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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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TRACKLISTING:
1. Cronovisione (7:36)
2. Gatto Lupesco (7:23)
3. Nei Cerchi del Legno (13:09):
– a. Pinocchio (0:00)
– b. V.I.T.R.I.O.L. (2:17)
– c. L’Eterna Spirale del Destino (5:22)
– d. Radici di una Coscienza (8:57)
4. Il Fattore Precipitante (7:00)
5. Il Basilisco (6:19)
6. Un Insolito Baratto Alchemico (7:11)
7. Acustica Felina (9:37)

 LINEUP:
Gabriele Guidi Colombi – bass
Andrea Orlando – drums, percussion
Alessio Calandriello – vocals
Davide Serpico – electric and acoustic guitars
Andrea Lotti – piano, keyboards, acoustic guitar
Stefano Agnini – piano, keyboards

With:
Luca Scherani –  accordion (5), flute arrangement (6)
Joanne Roan – flute (6)
Rossano Villa – string arrangement (3, 7)
Lidia Molinari – voice (1, 7)

Another outstanding addition to the thriving music scene of the Italian port city of Genoa, La Coscienza di Zeno was founded in  2007 by a group of experienced musicians – bassist Gabriele “Estunno” Guidi Colombi (also a founding member of Il Tempio delle Clessidre), drummer Andrea Orlando and vocalist Alessio Calandriello. Keyboardist and lyricist Stefano Agnini joined the band at the beginning of 2008, while guitarist Davide Serpico (who replaced original guitarist Matteo Malvezzi) and keyboardist Andrea Lotti joined between 2008 and 2009. Agnini left at the end of the recording sessions for La Coscienza di Zeno’s self-titled debut album, which had started in May 2010.

The band takes its distinctive name (meaning “Zeno’s Conscience” in English, and often shortened to CDZ for ease of reference) from one of the masterpieces of Italian literature, the ground-breaking psychological novel published in 1923 by writer and businessman Italo Svevo, and written in the form of an autobiography meant to help the titular Zeno’s attempts to quit smoking through psychoanalysis. Not surprisingly, La Coscienza di Zeno’s debut possesses a definite intellectual appeal – though without the level of pretentiousness that might be expected _ revolving around Stefano Agnini’s highly literate lyrics (loosely inspired by the novel) masterfully interpreted by lead singer Alessio Calandriello’s technically impeccable voice, passionate without being overwrought.

La Coscienza di Zeno is one of those rare albums that, while in keeping with the classic prog tradition of long tracks, rich instrumentation (with special prominence given to the keyboards) and intricate arrangements, achieves the considerable feat of never overstaying its welcome.  As other reviewers have pointed out, the album is not as easy to approach as other comparable efforts, and the first impression might be somewhat deceiving. To be perfectly honest, after my first listen I thought, here is another of the many Italian Genesis-worshipping bands – which, after successive listens, turned out to be a very unfair assessment. Indeed, while the Genesis influence is occasionally hard to miss, the album’s roots lie firmly and deeply in the great Italian prog tradition, with Banco del Mutuo Soccorso a particularly apt reference, mainly on account the presence of two keyboardists and the remarkable balance between vocal and instrumental parts.

Clocking in at slightly under one hour, La Coscienza di Zeno features seven tracks between 6 and 13 minutes. Though the main foundation of the album is symphonic, lush and multilayered, with plenty of seamless instrumental interplay, outstanding solo passages and rivetingly expressive singing, there is also enough variety to keep the interest of the more eclectic-minded listeners, with a wide range of influences cropping up almost unexpectedly, from waltz to folk by way of jazz and even hard rock. The almost wholly instrumental (except for the spoken-word vocals in the middle) opener “Cronovisione” is melodic and intricate at the same time, with echoes of Yes in the airy synth sweeps laced with faintly spiky guitar, and of Banco in the majestic yet dynamic feel imparted by the twin keyboards. “Gatto Lupesco”, hinges on Alessio Calandriello’s amazing vocal range and expressive power, complemented by a musical accompaniment that is melancholy and intense in turns, driven by keyboards and dramatic drumming. The obligatory epic, “Nei Cerchi del Legno” (partly inspired by the iconic tale of Pinocchio, one of the few instances of Italian literature that have had some international resonance) has a rather unusual format, being mostly instrumental, with vocals making an appearance only towards the end. The music, on the other hand, is a triumph of imposing symphonic passages rendered even more lush by the double keyboard setup and string arrangement, almost jazzy inserts offset by gently meditative episodes, and stunning synth-guitar interplay that brings to mind Genesis’ immortal “Firth of Fifth”.

