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Posts Tagged ‘Italy’

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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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fim_fiera_musica

 

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. Eclissi Pt. 1 – L’Occhio e la Maschera (8:23)
2. La Maschera della Visione (5:58)
3. Fantasia (8:58)
4. Nel Nulla Etereo Soggiogato dall’Ignoto la Mente Si Espande (7:01)
5. Purpurea (10:00)
6. Follia (19:12)
7. Eclissi Pt. 2 – La Genesi (9:36)

LINEUP:
Gabriele Marroni – guitars
Filippo Menconi – bass
Andrea Valerio – piano, synth
Raffaele Crezzini – drums, percussion
Diego Samo – keyboards, synth

With:
Paolo Carelli – narration
Michele Sanchini – cello
Matteo Canestri – bass
Lucio Pacchieri – drums
Giovanni Ferretti – piano, synth

A band name such as Labirinto Di Specchi (Maze of Mirrors) suggests purveyors of intricate, multilayered music, heavy on atmosphere and intensity rather than smoothly flowing melodies. Indeed, the young five-piece hailing from the beautiful Tuscan town of Montepulciano (a place well known to wine lovers) belong to the growing contingent of new Italian bands that have updated the blueprint for progressive rock set by the iconic bands of the Seventies, and produced an album packed full of the twists and turns implied by their name.

Labirinto Di Specchi have been together since 2005; their first recording effort, a demo titled La Maschera della Visione, attracted the attention of Lizard Records, an independent label with a proven record for modern prog releases of a consistently high standard. Hanblecheya (a word in the Native American Lakota language denoting a vision quest), the band’s full-length debut, contains reworked material from the demo, as well as new compositions .It also sees the participation of a number of guest artists – most remarkably, that of Paolo Carelli, former vocalist of Pholas Dactylus, a short-lived outfit that in 1973 released Concerto delle Menti, one of the cult albums of the original RPI movement.

Clocking in at almost 70 minutes, Hanblecheya is impressively ambitious, its seven lengthy compositions describing the experience of the titular vision quest through a very distinctive format. Though there is no actual singing involved,  Paolo Carelli’s solemn, deep-voiced narration is like a thread connecting the seven tracks to each other. While synthesizers and assorted electronics are definitely at the core of the band’s musical vision, the fluid, melodic touch of the piano and full-throated rumble of the organ provide an organic foil, further balanced by the autumnal drone of the cello and the pervasive presence of both acoustic and electric guitars.

Any album tagged as “Porcupine Tree meets Pholas Dactylus” sounds like a rather interesting proposition, and Hanblecheya does not disappoint expectations. Though clearly not an easy listening experience, it is also surprisingly mature in its treatment of the inevitable influences. The psychedelic/space component, firmly rooted in the use of a wide range of electronics, gains a harder edge from occasional bursts of riffing that suggest a prog metal inspiration (particularly evident in “La Maschera della Visione”, the shortest track of the album and possibly the most accessible); while entrancing Mediterranean and Eastern suggestion lurk in the two compositions bookending the album , with the heady, raga-inspired section in opener “Eclissi Pt.1 – L’Occhio e la Maschera” reprised in the second half of “Eclissi Pt. 2 – La Genesi”.

Not all of the many ideas thrown into Hanblecheya’s  melting pot of are successful: the classical-meets-electronic bent of  the second half of “Fantasia” borders dangerously on the cheesiness of those classical “rock” adaptations that were quite popular in the Eighties, and clashes with the wistful, atmospheric mood of the first part of the song.  On the other hand, the ominous post rock surge of “Purpurea” and the all-out experimentalism of “Nel Nulla Etereo Soggiogato dall’Ignoto la Mente Si Espande”, revolving around Carelli’s eerily effective narration (the most reminiscent of his Pholas Dactylus days), and wrapped up by a noisy industrial section (the whole bringing to mind label mates Runaway Totem at their most impenetrable) hold up to close scrutiny, in spite of their undeniably “difficult” nature. The album’s crowning achievement, however, comes with the 19-minute “Foll(i)a” (a title conflating the Italian words for “crowd” and “madness”), an intensely cinematic piece that, while paying homage to Steven Wilson’s signature style, manages to avoid blatant derivativeness.  A fresh take on the old “epic” warhorse, the track hinges on a “duel” between a whole array of electronic effects and the gentle ripple of the piano, ending in an exhilarating cascade of cymbals, piano and majestic synth washes.

Although, as suggested in the previous paragraphs, Hanblecheya is not for everyone, it has all it takes to attract those prog fans who like the genre to look forward without completely turning its back to its glorious past. Firmly anchored to the Italian progressive tradition by its keen sense of melody and the rivetingly dramatic tone of Paolo Carelli’s narration, yet unafraid to experiment with more radical musical directions, and skilled in combining the acoustic, the electric and the electronic component (though at times the slashing, whistling presence of synths can become a tad overwhelming), Labirinto Di Specchi are a band that adventurous listeners would do well to check out.

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

http://www.lizardrecords.it/

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Ordinary Li(f)e (8:00)
2. A Sea Without Shores (3:45)
3. In Circle (9:01)
4. Lying on a Pink  Cloud (12:38)
5. Acid Carousel (3:50)
6. Ashes (3:49)
7. Night Euphoria (6:27)
8. Outside the Rain (6:41)
9. Colliding  (7:00)
10. Starseeing on the Shore (8:53)

LINEUP:
Francesco Bassoli – guitars
Tiziano Cofanelli  – drums
Luca Guidobaldi – vocals
Luca Parca – bass
Claudio Stasi – piano, keyboards

Formed in 2006, when the four former members of a prog metal cover band called Kimaera  Project joined forces with vocalist Luca Guidobaldi, Rome- based quintet Seventh Will debuted in 2007 with the demo Pink Clouds and Heavy Rain. In the following years, they concentrated on the realization of their first full-length CD, an ambitious concept by the title of Ordinary Li(f)e, eventually released in 2010.

