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Posts Tagged ‘Paolo Ske Botta’

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Two Views on Flight (4:17)
2. Ankoku (4:55)
3. Words Lurking (3:12)
4. Kurai (5:50)
5. Flow My Tears (4:17)
6. Ananke (1:34)
7. Running Water (5:04)
8. The Ghosts of Dawn (4:14)
9. In Darkness Let Me Dwell (4:55)
10. A Knife Under the Pillow (1:22)
11. Coming Back Home (3:56)
12. Waiting For the Crash (2:08)
13. A Dark Vanessa (3:03)
14. This Night Wounds Time (3:16)

LINEUP
:
Paolo «Ske» Botta – keyboards
Jacopo Costa – vibes
Elaine Di Falco – vocals
Maurizio Fasoli – piano
Pat Moonchy – electric zen garden
Giuseppe A. Olivini – percussion, theremin
Francesco Zago – guitars, mellotron, bass

With:
Bianca Fervidi – cello (1-3)
Rachel O’Brien – vocals (5)

2013 was another very busy year for guitarist/composer (and AltrOck Productions co-founder) Francesco Zago. In the summer, his new “vintage prog” band Not A Good Sign made its recording and concert debut, and a few months later  he appeared on In Between, the new album by his long-time associate Markus Stauss’ outfit Spaltklang – to which should be added his participation in original RIO band Stormy Six’s live CD/DVD Benvenuti nel Ghetto.

However, it is with the Empty Days project that Zago offers his most distinctive contribution to the rich musical landscape of the recently ended year. Featuring some of his Yugen cohorts (the ubiquitous Paolo “Ske” Botta, Jacopo Costa, Maurizio Fasoli and Giuseppe Olivini), plus Milan-based sound/noise artist Pat Moonchy and US-based vocalist Elaine Di Falco (of Thinking Plague/3 Mice fame, who had also guested on Yugen’s 2010 album Iridule), Empty Days was not conceived as a studio-only project: the release of their eponymous album in September 2013 was accompanied by a few live appearances in Italy and Switzerland, as well as at Wurzburg’s Freakshow Festival in Germany.

Clocking in at about 50 minutes, Empty Days includes 7 songs and 7 instrumentals, all relatively short, which represent the two main directions of Zago’s current musical interests: art-rock songs with brooding lyrics and ethereal melodies, and darkly rarefied ambient compositions, arranged in a neatly alternating pattern. Unlike Yugen’s intricate, carefully composed pieces, the tracks are more like impressionistic sketches created through a shimmering sonic palette in delicate patterns of light and shade.  Interestingly, Empty Days’ outstanding artwork, with its muted sepia shades and  austere layout, for once is not credited to AltrOck’s in-house graphic artist Paolo “Ske” Botta. While the cover image was provided by renowned contemporary artist Salvatore Garau (who is also Stormy Six’s drummer), the booklet is credited to Zago himself, proving the versatility of his artistic inspiration.

Elaine Di Falco’s performance is one of the undisputed strengths of Empty Days. Here she shows a different side of her art than on Thinking Plague’s 2012 album, Decline and Fall – where the music’s mind-boggling complexity forced her voice into an apparently flat, yet oddly riveting timbre. Here, her dusky contralto displays more curves than angles, lending a hauntingly soft quality to Zago’s wistful vignettes, and providing the ideal vehicle for the pensive, often rather gloomy lyrics. Only one of the songs, the well-known “Flow My Tears” by English Renaissance composer John Dowland,   is interpreted by a different singer – mezzo soprano Rachel O’Brien, whose classically trained voice adds to the piece’s mournful feel.

Di Falco’s multitracked vocals, complemented by Fasoli’s rippling piano and Costa’s gently chiming vibraphone in opener “Two Views on Flight”, weaves a magical, dreamlike atmosphere reminiscent of Dead Can Dance or Kate Bush (or even Gentle Giant), while the somber drone of the cello fits her like a glove in the delicate “Words Lurking”, echoed by Zago’s subtle guitar. “Coming Back Home” revisits one of the songs featured on Not A Good Sign’s debut in understated yet markedly atmospheric fashion, enhanced by mellotron surges and ethereal guitar arpeggios. On the other hand, “In Darkness Let Me Dwell” (another Dowland composition) and “A Dark Vanessa” (from Vladimir Nabokov’s novel Pale Fire) hinge on Di Falco’s deep, almost whispered vocals and minimalist instrumentation to create a mysterious, faintly unsettling mood. The album’s centerpiece, however, is the arrestingly beautiful “Running Water” (with lyrics by Nobel Prize winner Seamus Heaney), whose title is evoked by Fasoli’s flowing piano and DiFalco’s compelling voice, almost chasing each other in a hypnotic movement.

