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Posts Tagged ‘Marcello Marinone’

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Nadir (9:31)
2. Dandelion (4:47)
3. Seth Zeugma (5:48)
4. Dua (5:44)
5. Tiglath (8:28)
6. Più Limpida e Chiara di Ogni Impressione Vissuta (Pt.2) (3:21)

LINEUP:
Cristian Franchi – drums
Giovanni Parmeggiani – Fender Rhodes, Hammond organ, minimoog, acoustic piano
Daniele Piccinini – bass guitar
Marco Marzo Maracas – electric and acoustic guitar

With:
Vladimiro Cantaluppi – violin (3), viola (6)
Marina Scaramagli – cello (6)
Enrico Guerzoni – cello (3)

For my first album review after over four months of silence, what better choice than the new album of one of the most interesting new bands of the past few years – Bologna’s own Accordo dei Contrari, who managed to impress the ProgDay crowd in 2012 in spite of performing at the hottest time of a truly sweltering day? Three years after the highly praised Kublaione of my top albums for 2011 – the young but immensely talented Italian quartet have made their comeback with an album whose title is as minimalistic as its striking artwork (courtesy of drummer Cristian Franchi and Dario D’Alessandro of fellow AltrOckers Homunculus Res). AdC also marks the band’s return to the AltrOck roster, as they their debut, Kinesis (at present unfortunately still out of print), had been released in 2006 by the Milan-based label.

Clocking in at a mere 37 minutes, AdC is highly concentrated, and in many ways different from its predecessor – though there are some unmistakable signs of continuity to be found. According to the English-language liner notes, the album was recorded over a very short period of time, in an almost “live in the studio” situation. While “Dua” and “Seth Zeugma” date back from the time the band was working on Kublai (though they did not find a place on that album), the remaining four tracks were all composed in the intervening years. Although far from unusual, this state of affairs might have resulted in a patchy effort, but fortunately AdC – no matter how chequered its history may be – has turned out to be remarkably cohesive.

Completely instrumental (unlike Kublai, which saw the participation of Canterbury legend Richard Sinclair on one track), and with only two tracks over the 6-minute mark, it leaves very little room for self-indulgence – a danger often lurking in a subgenre like jazz-rock, which thrives on technical proficiency. The four band members weave a tight web of sound, each contributing his own individual imprint, but always keeping an eye an eye to the final result. As a whole, AdC comes across as heavier than its predecessor, with Marco Marzo’s electric guitar playing a leading role and lending a keen edge to keyboardist Giovanni Parmeggiani’s sophisticated writing. This time around, one can definitely hear less Canterbury and more Area in Accordo dei Contrari’s music.

The almost 10-minute “Nadir” opens the album with the ominous, cinematic impact of surging synths, then all the other instruments chime in, foregrounding guitar and drums in a well-paced, jazzy romp that blends energy and melody. The exhilarating contrast between Marzo’s gritty guitar and Parmeggiani’s liquid piano demonstrates the band’s excellent control of quiet-loud dynamics. Marzo’s six strings, offset by discreet Hammond organ, step forward right from the start of the shorter but punchy “Dandelion”, while Daniele Piccinini and Cristian Franchi’s flawless rhythm backbone imparts a choppy, energizing pace to the composition. Introduced by the lovely classical feel of grand piano and strings, “Seth Zeugma” soon veers into hard rock territory, guitar and organ sparring in a fashion reminiscent of classic Deep Purple or Colosseum II.

Piano and drums take firmly the lead in “Dua”, with melodic flurries and a gentle, waltz-like pace at the beginning, then a choppy, stop-start movement that culminates in a driving, insistent coda. In the 8-minute “Tiglath”, the band carefully build up a crescendo from a very sparse, atmospheric opening, with a vaguely Oriental tune followed by some intense, gritty guitar and organ exertions made more interesting by asymmetrical rhythm patterns. The short and sweet “Più Limpida e Chiara di Ogni Impressione Vissuta (Pt.2)” closes the album on a very different note, the somber drone of the cello underpinning lyrical violin and pensive guitar arpeggios.