Out of the remaining four tracks, “Il Fattore Precipitante” pursues the classic Italian prog route, with the lavish, airy Genesis-like suggestions sharpened by some heavy riffing and high-powered rhythm work courtesy of Gabriele Guidi Colombi and Andrea Orlando – though Calandriello steals the show here, his vocal tour de force complemented by a superb instrumental tapestry of keyboards, drums and guitar. “Il Basilisco”, on the other hand, signals a sharp change in mood and musical style – a folk-tinged number veined with melancholy and enhanced by the arresting, unmistakably Old-World accordion of guest artist Luca Scherani of Höstsonaten, also showcasing Davide Serpico’s lovely acoustic guitar work. The splendid, exquisitely tense instrumental “Un Insolito Baratto Alchemico” juxtaposes quieter, flute-led sections and stormy keyboard passages spiced by metal-hued riffing, enriched by solemn organ and lilting piano; while closer “Acustica Felina” (the second longest track on the album) reprises the lush symphonic mood of the beginning, rounded up by the deep choral tone of the inevitable Mellotron. Calandriello’s voice tackles the challenging lyrical matter with superb expertise, veering from gentleness to a deep, almost menacing tone; the song is then wrapped up by a magnificent, Hackettian guitar solo.

With refreshing honesty, La Coscienza di Zeno make no bones about paying homage to the progressive rock tradition of the Seventies, both Italian and British – even if the sound quality and production values of their debut album are thoroughly modern, and lend extra depth and dimension to the elegantly complex music. An obvious labour of love, every aspect of the album has been carefully considered in order to offer a complete experience to the discerning listener – with stylish, mostly black-and-white photography and detailed liner notes, including the lyrics (which make worthwhile reading for anyone familiar with the Italian language). Indeed, La Coscienza di Zeno is a must for all lovers of vintage Italian prog, adding the band to the growing list of excellent “traditional but modern” acts that already includes their fellow Genoese Il Tempio delle Clessidre and La Maschera di Cera, as well as the revamped Delirium. Highly recommended to symphonic prog fans and anyone who is not put off by foreign-language vocals, this is another classy package coming from the ever-dependable Italian prog scene.

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

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Bella Lee (3:34)
2. Parliamone (5:43)
3. Infraditi (7:36)
4. Fungo (6:42)
5 Cane di Schiena (6:32)
6. Pappa Irreale (2:27)
7. Antenna (7:59)
8. Klez (4:16)
9. Max Dembo (8:47)

LINEUP:
Filippo Cantarella – violin, viola
Marco Ravera – electric and acoustic guitar, synthesizer
Tommaso Rolando  – acoustic bass, electric bass, acoustic guitar, synthesizer, sampler, trumpet
Nando Magni – trombone
Nicola Magri – drums

With:
Cosimo Francavilla – soprano saxophone (2)
Antonio Carletti – weird vocals (7)

In my writings I have often mentioned the lively music scene of the great port of Genoa – not surprising for a city that, throughout its long history, has been one of the many melting pots of the Mediterranean region, bringing together East and West, North and South in a heady mixture of tradition and modernity. This is the kind of fertile ground from where Fabrizio De André’s Creuza de Ma, one of the undisputed masterpieces of the whole ‘world music’ scene, originated. Five-piece Calomito, a relatively recent addition to the variegated Italian music scene, bring an unique twist to the time-honoured musical heritage of their home town, with a sound that marries the warmth of the Mediterranean with a strong international bent.