For many progressive rock fans, the Italian scene is almost automatically associated with the so-called “symphonic’ bands of the Seventies, all operatic vocals, sweeping keyboards and lush arrangements. However, in the second decade of the 21st century Italian prog does not seem to be stuck in a time warp, and bands such  as Seventh Will show that there the Seventies model is not the only blueprint for acts hailing from the boot-shaped peninsula. In fact, a first-time listener may notice that Ordinary Li(fe) does not sound typically Italian – and not only on account of the English-language lyrics. While quite a few contemporary Italian bands display that timeless sense of warmth and melody that is one of the hallmarks of Italian music, and that seems to complement progressive rock so well, Seventh Will have chosen to tread a different, more international-sounding path.

Ordinary Li(fe) is a very ambitious undertaking, based on an elaborate concept (one day in the life of Will, an archetypal “ordinary man”), illustrated in detail on the band’s blog. With a running time of 68 minutes, and most tracks over the 6-minute mark, it inevitably features some filler material that might have been left out without detriment to the album’s overall structure. Moreover, the longer tracks, particularly the 12-minute “Lying on a Pink Cloud”, occasionally suffer from lack of cohesion, sounding at times like a collection of separate passages strung together without an actual plan. Luca Guidobaldi’s high-pitched, vaguely plaintive vocals  belong to the Thom Yorke/Matt Bellamy school of singing – with a pinch of  Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s more aggressive tone thrown in – with only his accent giving his non-English origin away.

While the band’s previous prog metal matrix– represented mainly by sharp riffs and sudden accelerations – occasionally emerges, most evidently in the intense yet atmospheric “Colliding” (which made me think of Riverside circa Second Life Syndrome), on the whole the album comes across as a rather eclectic effort. Indeed, its basic Pink Floyd/Porcupine Tree inspiration is enhanced by nods to vintage hard rock (as in the title track, which opens the album with Hammond organ swirls offset by more subdued passages), or to more avant-garde acts such as The Mars Volta or Mr Bungle, complete with slightly dissonant passages (as in “Night Euphoria”). The band’s liberal use of quiet-loud dynamics indicates the band’s allegiance to the post-prog aesthetics embodied by most of the acts on the Kscope roster, including their fellow Italians Nosound. US band The Tea Club might also provide a useful term of comparison, especially on account of the similar vocal style and the use of slow build-up leading to powerful climaxes – as exemplified by “In Circle”.

On the other hand, a couple of contiguous pieces, “Acid Carousel” and “Ashes”, draw upon Pink Floyd’s late Seventies heyday – the former echoing the theatrical scope of The Wall (hard not to be reminded of Roger Waters’ commanding performance in “The Trial”); the latter patterned on melancholy acoustic pieces such as “Wish You Were Here”. Album closer “Starseeing on the Shore” offers a sonic rendition of the lovely cover image with a slow-burning, atmospheric ballad driven by acoustic guitar, piano and vocals, and synth effects evoking the sound of the surf.

Though, as is very often the case with debut albums, Ordinary Li(fe) is still very much of a “work in progress”, and inevitably derivative in parts, it also points to a promising band that is trying to break free of the  “retro-prog”  mould. It is to be hoped that they will adopt a more streamlined approach to songwriting in their next recording effort. In any case, the album is likely to appeal to fans of modern progressive rock, with particular regard to Steven Wilson’s numerous projects and most of Kscope’s output.

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

http://seventhwill.blogspot.com/

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Iperbole (6:21)
2. Butterfly Song (8:31)
3. Trasfiguratofunky (7:31)
4. Negative (7:03)
5. Just Cannot Forget (2:25)
6. Flash (5:23)
7. Clamores Horrendos Ad Sidera Tollit (6:49)
8. Vacuum Fluctuation (8:04)
9. Re-Awakening (8:03)
10. Isterectomia (7.26)

LINEUP:
Alessandro Seravalle – vocals, electric, acoustic, e-bow & 12-string guitars, synths, keyboards, samples
Raffaello Indri – electric guitar
William Toson – fretted & fretless bass guitars
Ivan Moni Bidin – drums
Gianpietro Seravalle – electronic percussion, soundscapes

With:
Simone D’Eusanio – violin (1, 2, 8)
Cristian Rigano – synth solos (3)
Giorgio Pacorig – keyboards (3)
Pietro Sponton – congas (3), vibraphone (4)
Flavia Quass – vocals (4)
Andrea Fontana – percussion (4)
Davide Casali – bass clarinet (5)
Jacques Centonze – percussion (8)
Carlo Franceschinis – double bass (8)
Alessandro Bertoni – piano (9)
Mariano Bulligan – cellos (9)
Massimo De Mattia – flute (9, 10), bass flute (10)

In spite of a name referencing one of Genesis’ most popular songs and a “progressive metal” tag, Italian band Garden Wall are neither one of the many followers of the “retro-prog” trend, nor a bunch of Opeth or Dream Theater devotees. Hailing from the north-eastern Italian region of Friuli, the band was put together by vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Alessandro Seravalle in the late Eighties, and released their debut album in 1993. Assurdo, their eight album, forms the third and final chapter of the trilogy begun in 2002 with Forget the Colours, and continued with 2004’s Towards the Silence. It is also their first release with Lizard Records  (one of the most rolific independent labels for modern progressive rock), and – unlike their 2008 album, Aliena(c)tion – contains completely new material.

Now a quintet, with only Seravalle and guitarist Raffaello Indri left of the original lineup, Garden Wall have pulled out all the stops for their recording comeback. Not being familiar with their previous output, and misled by the “prog-metal” tag, when I first heard the album I was confronted with something that was almost impossible to label. Moreover, while most of my reviews include comparisons with other bands or artists (something that readers generally appreciate), this time I was hard put to find any suitable frame of reference within the progressive rock spectrum.

If I had to use a single adjective to define Assurdo, I would call it unpredictable. While far too many albums and individual songs seem to endlessly reproduce the same structure, the 10 compositions featured on Garden Wall’s eight CD take the listener on a veritable rollercoaster ride that will leave all but the most open-minded rather bewildered, as well as drained. To say that Assurdo is not an easy listen would be an understatement: spanning a wide range of influences and moods, each song conceived as a mini-suite in many different movements, and providing a canvas for Alessandro Seravalle’s amazing vocal gymnastics, the album is an exercise in deconstruction rather than a showcase for cohesive compositional standards.

