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Posts Tagged ‘Boris Savoldelli’

Even though it comes slightly late in comparison to other blogs and websites, this retrospective of the past year has been in the pipeline for a while. It is a first time for me, though obviously I have participated in quite a few surveys of this kind in my time as a collaborator of various music sites. However, the year 2011 has been uncommonly rich in excellent releases covering the whole of the progressive rock spectrum – similar in this to 2009 rather than the somewhat lackluster 2010.

My activity as a reviewer has also reached an unprecedented level in the past 12 months, and this (as well as other factors) have allowed me to listen to a wider range and number of new albums than in previous years – though not all of the albums I will be mentioning in the following paragraphs have been the object of a review. I have also been actively involved on the prog scene, attending festivals and gigs and keeping up a steady network of contacts with artists, label owners and fellow reviewers and fans. As the end-of-year statistics point out, the total number of views received by this blog in 2011 exceeded any of the expectations I had at the start of this venture, one and a half years ago.

Obviously, I cannot claim to have heard each and every prog (and related) album released in 2011, and quite of few of the big-name releases of the past year will be conspicuously absent from this overview. I will also refrain from using the usual list format, let alone a “Top 10/20/100” one, in spite of its undeniable popularity with music fans. While I am sure that everyone will be very curious to learn about my # 1 album of 2011,  this curiosity will have to remain unsatisfied, because I hardly ever think in terms of “absolute favourites”, and would be hard put to name my favourite band or artist (or literary author, for that matter). Although most “year in review” pieces do contain a measure of narcissism, the main aim of this post is to stimulate people’s curiosity, as well as debate, rather than turning it into a pointless competition of the “my list is better than yours” sort. We are all adult enough to be aware of the mostly subjective nature of lists, overviews, retrospectives and the like, and hopefully no one here is out to change other people’s minds.

In 2011, the prog “revival” reached unparalleled proportions, bolstered by the many opportunities offered by the Internet. In spite of the loud cries of woe about a supposed “death of the CD”, the number of acts that keep releasing their material in physical format is still quite high, and many of them still choose to put extra care in the artwork and liner notes, with often remarkable results. While the oversaturation of what remains very much a niche market cannot be denied, it is also true that high-quality productions are far from scarce, and the advent of legal streaming sites like the excellent Progstreaming has made it possible for everyone to sample an album before taking the plunge. Unfortunately, the wealth of music available either in digital or physical form does not correspond to higher availability of performing opportunities for those acts who still believe in the power of live performances. The shocking announcement of NEARfest 2011’s cancellation, at the end of March, rocked the prog fandom for months, and even the subsequent announcement of NEARfest Apocalypse for June 2012 did not allay many people’s fears concerning the dwindling range of gigging opportunities, especially here in the US (Europe, in spite of the economic crisis, seems to be doing much better in this respect). The prog community is also splintering in a way that, coupled with a worryingly nostalgic attitude and increasing reluctance to leave one’s own comfort zone, might spell disaster for the future.

2011 marked not only the return of a number of high-profile acts, but also some outstanding recording debuts. If I was forced at gunpoint to choose a favourite, this award would probably go to Texas-based trio Herd of Instinct’s self-titled debut, the first album released on Firepool Records, legendary Californian band Djam Karet’s own label. An almost entirely instrumental effort with the exception of one (gorgeous) song, the Herd’s debut shares this format with another of the year’s milestones, Accordo dei Contrari’s Kublai (whose only song features the incomparable vocals of Canterbury legend Richard Sinclair). These two albums, as well as Marbin’s classy Breaking the Cycle and Dialeto’s intriguing Chromatic Freedom, illustrate how the song form can be reinvented in such a way as not to disrupt the flow of the music, incorporating the vocals into a fabric that hinges on complex instrumental interplay.

In the realm of the purely instrumental releases, top marks go to Gösta Berlings Saga’s stunning third album, Glue Works (“Island” alone is worth the price of admission), alongside a trio of AltrOck Productions releases – Ske’s elegant 1000 Autunni (the first solo project by Yugen keyboardist Paolo Botta), Calomito’s intense Cane di Schiena and Camembert’s ebullient Schnörgl Attack – and a couple of outstanding offers from the ever-reliable MoonJune Records, the world-jazz of Slivovitz’s Bani Ahead and the superb testimony of Moraine’s NEARfest 2010 set, Metamorphic Rock. Lovers of creative percussion will surely enjoy Knitting By Twilight’s enchanting Weathering (and possibly check out the Providence collective’s previous releases); while Lunatic Soul’s Impressions (the third solo album by Riverside’s Mariusz Duda) will satisfy those addicted to haunting, ethnic-tinged soundscapes. On a more traditional note, Derek Sherinian’s Oceana presents a solid example of guitar- and keyboard-based progressive fusion, which spotlights ensemble playing rather than individual displays of technical fireworks.

The 2011 releases that feature vocals as an essential part run the gamut from experimental to melody- and song-oriented. Big Block 454’s quirky Bells and Proclamations, and another couple of AltrOck releases – The Nerve Institute’s multifaceted Architect of Flesh-Density, and Dave Willey and Friends’ moving homage to Willey’s father, the beautiful Immeasurable Currents (review forthcoming) – are outstanding instances of the first category. More in a jazz than a rock vein, Boris Savoldelli’s Biocosmopolitan showcases the Italian artist’s superlative vocal technique, all the while offering music that is eminently listenable and upbeat. The ultra-eclectic Zappa homage that is Electric Sorcery’s Believe in Your Own Best Friend throws a lot of diverse influences into its heady mix of outrageous storyline and constantly challenging music. On the other hand, Man On Fire’s Chrysalis is a blueprint for modern “crossover prog”, seamlessly blending the accessibility of Eighties-style quality pop with some seriously intricate instrumental work; while fellow 10T Records band Mars Hollow make a true quantum leap with their second album, World in Front of Me, which follows in the footsteps of early Yes in terms of successfully marrying gorgeous pop melodies with instrumental flights of fancy. However, the crown for 2011 in the realm of “mainstream” progressive rock goes to Phideaux’s magnificent Snowtorch, an incredibly dense concentrate of haunting vocals, memorable tunes and thought-provoking lyrical content.