Calomito have been around since the mid-2000, releasing their debut album, Inaudito, in 2005. After a five-year hiatus and some line-up changes, the band have made a comeback with Cane di Schiena, issued in the first half of 2011 by Milan-based label AltrOck Productions (also responsible for outstanding, cutting-edge releases such as Yugen’s three albums and mirRthkon’s Vehicle). Though they have been almost forcibly placed under the RIO/Avant umbrella, Calomito are one of those bands that – luckily for fans of genuinely interesting music, much less so for those who delight in labelling everything – are extremely hard to pigeonhole, due to their boldly eclectic approach to music-making.

As a fellow Italian reviewer  jokingly stated at the beginning of his own review of the album, you may want to consider taking a couple of days off in order to listen to Cane di Schiena properly. Indeed, though clocking in at a mere 53 minutes, the album presents an  incredibly dense (though never claustrophobic) amount of music which unfolds with each successive listen, and therefore devoid of any immediately digestible tunes. On the other hand, unlike what many believe about any kind of music that bears even a faint whiff of ‘avant-garde’, there is nothing discordant, abrasive or random about Calomito’s sound. Each of the tracks is clearly very carefully structured, as it is nearly always the case with ‘chamber rock’ outfits – a definition that, in my view, fits Calomito to a T. Like their label mates Yugen, they transcend the boundaries of the RIO/Avant classification, and should rather be seen as purveyors of eclectic yet oddly intimate music tha requires all of the listener’s attention to be fully appreciated.

This does not imply that Cane di Schiena is one of those deadly serious albums that command a quasi-religious devotion. Calomito’s humorous disposition, which descends directly from the likes of Stormy Six and Picchio dal Pozzo (as well as the Canterbury scene, which is also a clear musical influence), immediately comes across from titles such as “Pappa Irreale”(a pun on pappa reale, the Italian for “royal jelly”) or “Infraditi” (an intentionally ungrammatical spelling of the  word meaning “flip-flops”). The music itself, while quite light-hearted at times, can on occasion reach for a more subdued, sober tone. On the whole, Cane di Schiena comes across as a flawlessly executed album that never descends into a depressing or overly involved tone.

As is the case of other ‘chamber prog’ ensembles, Calomito employ a number of other instruments alongside the traditional rock trinity of bass, guitar and drums, assisted by various synthesizers. The substantial contribution of the horns evokes parallels with bands such as Miriodor, which emerge quite clearly right from the album’s opening track, “Bella Lee” – an incredibly dense 3 minutes of music; while the equally important role played by strings (violin and viola) brings instead to mind one of the best modern‘chamber rock’ outfits,  Seattle-based band Moraine, as well as vintage Frank Zappa. The more upbeat passages, suggesting a jazz-rock or Canterbury matrix, made me think of Forgas Band Phenomena, though Calomito sound slightly more angular than the French band. Furthermore, while Univers Zéro’s broodingly apocalyptic production seems to be the polar opposite in tone to Calomito’s essentially cheerful approach, Nicola Magri’s stunning, beyond-merely-propulsive drumming style cannot but evoke the way in which Daniel Denis supports the whole fabric of the Belgian outfit’s sound.

Trying to describe any of the nine tracks in detail would not do any of them justice. While “Infraditi” is probably the one track with the strongest connections to the RIO/Avant school of progressive rock – an astoundingly complex, 7-minute rollercoaster ride apparently throwing in anything but the proverbial kitchen sink, from carnival-like music to jazzy touches to jagged, almost dissonant passages – the somewhat low-key “Parliamone”, true to its title (meaning “let’s talk about it”) seems to reproduce a dialogue between two persons, with horns and synthesizers in the role of human voices. The choppy, dynamic “Fungo” exemplifies the way in which Calomito use pauses to create interest, rather than produce an impression of patchiness; while the title-track’s slow, meditative mood, some passages so low as to be barely audible, produces an intense, almost mesmerizing effect.

