other instrumental, “A Safe Haven”, is a lovely, autumnal piano piece to which flute and mellotron add depth. Then, a couple of ethereal ballads, “Knight’s Vow” and “Clumsy Grace”, whose endearing folksiness gains prog credentials from Moog and Mellotron, introduce the album’s own mini-epic, the almost 10-minute “Mellow Days”, in which echoes of medieval music merge with a full-fledged early Genesis tribute: indeed, some of the keyboard parts will not fail to recall the iconic “Firth of Fifth”. The album comes full circle with “Some Stories (Reprise)”, a celebration of nostalgia in which the opening track is presented as a faint, scratchy recording on a backdrop of falling rain, in a fascinating sonic collage.

Clocking in at a sensible 49 minutes, There’s a Chance is obviously a labour of love, put together with painstaking care by a group of young, dedicated musicians. Although derivative in parts, and occasionally a tad repetitive, devoid of those sharper edges that might make it more attractive to fans of more experimental fare, its soothing, mainly acoustic nature will offer a lot of listening pleasure to those who like their melody untainted by overt mainstream pretensions. Blending nostalgia with a subtle touch of modernity, You Have a Chance is a solid first showcase for a band that shows a lot of promise for the future, and another intriguing find from the ever-reliable AltrOck team.

Links:
http://cameliasgarden.com/

http://cameliasgarden.bandcamp.com/

http://www.altrock.it

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In a couple of weeks’ time, fans of AltrOck Productions, the cutting-edge Italian label founded by Marcello Marinone and Francesco Zago in 2005, will be offered the unique opportunity to attend a two-day festival featuring a selection of exciting Italian and European bands, many of them have appeared on these pages.

The event, scheduled to take place on the weekend of June 1-2 at La Casa di Alex, a cultural centre on the outskirts of Milan, will see a total of seven bands taking turns on the stage. The label’s subsection Fading Records, dedicated to bands and artists who revisit “traditional” prog modes with a modern attitude, will be represented by Ciccada (Greece), La Coscienza di Zeno and Ske (Italy), who will be joined by highly awaited Norwegian outfit Wobbler; while October Equus (Spain) and Humble Grumble (Belgium) will add some intriguing RIO/Avant spice to the proceedings. Bassist Pierre “W-Cheese” Wawrzyniak (of fellow AltrOckers Camembert) will join Ske on stage for their first-ever live performance: while La Coscienza di Zeno will premiere their forthcoming second album, titled Sensitività.

The festival will also mark the stage debut of Not A Good Sign, the newest offering from AltrOck and  the label’s own “supergroup” of sorts, featuring Yugen’s Paolo “Ske” Botta (who is also the label’s main graphic artist) and Francesco Zago, and La Coscienza di Zeno’s Gabriele Guidi Colombi and Alessio Calandriello, as well as drummer Martino Malacrida. The band, who was started in 2011 by Botta and Zago (later joined by the other members),  aims to revisit the sounds of classic prog – liberally seasoned with hard rock and psychedelic suggestions – with a thoroughly modern attitude, focusing on the creation of melancholy, haunting atmospheres. Their self-titled recording debut, officially released on June 10, will be available for purchase at the festival. Yugen’s Maurizio Fasoli (piano), cellist Bianca Fervidi and vocalist Sharon Fortnam (Cardiacs/North Sea Radio Orchestra) also guest on the album. You can listen to a preview of the album here.

Links:
http://altrockfading.blogspot.it/

http://www.alexetxea.it/

www.altrock.it

https://www.facebook.com/notagoodsign

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Three Jumps the Devil (7:05)
2. You’ll Wait Forever (6:28)
3. Never Worry (3:59)
4. Thief (7:26)
5. Brightening Sky (5:23)
6. Rosa (16:09)
7. Bye Bye Now (5:33)

LINEUP:
Robbie Wilson – vocals, guitars, trumpet, organ
Luke Foster – drums, percussion, piano
Peter Evans – bass, glockenspiel
Chris Lloyd – guitars, thumb piano

With:
Thomas Feiner – vocals, instrumentation
Anna-Lynne Williams – vocals
Bruce White – viola
Helen Whittaker – flute

Autumn Chorus (a name that describes the band’s sound to a T) hail from the historic English city of Brighton, known to music fans as the setting to The Who’s iconic Quadrophenia. The band was born in 2007 from the close friendship between the four members, nourished by their shared love for the beautiful countryside of south-eastern England. That same countryside provided the setting for the recording sessions of their debut album, The Village to the Vale, which started in September 2009, with a number of guest musicians drafted in to add depth and richness to the final product. First released in 2011 as a digital download,  the album found a home on the Fading Records subdivision of cutting-edge Italian label AltrOck Productions, and was released in CD format in May 2012.