Some landmark albums released during the past year are at least tangentially related to progressive rock. In all probability, my personal award of most played album of the year should go to Black Country Communion’s 2, a more mature, well-rounded effort than its barnstorming predecessor. Thanks to the Glenn Hughes-led quartet, classic hard rock is undergoing a renaissance, with a recognizable yet subtly updated sound. BCC guitarist Joe Bonamassa’s latest opus, Dust Bowl, while not revolutionary in any sense, features scintillating guitar and soulful vocals in its modern treatment of time-honoured blues modes. In a completely different vein, Kate Bush’s ninth studio album (not counting the rather controversial Director’s Cut, released a few months earlier), 50 Words for Snow, shows an artist that still possesses the ability and the power to surprise her followers. English contemporary classical ensemble North Sea Radio Orchestra’s I A Moon (one of the year’s biggest discoveries for me, thanks to a friend’s recommendation) offer a mesmerizing blend of Old-World folk, avant-garde and academic chamber music that is, in many ways, much more progressive than the slew of cookie-cutter acts so revered in prog circles.

Some other albums, while not quite making the cut, have attracted enough of my interest, and are very much worth checking out: AltrOck releases Sanhedrin’s Ever After, Abrete Gandul’s Enjambre Sismico, Humble Grumble’s Flanders Fields, Factor Burzaco’s II and October EquusSaturnal, Ozric TentaclesPaper Monkeys, CopernicusCipher and Decipher, and From.uz’s Quartus Artifactus; for the more conservatively-minded listeners, The AnabasisBack From Being Gone, La Coscienza di Zeno’s self-titled debut, and TCP’s Fantastic Dreamer also deserve a mention. There have also been a number of albums that, even though heard superficially, and mainly in the final weeks of the year, have left enough of an impression to make me want to write about them at some point – chief among those, Discipline’s To Shatter All Accord.

As I anticipated at the opening of this essay, my readers will be sure to notice some glaring omissions from this overview. The most noticeable ones  are probably Jakszyk Fripp CollinsA Scarcity of Miracles and Steven Wilson’s Grace for Drowning – undoubtedly two of the most highly rated releases of the year. Unfortunately, in spite of repeated listens, neither album has yet clicked with me, even if I clearly perceive their very high standard of quality. Though I hesitate to use the term “disappointment”, The DecemberistsThe King Is Dead did not resonate with me in the same way as its predecessors; its songs, however, acquired a new dimension when performed live.

Some other high-profile 2011 releases have failed to register on my personal meter. Such is the case of Opeth’s Heritage, Karmakanic’s In a Perfect World, and White Willow’s Terminal Twilight – all excellent albums, but lacking in that undefinable “something” that would kindle my enthusiasm. Others (such as Wobbler’s acclaimed Rites at Dawn or Glass Hammer’s Cor Cordium), though in no way displeasing to the ear, are too staunchly, unabashedly retro to truly impress,. As to YesFly from Here (possibly the year’s most eagerly awaited release), I am not ashamed to admit that I have refused to listen to it – even though I own most of the band’s back catalogue, and their earlier albums get regular spins in my player. With up-and-coming acts struggling to get their music across, I believe that spending too much time on the interpersonal dynamics of a band that do not particularly need to be supported is quite detrimental to the scene as a whole.

Some other albums that have been very positively received (at least by part of the fandom) have escaped my attention completely, in some cases for lack of interest (Dream Theater’s A Dramatic Turn of Events), or simply for lack of listening opportunities (Agents of Mercy’s The Black Forest, Mastodon’s The Hunter, Van Der Graaf Generator’s A Grounding in Numbers, The Tangent’s COMM, among others). Hopefully I will manage to hear at least some of those discs in the near future, and possibly write reviews of them. With the overwhelming quantity of music released in the past year, the very concrete danger of getting burned out (and therefore becoming unable to appreciate anything at all) is always lurking around the corner.

2011 has also been an outstanding year for concerts, as witnessed by the live reviews I have published in these pages. Besides seeing my beloved Blue Oyster Cult not once but twice (after a 25-year wait), I was treated to an outstanding edition of ProgDay, a stunning “goodbye” performance by Phideaux at the Orion Studios, the electrifying Two of a Perfect Trio tour, and the highly successful one-off CuneiFest (to name but a few). While the NEARfest cancellation cast a pall on the prog scene for some time, bands and artists are still doing their best to bring their music on stage for the benefits of those fans who still love to attend live shows.

Unlike other sites, I will refrain from mentioning “prog personalities”, or awarding any other such dubious prizes. As I previously stated, the whole point of this piece is to encourage people to delve into the abundant musical output of the past year, especially in regard to those lesser-known acts that deserve more exposure. With a few highly-awaited releases already in the pipeline for the coming months, it remains to be seen if 2012 will be able to keep up with its predecessor. On behalf of the survival of non-mainstream music, we all hope this will be the case.

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

Bonus video:
The Miss Kiss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links:
http://www.borisinger.eu

http://www.moonjune.com

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