Obviously, this is not meant as criticism: though Assurdo is clearly a daunting prospect for anyone not used to more challenging fare than the average “mainstream prog” release, it can also be immensely rewarding for those who will invest time and patience in  trying to “unlock” it. Its densely woven texture, made of so many different layers, its deeply literate nature (the album’s title comes a quote from Robert Musil’s The Man Without Qualities, “Everything is absurd when you see it clearly”), a complex instrumentation  blending state-of-the-art electronic soundscapes with warm ethnic percussion, lyrical flute and violin, and gutsy electric guitar – all make for a very demanding listening experience, though one that can confidently bear the “progressive” label. For all its cosmopolitan, cutting-edge allure, Assurdo does have that indefinable “Italian” quality that the use of the Italian language (though juxtaposed with English) lends to even the most avant-garde musical efforts – as proved by a band like Nichelodeon, whose mainman Claudio Milano has been actively involved in the realization of Garden Wall’s latest effort.

Assurdo is one of those albums that need to be absorbed as a whole, so that trying to describe any of the tracks in detail would feel like a pointless exercise. The tracks run between 2 and 8 minutes, with the lone instrumental “Just Cannot Forget” strategically placed in the middle, as a sort of interlude. Taking Demetrio Stratos as a springboard, Seravalle dominates the rest – at times speaking, at others whispering, or even screaming or growling.  Garden Wall’s  impressively omnivorous approach encompasses the academic suggestions of opener “Iperbole”, to the deconstructed funk of the appropriately-named “Trasfiguratofunky”, the haunting trip-hop of “Negative”, the heady Middle Eastern flavour of “Vacuum Fluctuation” – blending jazzy organ, industrial electronics and heavy riffing as in “Clamores Horrendos Ad Sidera Tollit”, employing flute and violin to complement the spacey, ambient-like electronics of closer “Isterectomia”.

At under 70 minutes, Assurdo is not an excessively long album for today’s standards.  However, with its unabashedly eclectic, experimental bent, coupled with a distinct lack of anything even remotely resembling a catchy tune (as well as Seravalle’s acquired-taste vocals), the album is rarely a comfortable listening experience – though a much more solid effort than some overly pretentious releases in the experimental prog field. In any case, adventurous listeners will find a lot to appreciate in Assurdo, one of the most intriguing albums released in 2011, and one that definitely deserves more exposure.

Links:
http://www.gardenwallband.com/

http://www.lizardrecords.net63.net/index.php

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Bogus (7:41)
2. Dead Man Walking (6:26)
3. De Rerum Natura (7:42)
4. Follow the Weaver (7:49)
5. Ride the Owl (4:26)
6. Avoid Feelings (6:40)
7. That Night (7:04)
8. Ultraworld (9:45)

LINEUP:
Barbara Rubin – vocals
Francesco Salvadeo – guitars
Giordano Mattiuzzo – bass
Lorenzo Marcenaro – keyboards
Claudio Cavalli – drums

Hailing from Alessandria, in north-western Italy, Loreweaver began their career in 2008, when vocalist Barbara Rubin (a classically-trained violinist) joined  a quartet of musicians that had been playing together for some time – guitarist Francesco Salvadeo, keyboardist Lorenzo Marcenaro, bassist Giordano Mattiuzzo and drummer Andrea Mazza (later replaced by Claudio Cavalli). Imperviae Auditiones (which in English sounds more or less like “difficult listening”) their recording debut, was first released in 2009 by the band themselves; then, in the spring of 2011, after Loreweaver got signed by SG Records (an Italian label specializing in heavy metal, punk and alternative rock), the album finally got an official release.

As my readers may know, I am not a fan of progressive metal, and most of my contacts with this subgenre have been through reviewing rather than personal choice. In particular, anything that might remind me of subgenre icons Dream Theater leaves me quite cold. However, I also pride myself on being as objective as possible, and, even if an album may not be my listening material of choice, I make a point of giving quality its due  – and Loreweaver’s debut, in spite of the almost inevitable rough edges, is quite a remarkable effort.

While Italy is home to an impressive number of progressive metal bands, the genre is somehow perceived as “foreign”, and not only on account of the widespread practice of using English for both lyrics and band names. In the Eighties, a few Italian metal bands adopted their native language, but nowadays this trend seems to have faded almost completely. The choice of English is undoubtedly crucial for all those bands that want to travel outside their home country and make a name for themselves on the international market (as fellow Italians Lacuna Coil did with unqualified success). This strategy certainly helped Loreweaver, whose appearance at the 2011 edition of the Fused Festival in Lydney (UK) drew a lot of attention to this distinctive version of a female-fronted prog-metal band.

Indeed, Loreweaver’s ace in the hole, the single factor that prevents them from sounding just like another of the many Dream Theater disciples, is the presence of Barbara Rubin behind the microphone. My first contact with her came in 2009, when I reviewed her debut solo album, Under the Ice, and was impressed by her voice, a warm, self-assured contralto with enough versatility to tackle both out-and-out rockers and gentler, more intimate pieces. On a music scene overrun with pseudo-operatic wailers or cloyingly sweet, cutesy sopranos, Barbara’s clear, powerful pipes sound refreshingly different – as does her avoidance of either femme-fatale or tough-chick affectations. Her classical training has clearly influenced her singing technique, and her voice sounds perfectly in control, negotiating the often wild shifts in tempo and mood typical of the genre in an almost effortless, authoritative manner. Although her voice is unmistakably feminine, her approach is more masculine, steering well clear of mawkishness and saccharine-sweetness even in the  obligatory, piano-infused power ballad That Night. Indeed, Rubin comes across as a heavier version of Janis Joplin or Grace Slick rather than yet another Tarja Turunen clone, decked in corsets and lace.