Enhanced by Udi Koomran’s expert mastering, and produced by AltrOck’s own founder, Marcello Marinone, AdC may be over a bit too soon, but it definitely makes up in quality for what it may lack in running time. The album shows a band at the top of their game, capable of engaging in unbridled jazz-rock workouts as well as laying down understated, classical-tinged melodies. Highly recommended to lovers of instrumental progressive rock, AdC will please the band’s following, while wetting their appetite for Accordo dei Contrari’s next release.

Links:
http://accordodeicontrari.bandcamp.com/album/adc-2014
http://www.accordodeicontrari.com/
http://www.altrock.it

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TRACKLISTING:
1. QXP-13 Space Modulator (3:49)
2. Eat a Bag of DiX (5:08)
3. Hapax Legomena (4:47)
4. Nocturne, op.33 (4:15)
5. The Cascades (6:37)
6. Snack(s) – The Song! (7:12)
7. Osedax (6:16)
8. Mymaridae (6:25)
9. Variety Pack (2:52)
10.Fairies Wear Boots (7:35)

LINEUP:
Wally Scharold – electric and acoustic guitars, vocals, programming, clapping, keyboards, synths
Travis Andrews – electric and acoustic guitars, baritone guitar, vocals
Carolyn Walter – clarinet, bass clarinet, baritone sax, bassoon
Jamison Smeltz – alto sax, baritone sax, clapping
Matt Lebofsky – bass, vocals, keyboards, guitars, junk drums
Matt Guggemos – drums

In the late spring of 2009, the debut album of a hitherto unknown band from Oakland (California), by the idiosyncratically-spelled name of miRthkon, made waves on the progressive rock scene. A monumental, 70-minute slab of quirky, Zappaesque avant-progressive rock with a healthy dose of metal-inspired energy and intriguing references to contemporary classical music –  a package rounded out by outstanding artwork and a wacky background mythology – Vehicle was mentioned by many (including myself) in their personal “best of 2009” lists. Once again, Marcello Marinone and his AltrOck Productions cohorts had unearthed a gem.

Founded around 2005 by guitarist/composer Wally Scharold, miRthkon went through the customary stages of upheaval (and the release of EP The Joy of Illusion) before stabilizing their lineup. With two new members on board – guitarist Travis Andrews and bassist/keyboardistMatt Lebofsky (also a member of Secret Chiefs 3 and MoeTar) replacing Rob Pumpelly and Nat Hawkes – the band are a solid six-piece propelled by a twin-guitar and twin-reed attack that sets them apart from almost everyone else. A quintessential live outfit, they have recently managed to bring their unique brand of progressive rock to Europe. Indeed, after Scharold recovered from some health issues that had forced the band to cancel the second half of their 2012 tour with MoeTar, 2013 has proved to be very good year for miRthkon as a live act, with successful appearances at the first edition of Seaprog in Seattle, the 2013 edition of the Rock in Opposition Festival in Carmaux, and a one-day festival organized by the AltrOck staff in Milan. In addition to their busy concert schedule, the band have spent a good part of the past few years working on the follow-up to Vehicle – a full-length album by the title of Snack(s), which was finally released in the autumn of 2013, following the band’s European tour.

Though miRthkon are anything but your conventional “nostalgia prog” band, they seem to have learned an important lesson from the genre’s golden age: that is, the importance of the visual aspect. Their albums are not just challenging sonic buffets of wide-ranging eclecticism, but also visual feasts that display another facet of Wally Scharold’s considerable talent. Snack(s)’s artwork is a true stroke of genius,  a parody of modern society’s addiction to junk food, with the cover and each page of the booklet imitating the packaging of some popular snacks, down to the mandatory (in the US at least) nutritional breakdown – which contains detailed information about each track, including the daunting time signatures, as well as the lyrics cleverly disguised as “ingredients”. Not your average Roger Dean opus for sure, but extremely well-made, and hugely entertaining.