Ranging from the almost 6 minutes of “Kurai” to the barely over one minute of the piano interlude of“A Knife Under the Pillow”, the instrumentals, explore the instruments’ potential to build up cinematic ambient soundscapes that veer from the soothing, Japanese-inspired “The Ghosts of Dawn”, with its rarefied, crystalline sound effects, to the strident, menacing “Ananke” and “Waiting for the Crash”. The longest track on the album at almost 6 minutes, “Kurai”, with its sparse, ominous texture, slashed by sudden cascading chimes and eerily reverberating sounds, aptly reflects its title (Japanese for “dark”, and also the name of another of Zago’s projects, whose album was released in 2009). The 5-minute “Ankoku” is a spacey, faintly discordant piece anchored by Bianca Fervidi’s cello’s muted drone; while in closing track “This Night Wounds Time” piano and mellotron surge in unison, echoing between pauses of near-silence.
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As I anticipated in my 2013 retrospective, Empty Days fully deserves to be included among the year’s landmark albums. Though, not surprisingly, its main target will be the ever-demanding RIO/Avant crowd, the strong melodic quotient of the songs make the album potentially more accessible for people who are normally daunted by “weird” music. In any case, Empty Days is a thing of beauty, lovingly crafted by one of the most genuinely creative artists on the current progressive rock scene, and highly recommended to anyone who loves music that flies in the face of today’s depressing commercial trends

Links:
http://www.francescozago.com

https://www.facebook.com/FrancescoZagoMusician

http://www.altrock.it

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

http://www.altrock.it

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Culturismo Ballo Organizzare (5.50)
2. ΔU (1:53)
3. Dj Psicosi (3:49)
4. Preparazione Bomba H (3:13)
5. Sintagma (1:09)
6. JessicaLaura (3:18)
7. (che ne sai tu di un) Cerchio nel Grano (3:49)
8. Rifondazione Unghie (3:18)
9. Ballata dell’amore stocastico (3:16)
10. χΦ (1:30)
11. Nabucco Chiappe d’Oro (4:14)
12. Il Papa buono (2:52)
13. Accidenti (0:24)
14. Centoquarantaduemilaottocentocinquantasette (2:06)
15. Profiterol (1:29)
16. Estate 216 solszt (1:24)
17. Puk 10 (2:25)
18. Il Contrario di Tutto (2:21)

LINEUP:
Dario D’Alessandro – guitar, vocals, keyboards, glockenspiel, percussion
Davide Di Giovanni – piano, organ, MS10, drums, bass, acoustic guitar, vocals
Daniele Di Giovanni – drums, percussion, acoustic guitar, vocals
Domenico Salamone – bass
Federico Cardaci – minimoog, memotron, organ
Dario Lo Cicero – flutes, wind controller
Mauro Turdo – additional guitar (1)

With
:
Paolo Ske Botta: synthesizers, organ, electronics, glockenspiel
Giovanni Di Martino – Microkorg (3)
Totò Puleo – trumpet (3)

With its high-sounding title – taken straight from the realms of philosophy –  Homunculus Res’ debut might initially give the impression of yet another stereotypically pretentious “conventional” prog opus. However, a closer look at the distinctive cover artwork depicting a mushroom-sprouting human head next to a tiny gnome in a pointed red hat should readily clue the listener in on the album’s true nature.

Hailing from the Palermo, Sicily, the band – one of the newest recruits of the thriving AltrOck Productions stable –  is a loose configuration of musicians revolving around multi-instrumentalist and main songwriter Dario D’Alessandro. If the triangular island in the southern Mediterranean sounds like an unlikely birthplace for a progressive rock band – especially if compared with hubs such as Genoa or Milan – it should be pointed out that Franco Battiato, one of the most iconic figures of the early Italian prog scene, also hails from Sicily. Like Battiato, Homunculus Res blend high and popular culture in their lyrics, and also enjoy citations from other musical sources, even though their sound is firmly rooted in the Canterbury tradition. The breezy, often infectious quality of the music –  interspersed with more sedate, almost introspective moments and some seriously intricate instrumental flights – recalls early Soft Machine and Caravan, as well as fellow Italians Picchio Dal Pozzo (whose legitimate heirs Homunculus Res are poised to become) and Stormy Six, or even a more obscure Canterbury-inspired gem,  Cocktail by Patrick Forgas (who later went on to form the outstanding jazz-rock combo Forgas Band Phenomena).