The songs, all between 6 and almost 10 minutes (with the exception of the lone instrumental Ride the Own, at barely over 4 minutes the shortest track on the album), blend riff-driven heaviness with synth sweeps, eerie electronics and occasional bouts of mellowness provided by piano and acoustic guitar. Bogus kicks off  with a slice of classic of prog-metal, in which the hissing synthesizers and inevitable spots of rapid-fire drumming  receive a welcome injection of remarkably un-cheesy melody from Rubin’s powerful, yet astonishingly controlled vocals. In Dead Man Walking an atmospheric, slightly sinister component prevails, with Rubin’s voice alternately soothing and shouting, and Francesco Salvadeo’s sharp, clear guitar solo drawing things to a close with just a touch of shredding; while De Rerum Natura is grandiosely dramatic, with so many changes to make the average listener’s head spin, veering from doomy slowness to a more upbeat, dance-like pace. Follow the Weaver, on the other hand, seems to take the contrast between melody and aggression to extremes, with an airy, melodic middle section decidedly at odds with the rest of the track. Avoid Feelings has a similar structure, though more nuanced, and lashings of whistling, wheezing sound effects offset by wistful piano. The album is then wrapped up by the sci-fi-tinged epic Ultraworld, complete with ominous recorded voices and strident electronics, and propelled by Rubin’s sensational vocal performance, whose intensity is paralleled by the smooth guitar-keyboard interplay.

Professionally packaged with suitably disturbing artwork, liner notes and lyrics (which are, however, somewhat difficult to read), Imperviae Auditiones does not stray far from the template, of “traditional” progressive metal, either musically or lyrically. However, Barbara Rubin’s vocals are enough to make a difference, and attract the interest of those fans of the genre that are a bit weary of run-of-the-mill, Gothic/symphonic bands fronted by the token siren-voiced temptress. Loreweaver are a promising band with the potential to develop an even more personal sound in their future releases.

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

http://www.sgrecords.it

 

 

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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. G.B. Evidence (5:19)
2. Arabesque (12:32)
3. Dark Magus (9:00)
4. L’Ombra di un Sogno (6:55)
5. Più Limpida e Chiara di Ogni Impressione Vissuta, Part I (5:08)
6. Battery Park (6:37)

LINEUP:
Giovanni Parmeggiani – Hammond organ, acoustic and electric piano, Arp Odyssey, Minimoog
Cristian Franchi – drums
Daniele Piccinini – bass
Marco Marzo Maracas – guitar, oud

With:
Richard Sinclair – vocals (4)
Antonio “Cooper” Cupertino – percussion (4)

Hailing from the historic Italian city of Bologna, home to the oldest university in the world, Accordo dei Contrari (Italian for “Agreement of the Opposites”) started out their career in as a trio; then, after a number of line-up changes, recorded their debut album, Kinesis (released in 2007) as a quartet. The same line-up is featured on Kublai, their sophomore effort, released in the spring of 2011 – an album that is sure to put them on the map of even the most demanding lovers of progressive rock. Sadly, the band was one of the “innocent victims”, so to speak, of the unfortunate cancellation of the 2011 edition of NEARfest, which deprived American prog fans of the opportunity to witness a number of exciting modern bands.

While the album’s title may bring to mind the fabled character of the Mongolian emperor celebrated by the likes of Marco Polo and S.T. Coleridge, in this case the name Kublai is meant to  represent “the most distant point in an imaginary landscape. It represents ordered chaos, light and dark, the balance between written and improvised music.” A clear statement of intent that accurately sums up the musical content of Accordo dei Contrari’s second album. With its stylishly minimalistic cover artwork, Kublai is a supremely classy package that shows a band whose compositional and instrumental mastery is growing by leaps and bounds.

Running at a compact, perfectly balanced 45 minutes, the album sounds fresh and original even when the band’s main sources of inspiration are referenced. While Accordo dei Contrari do not choose to employ as extensive an array of instruments as other modern bands, they manage to create an impressive volume of sound with a rather restrained instrumentation, dispensing with the violin and saxophone featured on their debut, and therefore perfecting the “electric quartet” format. For an album that might be tagged as jazz-rock, Kublai seems to revolve a lot around Giovanni Parmeggiani’s stunning keyboard work. Indeed, the keyboards are definitely the driving force of the disc, with the distinctive rumble of the Hammond organ lending a touch of unbridled hard rock passion to the overall sound: there are moments on Kublai in which Parmeggiani sounds as if he was channeling Jon Lord.

Opener “G.B. Evidence”, a variation on a Thelonious Monk composition, immediately introduces the listener to the fascinating world of Accordo dei Contrari, with Cristian Franci’s crisp, inventive drumming, bolstered by Daniele Piccinini’s sleek, versatile bass lines, sparring with Marco Marzo’s simmering guitar and Parmeggiani’s subtly layered keyboards. In the second half, guitar and organ engage in a sort of dialogue that conjures images of Deep Purple jamming with Mahavishnu Orchestra. Clocking in at 12 minutes “Arabesque” presents Accordo dei Contrari’s own twist on the obligatory prog ‘epic’, making effective use of a steady electronic drone to create a faintly ominous atmosphere underlying the stately beauty of the Eastern-flavoured acoustic guitar arpeggios in the first part of the track. The overall loose, somewhat rarefied texture, the flow of the music broken by frequent pauses and surges in volume, occasionally gains intensity in bursts of energy that bring to mind the revolutionary sonic melting pot of Area circa Arbeit Macht Frei. Bookended by sonorous gong. “Dark Magus” (a nod to Miles Davis’ 1974 album of the same title) reinforces the impression of classic jazz rock coupled with the intensity of vintage hard rock. Parmeggiani attacks his Hammond with unadulterated abandon, while Franci’s stellar drumming propels the whole of the composition along, with Marco Marzo’s guitar in an invaluable supporting role.

Strategically placed at the opening of the album’s second half, “L’Ombra di un Sogno (Shadow of a Dream)” is the only track with vocals, provided by none other than the ‘voice of Canterbury’, Richard Sinclair, who also wrote the gentle, moving lyrics in memory of his dog. Centred around Sinclair’s subdued yet emotional interpretation, his velvety baritone bending the music to its will, the song – somewhat sparse at first, with a hauntingly insistent guitar line, then taking a jazzier turn towards the end – brings the the sound of iconic Canterbury bands such as Hatfield and the North and National Health into the 21st century. On the other hand, “Piu’ Limpida e Chiara di Ogni Espressione Vissuta, Pt. 1”  steers towards a more symphonic direction, with organ and guitar alternating in the lead role, and an overall solemn, meditative feel even when the pace picks up. The album ends with the “Battery Park” (inspired by a windy, sunny February day by the Hudson River in New York City), a lovely, piano-led  piece based around a main theme developed in a stop-start movement, the various sections climaxing and then subsiding like the natural flow of a water course.