Though it might raise eyebrows, the “avant-garde metal” tag that has been attached to miRthkon is not as far-fetched as it may seem. The combination of deadpan humour and highbrow references is far from uncommon in the world of technical/avant-garde metal, though miRthkon take it up a notch and imbue their heady genre-bending blend with the jazz-tinged energy of Carolyn Walter and Jamison Smeltz’s array of reeds. Indeed, Snack(s) is the kind of album that will keep you on the edge of your seat, not knowing if that low-key, almost conventionally melodic passage will erupt into chaos (albeit of the controlled variety) in just a couple of seconds. Most of the album’s 10 tracks were written by either Scharold or Lebovsky, with the notable exception of an unrecognizable version of Samuel Barber’s piano piece “Nocturne” (which was part of the band’s setlist at the Orion Studios in August 2012), and a similarly idiosyncratic cover of Black Sabbath’s “Fairies Wear Boots”.

Compared to Vehicle, Snack(s) is more focused (also in virtue of being almost 15 minutes shorter) and also somewhat heavier, though losing none of the compositional complexity that had made miRthkon’s debut so riveting. Crushingly heavy guitar riffs coexist with joyfully blaring reeds in the exhilarating jazz-metal blend tinged with ska (of all things!) of opener “QXP-13 Space Modulator”, a hyper-energetic instrumental that prepares the listener for the mind-boggling twists and turns of “Eat a Bag of DiX”, which juxtaposes brooding chamber-like sections with electrifying guitar forays and almost punk vocals. “Hapax Legomena” ’s deceptively laid-back, jazzy intro soon turns into a bracing duel between guitars and reeds; while wistful clarinet keeps the classical flavour in “Nocturne”, though offset by the guitars and spiked by an odd reggae-like rhythm. The first half of the album ends with the angular yet atmospheric heaviness (and rather apocalyptic lyrics) of “The Cascades”, enhanced by the organic sound of the glockenspiel, organ and piano.

Eerie electronic effects and upbeat, anthemic singing pepper the 7-minute “Snack(s) – The Song!”, driven by Matt Guggemos’ spectacular drumming and reeds blaring in unison. The sinuous, faintly disturbing first half of “Osedax” again brings melody into the equation, with haunting clarinet and a brief yet striking bass-guitar duet followed by a choppy, drum-driven section complete with shouting vocals at the end. After the maze-like complexity of the multilayered “Mymaridae”- whose inexhaustible intensity evokes a swarm of the titular “microscopic parasitic wasps” in a textbook example of controlled chaos – the less than 3 minutes of the bassoon-led “Variety Pack” provide a short but welcome oasis of calm before the grand finale. The longest track on the album, miRthkon’s take on “Fairies Wear Boots” keeps the spirit of the original even in its “deconstructive” approach, replacing Tony Iommi’s iconic riffing with a spirited double baritone sax attack, and Scharold channeling his inner Ozzy Osbourne in a very aggressive vocal turn.

The somewhat clichéd expression “not for the faint-hearted” seems to have been tailor-made for miRthkon. Snack(s), just like the band’s live shows, is a constant adrenaline rush, with only occasional moments of respite, and therefore not very likely to make a dent in the convictions of those who equate prog with lush melodies and grandiose, quasi-symphonic arrangements. Such intense music, almost relentless at times, may require a lot of concentration on the part of the listener. In any case, Snack(s) is one of the most original albums released in 2013, and a must-listen for fans of truly progressive, challenging music. Highly recommended to anyone wishing to step out of their comfort zone.