While the album’s charmingly pastoral title and  cover artwork might suggest a slightly twee, folk-tinged effort in quintessentially English style, a peer inside the elegant CD booklet will reveal that the homage paid by Autumn Chorus to the bountiful natural beauty of England’s green and pleasant land is quite far removed from the usual Seventies clichés. The stunningly beautiful, sepia-tinted nature photography that adorns the booklet offers a visual equivalent of the band’s stately yet riveting musical output, which blends the atmospheric, almost brittle quality of post-rock with the great English tradition of church choral music. It seems inevitable for any new band or artist to be compared to someone else, and Autumn Chorus are no exception – eliciting comparisons with post-rock icons such as Sigur Rós, or even with seminal post-proggers Radiohead. However, the most noticeable influence that will emerge after repeated listens of The Village to the Vale is Talk Talk’s groundbreaking 1988 album Spirit of Eden.

In keeping with the post-rock aesthetics, Autumn Chorus make use of traditional rock instruments to produce a sound that often hints at classical and chamber music. Indeed, the drums are employed as they would be in an orchestral context,  to add texture and increase the emotional impact of a passage, rather than in the dynamic, propulsive role they usually fulfill in a rock band. Ethereal and tightly woven at the same time, the music moves in slow, swelling waves, interspersed with pauses of rarefied calm. The liberal use of those fascinatingly hybrid instruments, the glockenspiel and the thumb piano, adds a further layer to the solid foundation of traditional keyboards such as piano and organ, while the guitar is mostly used for dimension rather than as the main actor. However, Robbie Wilson’s enchanting choirboy-like voice, assisted by gorgeous vocal harmonies and paralleled by the nostalgic sound of the trumpet, is probably the most important instrument for Autumn Chorus’ sound.

Clocking in at about 52 minutes, The Village to the Vale features seven tracks ranging from the 4 minutes of the enchanting chorale of “Never Worry” – a melancholy, subdued piece laced with mournful viola and trumpet and embellished by angelic vocal harmonies – to the haunting 16 minutes of “Rosa”. Drums and organ impart a solemn, almost martial pace to opener “Three Jumps the Devil”, while Wilson’s politely wistful vocals find an echo in the sedate, vaguely forlorn sound of the trumpet. “You’ll Wait Forever” seems to embody the melancholy beauty of the autumnal season, with viola and surging keyboards reinforced by the delicate tinkle of the glockenspiel. The more upbeat “Thief”, somewhat reminiscent of Radiohead circa OK Computer, closes the first half of the album with  an intriguing blend of conventional rock modes (including a rare guitar solo) and the folksy, pastoral touch of the flute.

“Brightening Sky”, probably the most accessible (and, in my view, least successful) track on the album, features the lovely voice of Anna-Lynne Williams alongside Wilson’s, though thankfully avoiding the corny results typical of many female-fronted prog bands. Far from being a run-of-the-mill prog “epic”, in spite of its respectable running time, “Rosa” is a veritable tour de force made of gradual build-ups culminating in explosions of sound, powered by drums, keyboards and guitar, and moments of gentle respite. The album is wrapped up by the haunting “Bye Bye Now”, a meditative, elegantly orchestrated piece in which the presence of a child’s recorded voice seems to hint at some private tragedy, also reflected in the title.

In spite of what may seem, The Village to the Vale is anything but a nostalgia trip, and manages to combine a timeless, old-world vibe with some thoroughly modern attitudes. Those who might believe that Autumn Chorus are just another addition to the ever-growing roster of rather unimaginative contemporary British prog bands had better think again. In fact, the album is one of those rare efforts that will appeal to both long-time progressive rock fans and those newcomers to the genre who may be daunted by an overly pretentious approach. Easily one of the most interesting debuts of the past few years, The Village to the Vale is a delightful listen that most prog lovers will appreciate.