A perfect marriage of formal elegance and emotion, rich with diverse influences but always cohesive, Kublai clearly proves that Accordo dei Contrari are ready to take their rightful place alongside D.F.A. as purveyors of impeccably executed, yet warm and emotional jazz-rock in which keyboards play a prominent role. The band have amply fulfilled the promise shown by their debut, Kinesis, and the compositional and technical maturity shown on their sophomore effort bodes extremely well for their future career. A must for fans of the Canterbury scene and classic jazz-rock in general, Kublai will delight anyone who loves great music – whatever the label attached to it.

Links:
http://www.accordodeicontrari.com/

 

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In spite of the difficult economic times, and also of the prevailing “the grass is greener” attitude, in 2011 Europe is all set to offer an almost unprecedented range of progressive rock (and related) festivals – in sharp contrast with the (hopefully temporary) demise of both NEARfest and CalProg in the North American continent. In the past few weeks I have come across no less than four announcements of respectably-sized events taking place in various part of the boot-shaped peninsula.

The first edition of the Civitella Progressive Rock Festival will be held at the sports centre of the town of Civitella Paganico, in the Tuscan province of Grosseto, starting on July 16 with guitarist Alex Carpani and Pink Floyd tribute band Time Machine, and then continuing on the weekend of July 22/23  with Classic ELP Tribute, local band Gran Turismo Veloce and legends Le Orme (July 22), and The Watch opening for Fish (July 23).

On the same weekend (July 22-24), the festival We Love Vintage will be held at the sports centre Due Madonne in Bologna, with an impressive lineup featuring well-known names of the classic prog era such as the new supergroup CCLR (with Bernardo Lanzetti, and Aldo Tagliapietra as a special guest) and Arti e Mestieri with Mel Collins and David Cross, as well as up-and-coming acts such as Paolo Schianchi, Alex Carpani, Ego, Altare Thotemico, Stereokimono, Mappe Nootiche, Astralia, and Bologna’s own Accordo dei Contrari (with legendary ‘voice of Canterbury’ Richard Sinclair as a special guest).

In the same week, on July 21, the Austin-based duo WD-41 (recently interviewed here) at the Portello River Festival in Padova, an event that is sure to appeal to those with a keen interest in experimental and world music.

While the month of August in Italy is traditionally dedicated to vacation, progressive rock will make a comeback in September with another two extremely intriguing events. The 2 Days Prog Veruno will take place at the Piazzetta della Musica in the town of Veruno, in the Piedmontese province of Novara. This year the festival, in spite of its name, will last 3 days instead of two (September 2-4), and its exciting lineup will feature Italian acts such as Alex Carpani Band, Methodica, Il Tempio delle Clessidre, Arti e Mestieri (again with Mel Collins and David Cross) and Goblin, alongside celebrated international acts such as RPWL, Anathema, Riverside and Agents of Mercy.

This staggeringly rich season of music will be wrapped up by the Progressivamente Festival held at the Casa del Jazz in Rome on the following week (September 6-11). The event, dedicated to the memory of Italian musician and Chapman stick virtuoso Virginia Splendore (who tragically passed away at the end of May 2011), will offer a veritable ‘who is who’ of classic and modern Italian prog, with bands such as Il Tempio delle Clessidre, Locanda delle Fate, Murple, Fonderia, Metamorfosi, Le Orme and Banco del Mutuo Soccorso, as well as Gentle Giant offshoot Three Friends and tribute acts Us and Them, Goblin…Rebirth and Progtop. An additional feature of the event will be listening ‘seminars’ for audiophiles comparing analog and digital recordings of the great prog albums of the Seventies.

As unbelievable as it may sound to my American readers, some of these events will be free of charge, or have a very accessible price (no higher than 20 euros).  Whoever is planning a trip to Italy in the summer months may be interested in planning things so as to be able to attend at least one of those concerts, which will offer the added bonus of great surroundings and excellent food and drink.

Links:
Civitella Progressive Rock Festival: http://www.synpress44.com/01Comunicati.asp?id=1113

We Love Vintage: http://www.welovevintage.it/

Portello River Festival: http://www.riverfilmfestival.org/PRF7.pdf

2 Days Prog Veruno: http://www.lastfm.it/festival/1936079+2+Days+Prog+Veruno

Progressivamente Festival: http://www.progressivamente.com/


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 Even though California-born guitarist and composer Willie Oteri may not be a household name for most prog fans, over the almost 30 years of his career he has built quite a reputation among followers of experimental music. Currently based in Austin (TX), Oteri is one of the members of duo WD-41, together with trumpeter Dave Laczko. The duo will head to Italy in mid-July, where they are scheduled to perform at the Portello River Festival in Padova and a couple of other similar events. They are also planning to hold some concerts and jams in the houses of fellow musicians and fans of progressive music.

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Since many of the habitual visitors of prog sites are not familiar with your career, I guess we should start with a couple of rather trivial questions… Such as, how did you start playing your instruments, and what made you choose those particular instruments rather than others?

 Willie: I started out as a singer. At the age of 4 I whistled and sang everything I heard at home or on the radio. I also repaired an old record player, also when 4, on which I listened to a variety of music. At 7 I wanted to be a jazz singer like Dean Martin or Sinatra and only dabbled on instruments like violin or piano because they were in our house, my mother was a violinist who was in symphonies in her teens but gave it up for several reasons mainly to raise three children. I never really thought about much beyond singing. I had a cheap electric guitar around the age of 12, but I never really enjoyed it. I wanted a sax but my parents could not afford a good one. In my late teens I started playing bass so I could get into bands and I was the lead singer in couple of bands.  I also took up flute at that time since my sister had one she never used. Later in my twenties a friend convinced me to try pedal steel guitar so I could play in a country rock band he was starting. I played pedal steel for many years, in some situations you would never think of finding that sound and started dabbling on guitar but I was not real serious about guitar until the late ‘90s after coming back to professional playing from nearly a decade off. I was living on a sailboat at the time and guitar just made sense as a portable way to compose tunes. I’m not real sure I’m in love with guitar, I’m indifferent to it for many reasons, mostly from what I see as design flaws but I do truly love some of what can be done with a guitar. The sounds I hear in my head can often be made on a guitar. It seems to be working out for me.