Especially in the second half of the album some intriguingly exotic influences show up, which bring to mind comparisons with Slivovitz, another über-eclectic Italian outfit hailing from Naples, my home country’s second biggest port (and musical capital). “ Pappa Irreale”’s lilting, dance-like pace punctuated by violin is sharply redolent of Irish folk, or even American country; and the upbeat, drum-driven “Klez”, as the title points out, contains elements of klezmer and Eastern European gypsy music. A folksy also tone emerges in parts of the initially low-key “Antenna”, possibly the most complex number on the album (and the only one briefly featuring ‘weird vocals’), ending with an exhilarating crescendo in which guitar, trombone and violin seem to engage in a sort of conversation. Closing track “Max Dembo” introduces some new elements, such as spacey sound effects that  enhance the powerful, rolling tone of the drums and the echoing guitar lines, as well as shades of Brazil in the relaxed, almost sultry pace of first half of the track.

In spite of the density of its musical content, Cane di Schiena is far from inaccessible, and – while undoubtedly a challenging listen – does not rely on spiky, jarring sounds to make its impact. There is plenty of melody to be found on the album, and the music possesses a natural flow and easy elegance that make listening a pleasure rather than a chore. Even though fans of traditional symphonic prog may be daunted by anything bearing the label of ‘avant-garde’, I would encourage everyone who loves progressive music to give Calomito a try. With their successful blend of technical skill, seemingly boundless creativity, eclectic influences and keen sense of humour, they are one of the most interesting bands heard in the past couple of years, and definitely one to watch.

Links:
http://www.calomito.com/

http://www.myspace.com/calomito

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

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Fino all’Aurora (6:44)
2. D-Sigma (4:13)
3. 4.18 (1:37)
4. Discesa (7:32)
5. Tra Due Petali di Fuoco (6:06)
6. L’Inganno (7:20)
7. Agli Uomini Che Sanno Già Volare (4:36)
8. Il Declino (5:44)
9. Phoenix (5:07)
10. La Notte Trasparente (7:47)

LINEUP:
Alessandro Corvaglia – vocals
Fabio Zuffanti –  bass, bass pedals, backing vocals
Agostino Macor – keyboards
Andrea Monetti – flute, sax
Matteo Nahum – guitars
Maurizio Di Tollo – drums, backing vocals

One of the many projects in which Genoa-based bassist and composer Fabio Zuffanti is involved, La Maschera di Cera (The Wax Mask, named after a ‘50s horror movie starring Vincent Price) have been active since the beginning of the new millennium, releasing four studio albums and a live one. Their third album, LuxAde (released in 2006, and based on the Greek myth of Orpheus) brought them to the attention of the many fans of classic Italian prog scattered around the globe, which culminated with their appearances at the 2007 edition of NEARfest and the 2009 edition of ProgDay, two of the highest-profile progressive rock events in the world. They also appeared in the Romantic Warriors documentary, alongside fellow Italians D.F.A.

Petali di Fuoco, their fourth studio release (produced by a veritable RPI icon such as PFM drummer/frontman Franz Di Cioccio) marks a distinct change in the band’s compositional approach, and consequently also in their sound, which has been somewhat streamlined. While the band’s three previous albums had the hard-edged, retro-symphonic sound of Seventies outfits such Il Balletto di Bronzo and Biglietto per l’Inferno down pat, dispensing with the electric guitar in favour of luxurious keyboard textures and plenty of Mellotron – as well as sporting a strong conceptual bent – Petali di Fuoco takes a more mainstream direction, featuring 9 shorter, unconnected songs with more straightforward lyrics. While there are still Italian bands paying homage to the great tradition of the elaborate concept album, La Maschera di Cera seem to have followed the example set by other Genoese bands like Delirium (with their superb comeback release Il Nome del Vento) and Il Tempio delle Clessidre, and chosen a more accessible format for this album.

