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Posts Tagged ‘Udi Koomran’

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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. Erosive Forces of Wind and Water (5:14)
2. Lead Poisoning (5:14)
3. Boots, Nails, Watches… (5:25)
4. Thermokarst (5:15)
5. Trapped in the Sea Ice (3:59)
6. …Books, Saws, Silk Handkerchiefs… (3:52)
7. Graves of the Crewmen Buried on Beechey Island (6:17)
8. …Two Double-Barreled Guns and 40 Lbs of Chocolate (5:31)

LINEUP:
Ángel Ontalva – guitar
Victor Rodriguez – keyboards
Amanda Pazos Cosse – bass
Vasco Trilla – drums, percussion

Formed in 2003 in the historic Spanish city of Toledo by guitarist/composer Ángel Ontalva, bassist Amanda Pazos Cosse and keyboardist Victor Rodriguez, for their fourth CD release October Equus have gone back to a quartet format, just as they started out ten years ago. Permafrost,  released in May 2013, is also their first album released by Ontalva’s own independent label, OctoberXart Records. Though, after 2011’s Saturnal, the band have parted ways with AltrOck Records, they appeared at the Italian label’s festival in June 2013, and the new album was mastered by AltrOck’s preferred sound engineer, Udi Koomran, at his Tel Aviv studio.

The lineup changes occurred after Saturnal (recorded as a seven-piece) imply that October Equus have gone back to the basics  on their fourth album – taking reeds and cello out of the equation, though without renouncing the complexity of their particular take on the RIO/Avant-Prog aesthetics. In fact, the album marks a definite step forward for the band, allowing them to distance themselves from the influence of Univers Zéro – which loomed quite large on their previous releases –  and give their sound a more personal imprint. While their style remains firmly ensconced in “chamber rock” territory, the new stripped-down format pushes Ontalva’s guitar to the fore, constantly supported by Victor Rodriguez’s array of keyboards. Drummer Vasco Trilla (also a member of jazz-rock outfit Planeta Imaginario) provides an inventive, often dramatic rhythmic backbone, assisted by Amanda Pazos Cosse’s discreet yet versatile bass lines.

As suggested by the title and the booklet’s detailed artwork, Permafrost is a concept album, based on the tragic ending of Sir John Franklin’s Northwest Passage expedition. Besides his obvious musical talent, Ontalva (who, together with Rodriguez,  is the band’s main songwriter,) is also an outstanding graphic artist, and his black-and-white illustrations complement each episode of the musical odyssey. Though completely instrumental, the music manages to convey the atmosphere of fear, loneliness and impending doom without relying on words – perhaps even more effectively because of their absence. The stark appearance of the cover, distinguished by a striking use of white space, evokes the bleakness of the Arctic winter, while on the back cover Franklin’s last note is reproduced.

 Those who believe any band tagged RIO/Avant-Prog must thrive on dissonance might find their convictions challenged by Permafrost. Indeed, the album often comes across as surprisingly melodic – though of course, not exactly in the same way as your average symphonic/neo prog release. As a whole, though Univers Zéro are referenced on more than one occasion, I was often reminded of Miriodor’s effortless complexity and elegant blend of angularity and fluidity. Obviously, given the nature of the story narrated by the music, the album has its fair share of tense, Gothic moments, rendered by a skillful mix of electronic effects and conventional rock instruments – as in closing track “…Two Double-Barreled Guns and 40 Lbs of Chocolate”, as ominously menacing as a horror movie soundtrack.

The correspondence between track titles and musical content is often astonishingly precise: eerie mellotron and swelling piano flurries, coupled with tinkling vibraphone, evoke the desolation of the abandoned ships in “…Books, Saws, Silk Handkerchiefs…” , while the mesmerizingly measured pace of “Graves of the Crewmen Buried on Beechey Island” – almost Pinkfloydian in its slow, mournful development – is punctuated by suitably dirge-like drumming. Rodriguez switches from organ (whose fuzzed-over sound hints at Soft Machine) to synths, piano and even mellotron, working in unison with Ontalva’s expressive, jazzy guitar to create a wide range of atmospheres – haunting and almost romantic at times (as in the autumnal, melancholy “Lead Poisoning”), strident and aggressive at others (“Thermokarst”).

Clocking in at barely over 40 minutes, Permafrost is an intense, cohesive effort that packs more punch  in its very restrained running time than most 70-minute albums. Though, as was the case with its predecessors, its main audience will be the RIO/Avant crowd, there is enough on the album to appeal to those with somewhat more mainstream tastes. Among its many qualities, this disc proves that “concept albums” can be something different from the overblown messes that have unfortunately become synonymous with progressive rock, and that a purely instrumental palette can be used very effectively for storytelling purposes. Definitely one of the strongest releases of the year so far, Permafrost is highly recommended to all open-minded music fans.