Dave: In public school, we had a night where they had a bunch of instruments in the cafeteria  and my Mom let me pick an instrument to play in the band.  I immediately picked drums, but my Mom said, “I am not getting you drums!  Don’t get anything too heavy!”  I was disappointed, but I picked trumpet right away because I really liked Herb Alpert records.  He was so cool and jazzy and he had women hanging all over him.  I knew that was for me.

What can you say about your approach to your respective instruments? Do you see yourselves as musicians that transcend the usual labels of rock, jazz, avant-garde and such? And if so, how?

Willie:  A friend of mine, Italian guitarist Enrico Crivellaro, once said, “I just do what I do”. That pretty much covers it in my book also. I just do it without much thought of if it’s going to fit a genre label or two. I love improvisation and what is known to some as Total Improvisation but I don’t mind having things worked out.  My last four releases have been made by asking others if they wanted to jam and record it. That’s how I did Concepts of MateMaToot, Spiral Out and both WD-41 releases, just asking musicians if they want to jam. For Concepts of MateMaToot and Spiral Out there were some basic patterns to work from for a few tunes but for most of it and both WD-41 albums it’s just music that happens. I’m also working on arrangements for a more structured solo album down the road and perhaps a symphony based on ideas from WD-41 sounds.

Dave: To be honest, I’m only interested in transcending what I or Willie played last week. While I understand their usefulness, labels are generally for describing music, not playing it, so yes, I think our music goes  beyond a single category.  I notice that WD-41 is linked to at least 4 categories on your blog?  Not bad!  WD-41 is deliberate only in our attempt to play something totally spontaneous, inspiring and fun every time.  It’s improvised—that’s about all I can say!

As you know, the sites I write for generally deal with ‘progressive rock’ in all its various manifestations. What is your personal view of this somewhat controversial genre? Do you see WD-41 as belonging to a ‘prog’ context, or would you rather be identified as a jazz project?

 Willie: If a listener thinks we are progressive and wants to label us as such that’s fine. I like a lot of what is labeled progressive and a lot of it just does nothing for me. That’s how we all are. WD-41 got tossed into a lot of publications that deal with the progressive label because our publicist Lori Hehr deals mostly in that area. We also seem to do well inwhat is labeled the jazz arena (laughs), but I don’t really care what people call it. Just open your minds and listen.

Dave: I don’t have a problem with either genre being associated with WD-41. The fact that we are both electrified and 100% improvised with no specific rhythmic component makes me lean towards the prog side of the debate if I have to choose! I’m honored that either genre would have us, but even contextually I’d rather best be described in seven categories rather than one. I enjoy reading descriptions of WD-41 in the press, so call it what it sounds like, Raffaella! That’s part of the fun, isn’t it?

Even though we have been in touch for a while, I do not know how Willie and Dave first met and decided to join forces. How did WD-41 come about, and what does the ‘41’ stand for?

Willie: I’ll let Dave have this one.

Dave: A mutual friend (N.W. Austin, the artist who painted our cover art) told me that Willie Oteri might be moving to Austin and that I should look for him.  I’d heard a tape of his and was very impressed.  He was playing with Jazz Gunn and I was in a local swing band, playing 30’s and 40’s tunes.  We hung out some.  He told me about recording the Spiral Out CD, then he was gone to Europe.  When he came back from Italy, we were catching up and I asked him what was next muscally for him and he said, “I want to do something with loops.”  I said, “Wow, that sounds fun—can I play too?”  He had never heard me play before and when we got together the next afternoon, we knew we had something!  That’s how we began –  with no preconceived ideas.  We just sat across from each other and played.  We discovered that our approaches to music are very similar.  Our ears are open for what’s possible in the moment.  Also, we like a lot of the same movies and I think this adds a subtlety and some humor to what we do.

41 is one more than 40, that’s all I can tell you.  No need to get Interpol involved right now.

Dave, as most of my readers will probably not be very familiar with you, can you tell me something about your own musical career?

Dave: I guess my career started in 1980 when I joined a big band that played around Austin and was relatively successful in the 80s and 90’s.  Most of Austin’s best jazz musicians came through that band so I got to meet everybody.  That’s where I met Mel Winters, a flugelhorn soloist who had decided to switch to piano.  In ’87, I started playing bass on keyboards with him and we formed the Fearless Jazz Trio, which later became a duo of just Mel and me.  He is a prolific composer and an intense and thoughtful player, who sees chords and how they fit together in a way that is another universe.  He is probably the biggest influence on me musically (before I met Mr. Oteri!) and really pushed me to go for it.  He liked my ear and continues to encourage me to play what I hear.  It was “keep up or be left behind,” so I developed a way to be a more rhythmically interesting bass player in a drumless duo.  We have rehearsed on and off for over 30 years with only one gig!  Seriously… it’s still fun most of the time. Haha!  I do believe playing with Mel all these years got me ready to play with Willie.  Around 1998 or 1999 I helped start a local swing band that played around Austin for a couple of years.  I’m into a lot of different styles and I think early jazz is fascinating and fun.  That’s a completely different mindset than what I’m doing now with WD-41.  Who knew?

I always have a day job. I worked for Tower Records as a buyer during their stay in Austin (1991-2004) and I had a pretty cool jazz radio show for 13 years which was actually at night.

I have been so lucky as to hear Willie’s wonderful Spiral Out album, recorded with Tony Levin and Pat Mastelotto. How did this collaboration come about? Would you consider working with either of those artists again in the future, perhaps involving Dave as well?