On Petali di Fuoco, the core of founding members Alessandro Corvaglia, Fabio Zuffanti, Agostino Macor and Andrea Monetti (plus drummer Maurizio Di Tollo, who joined the band in 2004) has been augmented by guitarist Matteo Nahum, who proves to be the album’s real ace in the hole. A classically-trained musician (and devoted Steve Hackett fan)  with the perfect combination of flawless technique (without any concessions to the deplorable shredding trend) and genuine emotion, his contribution lifts the level of the album from merely good to excellent. Even though the music is unabashedly retro, a loving homage to the classic Italian prog sound of the Seventies without any real claim to innovation, and the songs sometimes skirt the Italian melodic pop tradition a bit too close for comfort, Petali di Fuoco delivers a very satisfying listening experience, at least for those people who like their prog with lots of vocals. On the other hand, Alessandro Corvaglia’s strong, confident voice, markedly different from the operatic style of the likes of Francesco Di Giacomo, but equally suited to tackling material at the same time melodic and challenging, can bring to mind some internationally-known Italian pop singers, and therefore come across as vaguely annoying to those who like the angular, acquired-taste vocal styles of so many prog singers.

Running at about 55 minutes, Petali di Fuoco is a well-balanced effort that never threatens to outstay its welcome. Most of the songs – as immediately evidenced by opener “Fino all’Aurora”, an upbeat, organ- and flute-driven number ending with a beautiful guitar solo  – have a conventional verse-chorus-verse structure, but the lush orchestration and seamless instrumental interplay reveal their progressive matrix. Though Corvaglia’s voice often seems to dominate the proceedings, the instruments spin a tightly-knit web of sound that provides a solid foundation for the development of each song. While “D-Sigma” and “Discesa” keep things simmering in the same spirit as the opener, with melodious, Hackett-inspired guitar passages opening airy spaces in the dense, keyboard-driven heavy prog textures of the songs, the title-track and “Agli Uomini Che Sanno Già Volare” take a more subdued direction, with a sparser, somewhat melancholy instrumental backdrop that pushes the vocals to the forefront and leaves a lot of room for Corvaglia’s emotional delivery.

Though Petali di Fuoco is a strongly vocal-driven album, two instrumentals have been included – one, “4.18”, a short classical guitar number in the style of Genesis’ “Horizons”, the other, “Phoenix”, starting out slowly but building up to a crescendo powered by keyboards and drums – a structure paralleled by “Il Declino”, in which a somewhat somber piano solo is offset by the unbridled passion of Corvaglia’s vocals. On the other hand, with “L’Inganno” La Maschera di Cera explore vintage hard rock territory, powered by Agostino Macor’s rumbling Hammond organ and whistling Moog, and featuring an almost jazzy piano passage in the middle, as well as a soaring guitar solo at the end. The album ends with a veritable bang: “La Notte Trasparente”, at almost 8 minutes the longest track on the album, is also the most complex, with all the instruments creating intricate yet airy textures with more than a nod to classic Genesis, and a showcase for Matteo Nahum’s spectacular guitar work. His solo at the end starts out slowly, and then gradually drives towards an exhilarating climax that had me think about Gary Moore or Blue Oyster Cult’s Buck Dharma.

Though some prog fans may be disappointed by the lack of epics and the generally more streamlined nature of Petali di Fuoco, the album will certainy prove a treat for lovers of the sounds of vintage Italian prog. With lush instrumentation, a nice balance between orchestral grandiosity and more intimate, subdued moments, plenty of melody and warm, passionate vocals, it contains all the elements that keep attracting many listeners to Italian progressive rock – as well as those that often turn people off, such as the enhanced sentimentality and occasionally bombastic passage (though not as prominently as in their previous studio albums). It is, indeed, very much a ‘retro-prog’ effort – which might make it pointless (as a fellow reviewer put it) in the eyes of some of the more jaded set – but it cannot be denied that Petali di Fuoco is a quality offering brimming with flair and songwriting expertise. Even if, speaking from a strictly personal point of view, the music on the album is not always my cup of tea, I would not hesitate to recommend the album to everyone interested in Italian prog.