Links:
http://autumnchorus.bandcamp.com/

https://www.facebook.com/autumnchorus

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

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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. A Child & A Well (4:46)
2. The Fall (5:27)
3. Man & Angel (5:30)
4. Little Town (5:31)
5. Run Free You Idiot (4:13)
6. Empty Promises (4:41)
7. The Postman (6:21)
8. A Fantasy (8:42)

LINEUP:
Julia Feldman – vocals
Udi Horev – guitar
Dvir Katz – flute
Yuri Tulchinsky – keyboards
Avi Cohen-Hillel – bass guitar
Michael Gorodinsky – drums

With:
Udi Koomran – electronics (8)

In spite of their name (Latin for “fake music”, referring to the use of notes lying outside the “true music” system as established by Guido D’Arezzo), there is nothing fake or contrived about Musica Ficta, an Israeli six-piece formed in 2003 by guitarist and composer Udi Horev. Their debut album, A Child & A Well (English translation of the Hebrew Yeled Vebeer) was originally recorded in 2005, but only released on the international market in 2012, on the Fading Records subdivision of  AltrOck Productions – thanks to renowned sound engineer Udi Koomran’s close relationship with the cutting-edge Italian label. Koomran, who mastered the album, also guests on one track; while Paolo “Ske” Botta is responsible for the stylish graphics.

Musica Ficta are a supergroup of sorts, featuring the considerable talents of Russian-born jazz singer Julia Feldman and flutist/composer Dvir Katz, known on the jazz scene as the leader of Chameleon Trio. The other band members (original keyboardist Yuri Tulchinsky was replaced by Omer Rizi just after the recording of the album) are also obviously very talented, and well-versed in a wide range of musical modes besides rock. This should not come as news to anyone familiar with the small but thriving Israeli progressive music scene, which last year produced one of the classiest “retro-prog” albums of 2011, Sanhedrin’s Ever After, and can boast of a strikingly original prog metal band such as Orphaned Land.

True to the multiethnic nature of their home country, Musica Ficta infuse their sound with influences that go beyond classic prog. The use of Hebrew for the lyrics (though all of the song titles are in English) adds an exotic touch to the music, whose heady blend of lyricism ad heaviness contains suggestions of medieval and Renaissance music, and tantalizing hints of Eastern European and Middle Eastern folk music (particularly evident in the title-track). With those characteristics, further enhanced by the presence of a strong female vocalist, Musica Ficta may draw comparisons to Ciccada, a band whose debut album (bearing the uncannily similar title of A Child in the Mirror) was the first Fading Records release.

In keeping with a praiseworthy trend for shorter, more compact albums, A Child & A Well clocks in at a healthy 45 minutes, with relatively short tracks (the longest, the instrumental “A Fantasy”, is under 9 minutes) that nevertheless offer all the complexity and lush instrumentation that a self-respecting prog fan might desire. Most of the compositions feature Julia Feldman’s confident, highly trained voice, as capable of hitting the high notes as of reaching for deeper, more subdued tones. For some odd reason, however, her voice failed to resonate with me – especially in the album’s attempt at a power ballad of sorts, the slightly sappy “Little Town”, which is rescued by its Genesis-meets-PFM finale. Personal gripes aside, Feldman’s performance will not fail to impress fans of commanding female vocalists such as Annie Haslam or Christina Booth. The title-track (which can be also enjoyed as a video, with the band dressed in 18th-century costume) is probably Feldman’s finest hour on this album, the lilting, dance-like pace of the singing offset by the harder-edged instrumental sections, driven by organ and guitar.

The central role of the flute in A Child & A Well has elicited inevitable comparisons with Jethro Tull, compounded by the often aggressive stance of the electric guitar – and, indeed, Udi Horev’s approach owes a lot to Martin Barre’s hard-driving style. “Man & Angel” rests on the balance between gentler, vocal-based passages and heavier instrumental ones that characterizes much of the output of Ian Anderson’s band; the same dynamics of folk-ballad-meets-hard-rock can be found in the intense “The Postman”. Indeed, However, there are also nods to lesser-known outfits like Delirium (in my view, one of the best early Italian prog bands), whose influence emerges in the jazzy, bass-driven instrumental “Run Free You Idiot”  – an intriguing concoction of Avant suggestions, razor-sharp guitar riffs and lilting harpsichord that is definitely one of the highlights of the whole album. My personal pick, however, would be the 8-minute-plus “A Fantasy” – a stately, supremely atmospheric guitar showcase, acoustic at first, then electric, complemented by the eerily surging drone of Koomran’s haunting electronic soundscapes.

A Child & A Well is a superbly performed album that,while not perfect (I personally found the second half more satisfactory than the first), has the potential to appeal to most progressive rock fans, even those more inclined towards cutting-edge stuff rather than anything with a “retro” flavour. Unfortunately, Musica Ficta seem to have dropped off the radar in the past few years, with its members engaged in other projects. It is to be hoped that they will surface again in the near future, because their debut surely shows a lot of promise.

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

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

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

With:
Michael Lam – English horn
Elinoy Yogev – bassoon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

http://www.reverbnation.com/sanhedrin1

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

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