Links:
http://www.mirthkon.com/

http://mirthkon.bandcamp.com/album/snack-s

http://www.altrock.it

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Almost I (6:37)
2. Almost II (3:12)
3. Not a Good Sign (7:54)
4. Making Stills (6:43)
5. Witchcraft by a Picture (7:37)
6. Coming Back Home (5:52)
7. Flow On (6:07)
8. The Deafening Sound of the Moon (4:33)
9. Afraid to Ask (3:08)

LINEUP:
Paolo ”Ske” Botta – keyboards, glockenspiel
Alessio Calandriello – vocals
Gabriele Guidi Colombi – electric bass
Martino Malacrida – drums
Francesco Zago – electric and acoustic guitars

With:
Maurizio Fasoli – piano (3, 5, 9)
Bianca Fervidi – cello (5, 7, 9)
Sharron Fortnam – vocals (5)

In spite of its rather alarming handle, Not A Good Sign –  AltrOck Productions’ own “in-house” band (as guitarist/composer Francesco Zago was one of the label’s founders in 2005) – is set to make waves on the overcrowded progressive rock scene. Although the presence of members of two major modern Italian prog bands (Zago and Paolo “Ske”  Botta of Yugen, Gabriele Guidi Colombi and Alessio Calandriello of La Coscienza di Zeno) have led some to use the “supergroup” tag, this band is fortunately quite a different animal, bringing together Altrock’s two complementary sides – its signature cutting-edge bent and a fresh, modern twist to classic prog modes. The result is one of the most impressive albums released in 2013 so far.

Not a Good Sign developed from an idea by Botta, Zago and AltrOck mainman Marcello Marinone. Calandriello and Guidi Colombi were asked to join in 2012, and drummer Martino Malacrida put the finishing touch to the lineup. The band’s live debut took place in June at the AltrOck/Fading Festival in Milan, a few days before their self-titled album’s official release, Writing credits are shared by Botta and Zago, with assistance from Guidi Colombi on one track. The band’s name reflects the current economic and political climate of Europe and its impact on people. This not exactly optimistic outlook is also reflected in the lyrics, penned by Zago, whose tense, brooding mood and use of strong imagery hints at Van Der Graaf Generator.

As other reviewers have pointed out, the most immediate comparisons that come to mind when first listening to Not A Good Sign are Swedish prog giants Änglagård and Anekdoten, and the band certainly approach classic prog with a similar attitude, avoiding the overt imitation that mars the opus of other modern bands. As in the case of both those bands, the influence of King Crimson looms large over Not A Good Sign’s sound (something that Botta and Zago have readily admitted to), though their Italian heritage smooths out some of the sharper edges. Indeed, though the album was entirely recorded in English, it also possesses a uniquely melodic touch that tempers the angularity of the heavier sections, embodied by Alessio Calandriello’s clear, versatile voice. In spite of his obvious Italian accent, he does a great job in interpreting Zago’s moody lyrics, his voice blending perfectly with the instrumentation. Drummer Martino Malacrida (the only unknown quantity of the band) proves himself an accomplished rhythm machine, tackling complex patterns with aplomb and remarkable synergy with Gabriele Guidi Colombi’s powerful yet elegant bass lines. Zago’s guitar – in full-blown rock mood, displaying a different side of his artistic personality – and  Botta’s impressive array of vintage keyboards reveal the ease born of a long partnership, sometimes embarking in exciting, Deep Purple-style duels.

Not A Good Sign admirably balances the vocal and the instrumental component, the latter often capitalizing on the main composing duo’s experience in the Avant-Prog field. Opener “Almost I” pummels the listener into submission with its explosive Crimsonian intro, its heavy, doomy riffing bolstered by keyboards, and an overarching Gothic feel. “Almost II”, led by Calandriello’s melodic, well-modulated voice assisted by discreet guitar and piano, temporarily releases the tension built up by the previous number; while the almost 8-minute title-track (the longest song on the album) introduces an element of jagged dissonance, intensified by Calandriello’s high-pitched tone and dramatic organ with hints of Goblin – an intricate, deeply cinematic piece that sums up the band’s musical vision. The instrumental “Making Stills” lulls the listener at first with its subdued, sparse texture, then suddenly turns brisk and urgent, culminating in a crescendo in which all the instruments strive for attention.