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

http://www.zuffantiprojects.com/

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Verso l’Alba (2:52)
2. Insolita Parte di Me  (7:20)
3. Boccadasse  (5:20)
4. Le Due Metà della Notte  (5:18)
5. La Stanza Nascosta  (5:10)
6. Danza Esoterica di Datura  (6.07)
7. Faldistorum  (6:06)
8. L’Attesa  (4:36)
9. Il Centro Sottile  (9:39)
10. Antidoto Mentale  (3:30)

LINEUP:
Stefano “Lupo” Galifi  – vocals
Elisa Montaldo – piano, keyboards, organ, concertina, vocals, sound effects
Fabio Gremo – bass
Giulio Canepa – guitars
Paolo Tixi – drums

With:
Max Manfredi – voice (7)
Antonio Fantinuoli – cello (5)

Known outside Italy as the hometown of Christopher Columbus, the bustling seaport of Genoa has had a long tradition as a hotbed of musical creativity – starting as far back as the late 18th century with legendary violinist Niccolò Paganini. Then, in the early 1960s came the ‘Genoese school of singer-songwriters’, whose foremost representative, Fabrizio De André, is known to prog fans for his collaboration with PFM. About ten years later, a number of influential progressive rock bands were formed,  such as Delirium and New Trolls – two outfits that are still producing great music in the early 21st century. In particular, Delirium’s comeback album of 2009, Il Nome del Vento (reviewed elsewhere on this blog) stood out among the plethora of prog releases for successfully marrying the glorious heritage of Italian prog with a thoroughly modern sound quality. The same accomplished nature is shared by this stunning debut by Delirium’s label mates (and fellow Genoese) Il Tempio delle Clessidre.

Named after the final section of the titular suite of Museo Rosenbach’s one-off Zarathustra – one of the most iconic albums of the Italian Seventies – Il Tempio delle Clessidre (“The Temple of Hourglasses”) have been around since the summer of 2006, when keyboardist Elisa Montaldo and bassist Gabriele Guidi Colombi met former Museo Rosenbach vocalist Stefano “Lupo” Galifi. The idea that brought the band together was to perform the whole of the Zarathustra album live on stage with Museo Rosenbach’s original singer, using vintage instruments, and subsequently start penning original compositions inspired by the spirit of the golden years of Italian prog. After some line-up changes, Il Tempio delle Clessidre’s self-titled debut album was released in September 2010 by Genoa-based label Black Widow Records.

For all its cult status, Italian prog can be seen as very much of an acquired taste – mainly on account of its operatic, occasionally overblown nature, especially as regards the vocal department. In this respect, Galifi’s warm, bluesy vocals (also heard on one track of Delirium’s 2009 album), which add an emotional yet somehow informal note to the lush textures of the band’s music, are definitely Il Tempio delle Clessidre’s not-so-secret weapon. The tightly organized compositions, never gratuitously meandering, strike the right balance between melody and complexity, without a second wasted in pointless noodling, and with enough changes of pace to make the most demanding prog fan happy. Although the singing is strongly emphasized,  there is also a lot of room for the instrumentalists to display their considerable chops. Indeed, the pristine sound quality allows each of the musicians’ performances to shine, and captures every nuance of Galifi’s seasoned vocal delivery, honed in years of fronting blues-rock bands; while the pronounced melodic bent tempers the intensity of the lyrics and the dense esoteric symbolism of the cover art and booklet.

Interestingly, with the sole exception of the almost 10-minute “Il Centro Sottile”, the tracks on the album are all relatively short, with an average running time of 5 minutes. The album itself, at about 55 minutes, is markedly shorter than the majority of current prog releases, some of which skirt the 80-minute mark. Those who appreciate the instrumental aspect of progressive rock rather than the vocal one will be glad to learn that Il Tempio delle Clessidre manages to balance both sides quite admirably. Opener “Verso l’Alba”, the only completely instrumental track on the album, sets the scene with the deep, Gothic sound of the organ and wind-like effects, developing into a keyboard- and guitar-driven piece reminiscent of a heavier Genesis. “Insolita Parte di Me”, at 7 minutes the second longest track, alternating quieter passages with more dramatic ones, dominated by Elisa Montaldo’s magnificent keyboards, is a perfect example of how the band manage to achieve the structural complexity typical of prog without sacrificing the unique Italian attention to melody. Montaldo, who is the main composer together with bassist Fabio Gremo, handles her array of instruments with impressive skill and flair. “Le Due Metà della Notte”, interpreted with warmth and feeling by Galifi, is a splendid keyboard showcase that combines melody and intensity; while in the sedate “La Stanza Nascosta” the piano and Galifi’s stunning vocals conjure a melancholy, meditative atmosphere. On the other hand, the mid-paced “Boccadasse” (dedicated to a picturesque mariner’s neighbourhood of Genoa) is a more conventionally structured song, with a very catchy chorus and a beautiful, melodic guitar solo.