Most of the album’s 18 short tracks (whose titles will reveal an intriguing mix of highbrow, whimsical and more down-to-earth elements) are so closely linked together musically that they almost flow into each other – especially the instrumental numbers, mostly concentrated in the second half. In spite of the album’s overall light-hearted attitude and apparent focus on shorter compositions, the music is richly textured, thanks to the band’s impressively varied instrumentation. While keyboards (supplied by D’Alessandro, Davide Di Giovanni and Federico Cardaci, as well as special guest Paolo Ske Botta) are clearly the stars of the show –  aided and abetted by Daniele Di Giovanni’s ebullient, acrobatic drumming – the guitar plays a discreet but invaluable supporting role, only rarely stepping into the limelight.

The album opens with a song that will stick in your head for a long time – the mostly instrumental “Culturismo Ballo Organizzare”, whose almost 6 minutes are packed with exhilarating stops and starts, while vocals are used as an irresistibly quirky enhancement of the musical line  rather than the “main event”. The following “ΔU” starts in a deceptively low-key, almost wistful manner reminiscent of Hatfield and the North, then turns frantic and chaotic, with strident synth dominating the tune. “DJ Psicosi” returns to the upbeat form of the opener, its title repeated in almost hypnotic fashion, while a weirdly echoing trumpet adds a nostalgic note. The Canterbury vibe takes over in “Preparazione Bomba H”, as well as in the majority of the instrumental pieces comprising the second half of the album (which also occasionally hint at Latin and Brazilian rhythms).

Occasional references to other artists crop up throughout the album, as in the nod to Michael Jackson’s “Billy Jean” in the above-mentioned “Dj Psicosi”, and the lullaby-like homage to Fabrizio De André’ “La Guerra di Piero” at the beginning and at the end of the flute-laced “(che ne sai tu di un) Cerchio nel Grano” (whose very title hints at Lucio Battisti’s “Pensieri e parole”). On the album there is also room for a couple of  ballads, whose apparently romantic tone is belied by the subtle irony of the lyrics – “Jessicalaura” and “La ballata dell’amore stocastico”, in which Dario D’Alessandro channels his inner Richard Sinclair, accompanied by elegant piano. The energetic “Rifondazione Unghie”, on the other hand, features dynamic flute and guitar interplay in pure Jethro Tull style; while the subdued mood of album closer “Il Contrario di Tutto” emphasizes the lyrical musings on the plight of a disillusioned young man longing for an escape from day-to-day routine.

Loaded with humour and the obvious pleasure of the craft of music-making, Limiti all’eguaglianza della Parte con il Tutto is the perfect antidote to too much overwrought, self-important prog. Though the lyrics and their cultural references might be lost on non-speakers of Italian, an understanding of the words is not necessary to enjoy the album and its sophisticated yet accessible brand of “Canterbury Samba Progressive”. Highly recommended to everyone but those who believe that progressive rock and humour should not mix, or else object to non-English lyrics, Homunculus Res’ debut is a delightful, intelligent album that effortlessly blends retro and modern attitudes, with the added interest value of Dario D’Alessandro’s outstanding artwork.

Links:
http://www.altrock.it

http://www.allmusic.com/artist/homunculus-res-mn0003137197

https://www.facebook.com/HomunculusRes

http://www.youtube.com/channel/UC2lGwBU4eo-z8QDVLen0fnA?feature=watch


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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:
Absence (29:38):
1. overt (2:25)
2. primo frammento (2:24)
3. epicicli I (2:24)
4. secondo frammento (2:09)
5. arioso (2:01)
6. terzo frammento (2:12)
7. un coeur mécanique (2:14)
8. resti (quarto frammento) (1:58)
9. epicicli II (2:22)
10. toccata (2:29)
11. hélas avril (2:15)
12. danzante (quinto frammento) (2:05)
13. clos (2:41)
Upon a Ground (15:29):
14. part I (5:22)
15. part II (6:01)
16. part III (4:00)