Accompanied by acoustic guitar and glockenspiel, the ethereal voice of North Sea Radio Orchestra’s Sharron Fortnam weaves her magic in a riveting rendition of John Donne’s poem “Witchcraft by a Picture”, sandwiched between two intense, riff-laden sections that would not be out of place on a Black Sabbath album. The following two tracks, “Coming Back Home” and “Flow On”, are strongly vocal-oriented – the former almost catchy in spite of the rather depressing lyrics, the latter providing a showcase for Malacrida’s assertive drumming and Botta’s Genesis-inspired Moog sweeps. With the sinister “The Deafening Sound of the Moon”, the band pack a lot into barely over 4 minutes –  King Crimson-like angularity followed by imperious organ slashes and sharp riffs intersecting with the vocals, then mellowing out with a melodic guitar solo reminiscent of Steve Hackett’s style. Then, in the short, atmospheric finale of instrumental “Afraid to Ask” Maurizio Fasoli’s piano ebbs and flows, with sudden flares of guitar-driven intensity on the steady backdrop of Bianca Fervidi’s somber cello.

Unlike most traditional supergroups, who are often much less than the sum of their parts, Not A Good Sign deliver in spades, combining outstanding technical skills with above-average songwriting. Clocking in at a mere 51 minutes, the album (mastered by Udi Koomran with his usual skill) is very cohesive, and avoids the pitfalls lurking behind overambitious, epic-length pieces. With their debut, Not A Good Sign prove that paying homage to vintage prog does not mean descending into the near-plagiarism of many albums released in the past few years. No review of an album featuring Paolo Botta would be complete without a mention for his artwork, and here he has truly outdone himself – the gorgeously minimalistic shots of vintage glassware emerging from a pitch-black background the polar opposite of the overblown, fantasy-themed art often associated with prog. Highly recommended to everyone, no matter what their prog “affiliation”.

Links:
http://altrockproductions.bandcamp.com/album/not-a-good-sign

https://www.facebook.com/notagoodsign

http://www.dprp.net/wp/interviews/?page_id=4545

http://www.altrock.it

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

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

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

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

http://www.alexetxea.it/

www.altrock.it

https://www.facebook.com/notagoodsign

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yugen mirrors

TRACKLISTING:
1. On the Brink (0:59)
2. Brachilogia7  (3:09)
3. Catacresi5 (6:39)
4. La Mosca Stregata ( 0:57)
5. Overmurmur (5:30)
6. Industry (7:50)
7. Cloudscape (10:38)
8. Ice (1:55)
9. Becchime (12:38)
10. Corale Metallurgico (9:19)

LINEUP:
Paolo Ske Botta – organ, electric piano, synth
Valerio Cipollone – soprano sax, clarinets
Jacopo Costa – marimba, vibes
Maurizio Fasoli – piano
Matteo Lorito – bass
Michele Salgarello – drums
Francesco Zago – guitar

Founded in 2004 in Milan (Italy) by guitarist/composer Francesco Zago and AltrOck Productions mainman Marcello Marinone, Yugen (a core concept of  Japanese aesthetics that can be roughly translated as “profound grace and beauty”) took the progressive rock scene by storm with the 2006 release of their debut album, Labirinto d’Acqua – a supremely accomplished slice of chamber rock following in the footsteps of the original Rock in Opposition movement. Their second album, Uova Fatali, came two years later, and was based on music composed by Stormy Six’s Tommaso Leddi; while their third effort, Iridule (2010), was widely hailed as a masterpiece of the RIO/Avant subgenre.

An ensemble rather than a conventional band, Yugen revolve around a core group of Zago, keyboardist Paolo Ske Botta (often mentioned in this blog for his work as AltrOck’s in-house graphic artist) and pianist Maurizio Fasoli, joined in 2008 by reedist Valerio Cipollone, and augmented by a number of high-profile guest artists (including  mainstays of the US Avant Progressive scene such as Dave Kerman, Dave Willey, Elaine DiFalco and Mike Johnson,  and Guy Segers of Univers Zéro fame) In September 2011, almost exactly one year after Iridule’s release, the band appeared at the fourth edition of the Rock in Opposition festival, organized in the southern French town of Carmaux. Their performance as a seven-piece –a short excerpt of which is featured in Adele Schmidt and José Zegarra Holder’s documentary Romantic Warriors II – was captured on CD with the assistance of Orion Studios owner Mike Potter, and released at the tail end of 2012 with the title of Mirrors.