Willie: I had just finished the Jazz Gunn album Concepts of  MateMaToot, which I produced and wanted to go beyond that by using another producer. I put out feelers in a few internet forums and one of the producers that contacted me was Ronan Chris Murphy who had worked with a wide variety of names from King Crimson to Chucho Valdés. After chatting with him on the phone I decided to fly to LA to meet in person and we immediately hit it off and started working on pre-production. While we were jamming a bit on ideas I sort of jokingly said something like, “Tony Levin would sound great on this” and Ronan said, “I can get Tony”. He went out in the parking lot and called Tony and arranged for us to send some him some ideas. I don’t remember if Tony agreed to the project before or after hearing the ideas but then we were off to finding drummers, we went through a few ideas and then decided Pat Mastelotto would be the best fit. Pat and I both live in Austin so it was easy to arrange to record there. Tony flew out from NY and the three of us just jammed for two days. On the second day we called trumpet man Ephraim Owens to add to some of the raw tracks and then while mixing in LA Ronan thought some keys would be good so he called Mike Keneally who drove up from San Diego. It all just sort of fell into being. I love all those guys and have done a few gigs with Tony, Ronan and Pat since. We chat now and then about doing another recording but it’s mostly about money and time. I would love to do another and Dave would be first choice for trumpet.

Dave: Willie knows I’d love to play with any of those guys any time and we talked about it at first.  After we started playing we knew we didn’t really need them. In Italy we’ll be improvising with musicians from all over the world.  I think we’re ready. . .

Being Italian, I would like to hear more about Willie’s artistic and personal experience in the four years he spent there. Italians like to complain about everything in their country, and are big fans of the old ‘the grass is greener’ shtick. How would you rate the Italian scene as opposed to the American one?

Willie: The grass is never greener on the other side of the fence but sometimes it’s mowed differently.. The past couple of years have been difficult for many artists both here and in Italy. I’m an older artist doing music for the last several years that is pretty far out from the new manufactured pop but for what I do it’s been easier to book gigs in Europe including Italy. Part of that is because of who I’ve worked with on records which is a selling point for venues and festivals. Musicians are sadly just a commodity when it comes to business. I would say that if most Italian bands or musicians came to America they would find it very difficult to get bookings and the day jobs here will eat you alive.  Moving to America doesn’t guarantee success or happiness.

Living in Italy is nicer in my experience for art, music, people, friends, food, the list goes on. When I lived in Italy I did most of my gigs outside of Padova by train going second class which is very affordable. You just can’t do that in the states and this is a big advantage for Italians. You can trim down your gear to a bare minimum needed. Often you can borrow drums and amps in other cities from fans or share with other bands. I rarely tour with my own amps these days and you will see this is becoming more common.

If I may, some advice for Italian bands and musicians just starting out, forget about America at least until you are very popular in Europe. Get your music out in the big cities in Italy and Europe (and a bit of advice for all young players) work your ass off on promoting your music. Book your own shows when you can. If after a year or so no one is paying attention then change something, change everything and try again. Remember that while self promotion is easy today everyone is doing it so often it appears as though you are just another artist. Try to raise money to hire a publicist and perform live as often as you can. Don’t be discouraged by booking agents or clubs not paying attention, it’s a business and it’s easy today for them so sell an old name playing the old tunes even without the original members or to sell a similar sounding act, cover (tribute) band or old jazz standards. Booking hyped manufactured pop acts is another story we don’t have time for here but, it takes a lot of money to promote and tour an artist in a big flashy way and sadly from this is where most people take their calling. In the eyes of most including many magazine editors and reviewers an artist is better if they are backed by a lot of money, sometimes borrowed from labels (often a bad idea) or often from their family, but don’t let it discourage you, big promotion does not equal big talent and there are still those who make it on hard work and word of mouth. Remember times change so be ready when the time comes. Get a good lawyer before you do anything involving much money. Don’t worry if you can’t afford to attend the big name music schools, training seminars, etc. They are not a guarantee of talent or creativity.

I hope all of you find good partners, band members or a spouse to help you on your way. It’s not easy to be creative and do all the work yourself with all your own money but if you believe in the music keep at it. If you have some family money then more power to you but be careful about taking money from labels or giving money to music taxi services. Take the energy that comes from discouragement and put it into your music.

Some things I wished I had learned early in my career: If you are shy, as I was when young then work hard at overcoming it. Shyness kept me from going to a lot of good auditions. Don’t spend too much on instruments or gear, computers, phones, cars, etc. Get instruments that are adequate and will get the job done but save your money for promotion not flashy gear. Remember too that sometimes the most talented are the least recognized. Everywhere there are numerous players and composers who you have never heard of who are just as good or better than the big names. Sometimes we need to seek them out to enjoy their art and you may find a good band member this way. Sting was once a school teacher who played local club gigs on weekends.

One final thought, you must think of your music beyond just being a hobby if you really want to make great music. Dedicating your life to music is a sacrifice that will show in the quality of your performance. A good read on making a living as a musician by Danny Barnes, a bit dated but still good advice: http://www.dannybarnes.com/blog/how-make-living-playing-music

 Dave, have you had any experience of playing in other countries than the USA? If so, what was your experience of an international context as opposed to a domestic one?

Dave: This trip to Italy will be my first trip overseas and my first experience playing my music outside of Texas, so I am excited to play for European audiences.  Can you ask me this question again when I get back?

Austin is known as a laid-back, artsy town, quite out of character with the rest of the state of Texas. However, I have often see you complain about the lack of opportunities for live performances. What are the positives and negatives of the Austin scene, if compared to other parts of the US?

Willie: We may complain but we could do more about getting gigs here even though there really are no booking agents or clubs to speak of that can handle what we do. Those that do (infrequently) promote improvised music tend to focus on getting acts from out of town.  A lot of bands from here never play here.  Oddly it was different several years ago and there were more places to play outside styles. Presently the scene is mostly singer songwriter, blues, cover rock, some start up pop bands and bits of the rest. There is an old saying here, “popular in Austin, dead everywhere else”(something like that). I’m not sure that if we gigged a lot here it would be such a good idea. (laughs) I am seeing a bit more experimental and improvised music in town but for now  the place for our music is Europe.

The positives of the Austin scene? There is a old expression “Austin is an Oasis surrounded by Texas”, Crime is low and there is a lot to do besides music. It’s a nice place to live and play and much less expensive than many big cities. There are places for up and coming bands and young musicians to perform and get experience. For professional musicians there are less opportunities. I think a lot of musicians live here because they were raised here or because they find the overall laid back vibe of much of the city just fits well with a musician’s view of life. It’s a pretty fun town, check Eeyore’s birthday party sometime for example or a wild night on 6th Street.  I’m often disappointed by the food here but that’s for another interview (laughs).