LINEUP:
Michele Epifani – Hammond organ (1-13), e-piano, synthesizer (14-16)
Stefano Colombi – e-guitar (1-16)
Luca Falsetti- drums, percussion (1-16)
Valerio Cipollone – clarinet, bass clarinet (1-13)
Maurizio Fasoli – grand piano (1-13)
Antonio Marrone – e-bass (1-13)
Pierluigi Mencattini – violin (1-13)
Cristiano Pomante – vibraphone, marimba (1-13)
Carmine Ianieri – tenor sax (14-16)
Massimo Magri – cello (14-16)
Simone Pacelli – e-bass (14-16)
Manuel Trabucco – tenor sax (14-16)

Subtilior (Latin for  “more refined”) is the name adopted by Michele Epifani, keyboardist and main driving force of Italian “retro-prog” band Areknamés, for his first solo outing. With its rather obscure reference to a musical style of the late Middle Ages, called ars subtilior, the project hints at a highly complex, sophisticated offer, and indeed –  very much in keeping with AltrOck Productions’ consistently high level of quality – this is what Absence Upon a Ground delivers.

Though Epifani is credited as composer on all the 16 short pieces featured on the album, Absence Upon a Ground is anything but one of those ubiquitous (and often tiresome) “solo pilot” projects that clutter the oversaturated progressive market. It is instead very much an ensemble effort, to which each of the 12 musicians involved contributes his unique expertise. In some ways, this album is a perfect complement to Altrock Chamber Quartet’s Sonata Islands Goes Rio, as both represent a fusion of traditional chamber music and progressive rock that demands a lot from the listener, but will offer rich rewards to those who will have the patience to give it their full attention.

Due to Absence Upon a Ground’s peculiar structure, a track-by-track analysis would be hard to conduct, if not actually counterproductive. The album features two main multi-part suites – the almost 30-minute “Absence”, and the 15-minute “Upon a Ground”. Epifani, drummer Luca Falsetti and guitarist Stefano Colombi perform on all the tracks, while the other artists appear on either one or the other composition. Valerio Cipollone and Maurizio Fasoli of Yugen are among the performers on “Absence” (Epifani guested on both Le Uova Fatali and Iridule, the second and third release of the Milan-based outfit). In true chamber-rock tradition, the instrumentation blends rock staples such as drums, guitar and bass with reeds (clarinet and saxophone), strings and the haunting chimes of marimba and vibraphone, which combine seamlessly with the warm, fluid sound of the grand piano. Epifani’s signature Hammond organ, though credited in the liner notes, is barely perceptible, while the reeds, strings and percussion form the most readily noticeable layer of the sound’s fabric.

“Absence”  (which, as the title suggests, is meant to be a reflection in musical terms on the topic of absence) comprises 13 short movements – all around the 2-minute mark – that are meant to be taken in as a whole. The chamber feel is very strong in the stately pace and often sparse texture of the music, or in the occasionally lively, conversation-like interaction between different instruments. Dissonance is used sparingly, and hints of melody – though handled in rather unconventional fashion – surface to bind the parts of the suite together. Sudden flares of intensity leave room to rarefied, ambient-like moods with a meditative, almost autumnal feel. The overall effect is one of understated elegance, though with an underlying density that makes repeated listens essential.

The 15-minute “Upon a Ground” features three longer, relatively self-contained sections, characterized by a more cinematic feel that leans more towards the RIO/Avant-Prog side of things. Mainstays of the genre such as sax and cello, as well as eerily intriguing electronic effects, replace the lyrical sounds of clarinet and violin, and the texture often feels looser, almost improvisational – in that deceptive fashion typical of Avant-Prog that effectively disguises a high degree of compositional discipline. All the three movements alternate atonal, knotty passages, with bursts of tenor sax and underpinned by the steady, mournful drone of the cello, and more subdued moments sprinkled by the gentle, tinkling sound of the mallet percussion.

If I had to level some criticism at Absence Upon a Ground, I might say that the album may come across as slightly cold and detached – a not uncommon problem with a lot of Avant/chamber rock. On the other hand, the sheer quality of the performances and the superior compositional skills involved are undeniable, and will delight those who privilege this particular manifestation of progressive music. Highly recommended to lovers of RIO/Avant prog and chamber music – as well as any open-minded listeners – the album is, however, unlikely to appeal to those who like a more “mainstream” approach to progressive rock. As usual for AltrOck releases, the visual aspect of the packaging (with Paolo Ske Botta in charge of the artwork) is top-notch, adding to the album’s interest value.

Links:
http://production.altrock.it/prod2.asp?lang=eng_&id=188&id2=193

http://altrockproductions.bandcamp.com/track/subtilior-medley

http://www.allmusic.com/album/absence-upon-a-ground-mw0002389334

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