Though some may have wondered about Yugen’s ability to recreate Zago’s astonishingly intricate, painstakingly orchestrated compositions as a mere seven-piece rather than as an ensemble of up to 18 musicians (as in their studio albums), any doubts will immediately be dispelled by the sheer quality of the performances recorded on Mirrors. In spite of the constraints –  such as the allegedly short time dedicated to rehearsal – the band as a whole handle the complexities of the music with remarkable flair, without sounding cold or clinical as the highbrow quality of the material might suggest. While Zago’s main sources of inspiration as a composer (as pointed out by Sid Smith in his excellent liner notes) lie in both Renaissance and 20th-century classical music, his earlier rock roots often surface. His dense guitar riffs provide a backdrop for the constantly shifting dialogue between reeds and keyboards, bolstering the impeccable work of Michele Salgarello and Matteo Lorito’s rhythm section – which tackles daunting tempo changes with admirable composure. The music blends sharp angles and smooth curves, flowing naturally even at its most intricate, with melody lurking in the most unexpected places and revealing the unmistakable Italian imprint of this quintessentially cosmopolitan outfit.

The almost 60-minute album features 10 tracks drawn from Labirinto d’Acqua and Iridule, rearranged so as to adapt to the more rigid configuration of a live band. The longest, more intense compositions are concentrated in the second half of the album, which is introduced by a stunning version of Henry Cow’s iconic “Industry” (from the English band’s final release, 1979’s Western Culture). With their deeply intellectual titles reflecting the nature of the music, the compositions are arrestingly complex, though with a sense of organic warmth that is sometimes lacking in the production of highly celebrated bands belonging to the same movement.

Introduced by the dramatic drums and piercing, sustained guitar of “On the Brink”, the set unfolds with two tracks from Labirinto d’Acqua. The shorter “Brachilogia” weaves a sinuous, slightly dissonant tune, beefed up by guitar riffs and high-energy drumming, in which clarinet and marimba share the spotlight, interspersed by subdued piano passages; while “Catacresi” fully deploys Paolo Botta’s arsenal of keyboards, ranging from the sharp whistle of the synth to airy, atmospheric passages that would not be out of place on a Genesis album, creating a sort of cinematic tension. The instruments at times converge in perfect unison, at others pursue their individual paths, though with a constantly perceptible sense of inner discipline.

After the brief respite of “La Mosca Stregata”, “Overmurmur” barges in with an almost strident, apparently chaotic development, each instrument thrown in sharp relief, gradually mellowing out towards the end. The aforementioned “Industry” renders the martial, intense mood of the original, though softening its abrasive quality and spotlighting the deep, slightly hoarse rumble of the organ. On the other hand, “Cloudscape” reveals a different facet of Zago’s creative inspiration, its 10 minutes a masterpiece of skillfully handled atmospherics that paint a breathtaking sonic picture of the title. The track develops fluidly and elegantly, its sounds beautiful and melodic albeit not in a conventional, mainstream sense, slowing down almost to a whisper before the end. In the short, entrancing “Ice” – originally conceived as a showcase for Elaine DiFalco’s distinctive contralto, with lyrics by Nobel Prize winner Seamus Heaney  – the vocals are replaced with a wistful clarinet line redolent of Debussy, preparing the listener for the one-two punch of “Becchime” and “Corale Metallurgico”. The former is the kind of composition that is likely to send fans of melodic prog running for the exits, and makes indeed for demanding listening. Unabashedly cerebral and gloriously intricate (and twice as long as the studio version featured on Iridule) its multiple, angular twists and turns and bristling sound effects evoke the squawking of the chickens referenced in the title (becchime means “chicken feed” in Italian). Also true to its title, album closer “Corale Metallurgico” conveys a powerful industrial feel, with peaks of intensity ebbing into rarefied pauses, and moments of almost unbridled chaos suddenly morphing into a dynamic flow.