However, it is the two central numbers that prove to be the most distinctive, in keeping with Black Widow’s keen interest in the mystical and the esoteric. “Danza Esoterica di Datura”, as the title implies, opens with a brisk, dance-like pace, and culminates with an extract from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, chanted by Montaldo in tense, dramatic fashion; some of the keyboard inserts are appropriately reminiscent of Goblin’s Dario Argento soundtracks, such as the renowned Profondo Rosso. The cryptically-titled “Faldistorum” sees the Hammond organ take the lead in parallel with the drums, introducing a male voice reciting a short text in an emphatic, melodic yet slightly ominous manner, reinforced by the closing strains of a church organ. The following “L’Attesa”, a rich, energetic keyboard-fest, is very much in the vein of classic Italian heavy progressive acts such as Il Balletto di Bronzo and Biglietto per l’Inferno; while in the solemnly melodic “Il Centro Sottile” all the instruments strive to create a lush texture that can bring to mind Genesis or Banco del Mutuo Soccorso in their heyday. After a somewhat lengthy pause, the album is wrapped up by the poppy, rather undistinguished “Antidoto Mentale”, which in my view is the only track that smacks a bit of filler.

Blending the warmth and melodic flair of the Mediterranean musical tradition with the driving energy of rock and the artistic ambition of prog, Il Tempio delle Clessidre’s debut deserves to be hailed as one of the standout releases of 2010, and one of the most promising albums to have come out of Italy in a long while. While taking their cue from the music produced in the Seventies – and, thankfully, not pretending to reinvent the wheel – the band manage to sound fresh and up-to-date, and not a mere exercise in nostalgia. A flawlessly performed, lovingly presented effort, Il Tempio delle Clessidre will surely bring a lot of listening pleasure to the many fans of Italian progressive rock.

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

http://www.museo.it

http://www.blackwidow.it

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Intro/Dio del Silenzio (1:23)
2. Il Nome del Vento (6:01)
3. Verso il Naufragio (6:35)
4. L’Acquario delle Stelle (6:15)
5. Luci Lontane (4:14)
6. Profeta Senza Profezie (4:20)
7. Ogni Storia (5:02)
8. Note di Tempesta (4:29)
9. Dopo il Vento (9:40)
10. Cuore Sacro (8:49)
11. L’Aurora Boreale (4:26) (bonus track)

Bonus Video:
L’Acquario delle Stelle

LINEUP:
Ettore Vigo – keyboards
Martin Grice – sax, flute, keyboards
Pino Di Santo – drums, vocals
Roberto Solinas – guitars, vocals
Fabio Chighini – bass
Mimmo Di Martino – vocals (2)

String quartet:
Chiara Giacobbe Chiarilla – violin
Diana Tizzani – violin
Simona Merlano – viola
Daniela Caschetto Helmy – cello

With:
Stefano “Lupo” Galifi – vocals (6)
Sophya Baccini – backing vocals (2, 4, 7, 9), piano (9)

After having spent the past few months concentrating on albums from the English-speaking world, now it is time for me to to spotlight some  Italian bands and artists. Though many great albums (in some cases essential for a true prog fan) have come out of my native country from the Seventies onwards, only a part of this vast, exciting output has received the attention it deserves.  Here in the US most of the attention tends to be directed at the likes of  Le Orme, PFM and Banco (also owing to their relatively frequent visits to the New World), to the detriment of other acts who seem to be familiar only to a selected few.