Dave: I should defer to Willie on this question.  I do have a few opinions, though.  Willie has met a fair amount of opposition to starting any improv. jam sessions here.  WD-41 is certainly not for everyone and I realize we appeal to listeners who understand the risks of improvisation.  That’s a pretty small audience amid the popularity of singer-songwriters, white-guy blues, cover bands and several thousand other groups of all kinds here.  Don’t get me wrong – there are a lot of great musicians in Austin. That fact is what has kept me here for so long.  You can throw a rock and I bet you’ll hit someone who at least says he’s a musician.  He has a guitar, a beard and a shirt from the 80’s.  He plays 3-5 nights a week.  Most audiences want to hear something they are familiar with.  In the “Live Music Capital of the World,” club owners, booking agents and politics play it safe and book what they know.  WD-41 is not safe.  We are different.  Our music is instrumental and improvised.  We often do not have drums.  We are full of danger, chance and mystery.  Austin may not be the open minded, smart and artsy city she thinks she is, but it’s not all her fault.  Austin is still the capital of Texas and she can’t afford to risk it.  Still, I love Austin, the people and the vibe here. It’s doubtful that I would have had the same opportunities in another city.  I am extremely fortunate to be able to play with and learn from two geniuses on a weekly basis!  Still, I can’t wait to play in Italy!

Can you tell us something more about your upcoming performances in Italy? I am particularly interested in hearing about house concerts, which are definitely one of the most effective new strategies for artists to get their music across without going through the usual (and increasingly frustrating) channels.

Willie: well we have the festival dates in Florence (live looping fest, July 16 and 17) and the Portello River Festival in Padova July 21 (three weeks of a variety of artists from around the world and films on a floating stage in a big canal) –  beautiful spot and really fun gig. We then have house concerts in various places with one that will include a live recording with three or four other musicians. We would be doing club dates but many clubs in Italy will be closed in July and while waiting for festival confirmations we lost advanced time needed to book some clubs. The festivals are more important to us. I feel that house concerts are perfect for us because we can play at a reasonable volume, although we do like to move a lot of air when we can. I think for most bands who work smaller venues house concerts are a good alternative. There are legal issues with sound and sales of tickets in many cities, so, often house concerts are booked as private parties or listed as Venue TBA.

Dave: Willie has worked very hard on securing our gigs and contacts in Italy, looking for the right musicians and the right opportunities for us.  He has played at the Portello River Festival several times and it’s exciting to be added to the line-up this year!  I think house concerts are certainly the way to go to get the audience you want to play for.  Also these tend to be very intimate settings where you can get a lot of immediate feedback and energy from an audience sitting on the couch next to you!

You used an Internet-based funding platform to raise money for your trip to Italy. This is another strategy that is rapidly taking hold in the community of independent artists, regardless of genre. Would you recommend it to any up-and-coming musicians, and why?

 Willie: Well, this is our first crowdfund but we have raised nearly all of our air fare to Italy and it looks as though it will go to more soon. It’s difficult to raise much from fans alone and several writings on the subject have mentioned that most successful crowdfunds are due to contribution from family and friends. It’s seems that a lot less people are reaching their goals lately as if the market is flooded. Fans don’t have the money to spread around to the thousands of acts asking for it. For our crowdfund we used ChipIn.com because you get whatever money people put in, you don’t have to reach your goal to get the money as with Kickstarter, also ChipIn takes much less of a percentage. It worked for us because part of our contributions were direct to us and not through the crowdfund. With Kickstarter it would have looked like we did not reach our goal, then we would have to go back to all the pledgers personally and ask for the money.

Dave: Willie set this up, and I think it has worked well.  Getting signed to a label often means working for them instead of them working for you.  In these days of labels with no budget and “pay to play” gigs,  DIY financing makes a lot of sense.

WD-41 have released two albums so far. What would you point out as the main differences between the debut and Temi Per Cinema?

Willie: Besides having others added to the mix on Temi Per Cinema we really developed our sound and now we are playing way beyond even Temi Per Cinema. It will be interesting to see what comes from more recordings with other musicians added. We have a few aces up our sleeve we are working on.

Dave: The main difference is the most obvious one, since we added  Dino and Scott on some of our tracks, which helped to expand our already expansive sound.

Temi Per Cinema was recorded with the collaboration of two other artists, Scott Amendola and Dino J. A. Deane. How did this collaboration come about, and are other collaborations in the pipeline?

Willie: as I mentioned above we have a few collaborations in mind. As for Dino and Scott I just simply asked them and then we worked out details. We thought of both of them because we have heard them on many recordings we enjoy, so it just seemed like a good fit.

Dave: I had heard some of Dino’s CDs and I was blown away by what I heard.  It was really more of a wish that we could collaborate with him.  Within 15 minutes or so of Willie contacting him he wrote back and said, “What do you guys want to do?”  I knew of Scott’s playing as well.  Willie contacted Scott through Facebook and we are very fortunate to have both of these amazing artists on Temi Per Cinema.  I still can’t believe they played on our tracks! I guess all you have to do is ask!  I am hoping that we will have some collaborations in Italy that will open up new possibilities for WD-41 and for our next recording.  We have a few Stateside ideas as well  . . .

What are your plans for the second half of the year, once you come back from your Italian tour? Can we expect to see WD-41 perform in the US Northeast, which is often celebrated as the hub for progressive music?

Willie: I’m not sure there is enough time to book far enough ahead for the last part of 2011 but we would love to play anywhere people want us. I may be touring by myself and adding musicians on the way as a live looping thing. It depends on a lot of issues. If fans want WD-41 in their town the options are to book a house concert or nag booking agents and festival promoters in your area.

Dave: I’d love to tour in the US if I can get the time off!  There is a possibility of playing with Dino in Albuquerque, NM, but that is still in the “maybe” stage.

A big thank you to Willie and Dave for their patience in answering my questions, and all my best wishes for your upcoming Italian tour!

Willie: Thank you too Raffaella!!  It’s been great knowing you though the internet and I hope we meet in person soon.

Dave: Thank you Raffaella for this opportunity to share my thoughts about music and WD-41.  It’s great fun to play with Willie, and for me that’s what it’s all about.  To think that in a month we will be playing in Italy is incredible!   Ciao!

 

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

http://www.myspace.com/willieoteri

 

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