Presented in a visually stylish package with outstanding artwork and photography (courtesy of Paolo Botta, Lutz Diehl and Alessandro Achilli), as well as Sid Smith’s thought-provoking liner notes, Mirrors captures one of the foremost standard-bearers of contemporary cutting-edge progressive rock at the very height of its creative powers. Although the music may not always be what one would term accessible, even staunch followers of the more traditional branches of prog might find something to appreciate in the album’s pristine beauty. An absolute must for fans of RIO/Avant –Prog and chamber rock, Mirrors is sure to go down as one of the standout releases of 2012.

Links:
http://us.myspace.com/yugenband

https://www.facebook.com/Yugentheband

http://production.altrock.it/

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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TRACKLISTING:
CD 1 – Studio:
The Pocket Orchestra Tape 1983:
1. Imam Bialdi (6:24)
2. R. V. (7:04)
3. Regiments (14:59)
4. Letters (13:53)
The Knēbnagäujie Tape 1978-1979:
5. Blueing (7:10)
6. White Organ Meats (7:03)
7. Grandma Coming Down The Hall With A Hatchet (5:32)
8. Bagon (16:52)

CD 2 – Live:
1. Annex (5:56)
2. Bagon/Wandering Aimlessly (14:48)
3. Blirt (4:05)
4. Blueing (12:01)
5. Letters (19:12)
6. Parade (5:23)
7. Regiments (Parts 1, 2 and 3) (11:32)
8. Corn Fed (5:37)
9. Sound Check Bonus (0:43)

LINEUP:
Craig Bork – keyboards
Joe Halaijan (aka Joe Who)- clarinets, saxes, incidental vocals
Bill Johnston – cello
Tim Lyons – bass
Tim Parr – guitars
Bob Stearman – drums

With:
Craig Fry – flute (CD 1, 7)
Warren Ashford – tablas (CD 1, 7)
Jack Chandler – saxes (CD 2,  5-6)

If a contest was held for the unluckiest band on the progressive rock scene, Pocket Orchestra would have quite a few chances of winning first prize. In fact, only three members are left of the original six-piece lineup that recorded two demos between 1979 and 1984. What looked like a promising career for one the trailblazers of the RIO/Avant movement in the United States was cut short first by saxophonist Joe Halajian’s family problems (which led to the band going into hiatus), then by guitarist and main composer Tim Parr’s untimely demise in 1988. Thanks to the unstinting effort of Scott Brazieal, leader of Cartoon and a personal friend of the band, the material they had recorded in those short but intense five years finally saw the light in 2005, with the release of the CD Knēbnagäujie (the original name of the band). In the meantime, bassist Tim Lyons had passed away in 1998,  while drummer Bob Stearman (who had had a stroke in 2004) followed suit in 2010.

In spite of those unfortunate circumstances, Pocket Orchestra’s reputation remained very high in RIO/Avant circles, lending them a near-legendary aura in a context that often thrives on cult status. In 2011, Marcello Marinone and Francesco Zago of Italian label AltrOck Productions , assisted by such luminaries as Cuneiform Records’ Steve Feigenbaum and renowned sound engineer Udi Koomran, brought to light some of Pocket Orchestra’s unreleased recordings – including almost 80 minutes of live material – which eventually became the double CD set Phoenix, released in the second half of the year.