Genoa-based band Delirium hold a special place in my heart, since their debut album, Dolce Acqua, was the first progressive rock album that I bought – at the ripe old age of 11. Among the founders of the original Italian progressive rock scene, in 1972 they experienced mainstream success with  the anthemic single “Jesahel”, which introduced the Italian public to the gritty, bluesy vocal talents of Ivano Fossati.  Soon afterwards Fossati  left the band  to embark on a successful career as  a singer-songwriter, to be replaced by British-born Martin Frederick Grice.  After the release of their third album, released in 1974, Delirium split up, but thankfully got back together in 2001 with most of the original members on board.

When listening to Il Nome del Vento, one might almost be tempted to feel that the 30-year hiatus between  Delirium III and this album has in some way been beneficial to the band – a lengthy yet necessary ‘recharging of the batteries’, so to speak. This is indeed a mature, finely-crafted album, very much in the way of  PFM’s  Stati di Immaginazione – a sumptuous, accomplished effort from seasoned prog veterans that had been forgotten or written off far too soon.

Although Il Nome Del Vento is a concept album of sorts (the wind symbolizing the energies that sweep negativity away and usher positive change), it does not feel as contrived as many similar efforts can be. Shunning the clichés than often plague concept albums, Mauro La Luce’s lyrics opt instead for simplicity and emotion, a perfect complement to the outstanding performances of all the vocalists involved. The latter are nicely balanced by the brilliance of the instrumental sections, where the background of each musician, their individual tastes and preferences, is put to effective use. While Martin Grice’s love of jazz and vintage English prog shines through his flute and sax  work, guitarist/vocalist Roberto Solinas (a true revelation) injects a welcome dose of classic rock energy in what is largely an acoustic effort. The presence of an all-female string quartet contributes an authentically symphonic feel to many of the compositions, infused by that uniquely Italian flair for melody and lyricism.

The continuity between the new and the old incarnation of Delirium is highlighted right from the start, as “Intro/Dio del Silenzio (Reprise)” references one of the songs featured on Delirium III. This brief, intense introduction (complete with sounds of rain and thunder at the beginning) sets the scene for what is to come. The title-track is a magnificent slice of complex yet melodic prog, soulfully interpreted by the band’s former guitarist Mimmo Di Martino, whose deep, bluesy tones find a perfect foil in Sophya Baccini’s ethereal soprano. The following track, “Verso il Naufragio” (one of two instrumentals featured on the album), is an exhilarating rollercoaster ride of slow, majestic keyboard washes and electrifying guitar riffs; it also incorporates a passage from George Martin’s “Theme One” (also covered by Van Der Graaf Generator, Cozy Powell and Osanna). The jaw-dropping duel between sax and organ in the second half of the track displays the band’s jazzier side, a constant of their sound since their debut album, Dolce Acqua.

More jazzy influences surface in the uptempo “Profeta Senza Profezie”, further enriched by a  commanding vocal performance by Stefano ‘Lupo’ Galifi (of Museo Rosenbach fame), somewhat reminiscent of the late Demetrio Stratos’ acrobatics; while the romantic “L’Acquario delle Stelle” (dedicated by Martin Grice to his first grandson) is a gorgeous slice of classic Italian prog, in which flute and keyboards emote over a lush background of strings. However, it is the double whammy of “Dopo il Vento” and “Cuore Sacro” that forms the album’s climactic point. The former alternates jazzy passages with calmer, more melodic ones, the string quartet holding the fabric of the song together; while the latter is markedly darker and rockier, enhanced by rippling piano, dynamic drumming, and assertive flute work that recalls early Jethro Tull.

A truly classy offering, and undoubtedly one of the top releases of 2009, Il Nome Del Vento is the ideal showcase for the unique talents of a band that seem to be finally about to get the recognition they highly deserve. It is also a textbook example of how classic progressive rock can sound modern without jettisoning its glorious past. Hopefully this stunning comeback disc will lead the way for more releases of the same high quality from a band that still has a lot to offer to the discerning prog fan.

Links:
http://www.idelirium.it
http://www.blackwidow.it

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