The album’s title, reinforced by Paolo “Ske” Botta’s striking cover artwork,  refers to the band’s hometown in Arizona, as well as to the almost miraculous reemergence of recordings that had seemed fated to remain buried in oblivion. Since Knēbnagäujie was sold out, the release of Phoenix was greeted enthusiastically by dedicated RIO/Avant followers, especially those interested in the US scene. While such archival operations rarely claim to present material in truly organic and cohesive form, Koomran’s state-of-the-art mastering has given new life to those 30-year-old live tapes, as well as to the contents of the original Knēbnagäujie  CD. Brazieal’s detailed liner notes, complemented by vintage photos of the band on stage and other memorabilia, complete this lovingly assembled tribute to the “Phoenix reborn”.

As can be expected from their checkered history, while undeniably gifted and dedicated to their craft, Pocket Orchestra had not yet fully developed their potential when circumstances forced them to call it a day. Their compositions suffer from occasional bouts of patchiness, added to some of those features that generally make the whole RIO/Avant subgenre so daunting (often unnecessarily so) to newcomers. Indeed, both the eight tracks on the studio CD and the nine on the live CD are nothing but ambitious and unpredictable, packed with twists and turns of every description.

While the founding fathers of the RIO movement such as Henry Cow and Univers Zero are inevitably referenced, the main influence that can be detected on Phoenix is that of Samla Mannas Manna,  another band belonging to the original RIO contingent – something that earned Pocket Orchestra the tag of “Samla of the desert”. However, Pocket Orchestra’s music is completely instrumental, and also decidedly less melodic, though imbued by a similar brand of playful light-heartedness, embodied by the use of circus music in “Grandma Coming Down the Hall With a Hatchet” .  Sudden blasts of saxophone and clarinet and wailing, piercing guitar excursions seem to be the rule, with Bob Stearman engaging in a mind-boggling range of intricate rhythmic patterns to propel the sound forward.

The word “anarchic” is probably the best description of Pocket Orchestra’s approach. The average composition can suddenly shift from a laid-back, almost meditative pace to unrelieved chaos – as exemplified by “R.V”, whose first half is deceptively mellow, then erupts into an intense, free-form maelstrom of sound. The sedate, piano-driven passages in the 14-minute, Canterbury-influenced “Letters” are bound to bring to mind the easy elegance of Hatfield and the North or National Health, offset by Parr’s aggressive guitar solo at the end. On the other hand, album closer “Bagon” marries the lovely, melodic Canterbury feel with more typical RIO features such as blaring sax and strident guitar.  As a whole, the first four tracks –dating back from 1983, immediately before Pocket Orchestra went on hiatus – come across as more accomplished, showing a band well on its way to reining in the in-your-face dissonance and chaos that instead emerge in the studio CD’s second half.

The second CD offers an invaluable testimony of the band’s brisk live activity in the years 1980-1984, and includes a number of previously unreleased tracks, as well as noteworthy versions of “Letters” and “Regiments”. Udi Koomran’s experience in the studio managed to bring out the best in recordings whose original quality was less than ideal, presenting a band that was definitely at home on stage. While some of the longer tracks may still reveal a bit of self-indulgence, the shorter ones, such as “Parade” or “Corn Fed”,  show how Pocket Orchestra were gradually but clearly finding their own unique voice and direction, and at the same time tightening up on the compositional aspect.

Though somewhat clichéd, the definition of “rollercoaster ride” seems to be a perfect fit for an album like Phoenix, which probably should come with a warning sticker. While its blend of dignified chamber rock, wild, wacky all-out experimentation and the occasional foray into sophisticated, Canterbury-style jazz-rock will not fail to appeal to fans of everything RIO/Avant, even a cursory listen to opener “Imam Bialdi” will send the average “mainstream” prog fan running for the exits. While bands like Miriodor or Yugen might have a broader crossover appeal and win over staunch devotees of symphonic prog, Pocket Orchestra, as captured on this double set, were definitely raw and uncompromising. All in all, though not exactly a comfortable listen, Phoenix is a moving tribute to a band that might have grown into a force to be reckoned with, had not fate got in the way.

Links:
http://production.altrock.it/prod2.asp?lang=ita_&id=171&id2=172

http://www.allmusic.com/artist/pocket-orchestra-p876979/biography

 
 

 

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