Links:
www.octoberxart.com

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Toz (9:25)
2. Intermud (2:59)
3. Dunb (8:57)
4. Bùmlo (5:34)
5. Mlùez (6:16)
6. Ïh (8:18)

LINEUP:
Captain Flapattak – drums, vocals
Fabien De Kerbalek – guitar, vocals
Brhüno – tenor/soprano saxophones, bassoon, vocals
Thybo – guitar
Sam – alto/baritone saxophones, alto clarinet, flute, vocals
Damoon – bass, vocals (1-3)
Sir Alron – bass, vocals (4-6)
Marhïon Mouette – vocals, percussion (1-3)
Emilie Massue – vocals, percussion (4-6)

With the Ensemble Pantagrulair (1-3):
Séverine – flute, piccolo
Rémi – oboe
Catherine – clarinet
Pierre – horn

Even if, at first, their name may ring a bell with the many fans of J.R.R. Tolkien’s work (Rhûn means “East” in one of his invented languages), French outfit Rhùn are firmly entrenched in the Zeuhl tradition initiated by their fellow countrymen Magma in the late Sixties. The subtitle “Fanfare du Chaos” proudly emblazoned on the cover of their full-length debut album, Ïh, should leave no doubts as to the contents of the disc itself and its potential to appeal to the more adventurous fringes of the progressive rock audience.

The band – based in the northern French region of Normandy – revolves around the figure of drummer/vocalist Captain Flapattak, flanked by a group of other musicians who, like him, go for the most part by pseudonyms in the style of early Gong. Though very little is available in the way of a biography, from their social media presence it can be inferred that Rhùn have enjoyed a lively concert activity in the past few years. After a three-song demo released in 2008, their first proper recording effort – an EP also titled Ïh (like one of the tracks on the demo)came at the end of 2012. Both of these recordings have been remastered by AltrOck Productions stalwart Udi Koomran and released in CD format by the Milan-based label in the early summer of 2013 – allowing the listener to trace the band’s development from a more rough-edged sound to longer, more elaborate compositions. Besides Captain Flapattak, Fabien de Kerbalek and Thybo (guitars, vocals), Brhüno (sax, bassoon, vocals) and Sam (sax, clarinet, vocals) appear on all the songs on the CD, while other members of this rather eclectic configuration have changed in the intervening years. At present, the band is a six-piece that also includes Damoon (bass, vocals); a reed quartet called Ensemble Pantagrulair also appears on the EP tracks.

The 9-minute “Toz” opens the album with a fair sonic rendition of that “fanfare of chaos” subtitle – a burst of horns, drums and vocals like a less melodic version of Magma, with hints of fellow French outfit Jack Dupon in the extravagantly theatrical vocals. The track develops as a veritable rollercoaster ride, reminiscent of Üdü Wüdü-era Magma – driven by powerful, martial bass and drums, and throwing in Hendrixian guitar solos, massed male-female choirs, majestic horns, carnival tunes and much more, with rare moments of respite. After this rather demanding listening experience, the short classical intermezzo of “Intermud” – with flute and oboe conversing discreetly in a Debussy-like piece – comes as a welcome surprise, though things change sharply once again when the insistent, hypnotic choir of “Dunb” kicks in. Alternating subdued, atmospheric passages with frantic bouts of dissonance, the track pushes Damoon’s thundering bass to the forefront, culminating in a fierce, almost operatic crescendo.

As can be expected, the two parts of the album (which runs barely over 40 minutes) differ quite noticeably. The three demo tracks also show a clear Gong influence – immediately suggested by the wacky, atonal female vocals and blaring saxes in “Bùmlo”– and a raw, almost unscripted quality. Captain Flapattak’s drum take the lead role in “Mlùez”, which combines a laid-back, jazzy allure with a smattering of RIO/Avant angularity; while the title-track veers into free-jazz territory, with low-key, psychedelic moments balancing out the dissonance. As a whole, the second half lacks the orchestral quality of the EP tracks, though the Magma influence is not as overwhelming.

Obviously, Ïh is not the kind of album that is going to convert those who find Zeuhl unpalatable, while lovers of this most idiosyncratic of prog subgenres will find a lot to appreciate in the album – including the stylish photography featured in the CD booklet. As pointed out in the previous paragraphs, the frequent lack of melody (at least in a conventional sense) may put off some listeners, and the compositional aspect might be improved upon, especially as regards cohesiveness. While Rhùn’s interpretation of Zeuhl is definitely more old-school than that of a band like Corima, and more dependent on the Magma influence, the band has still a lot of margin to develop a more personal approach.

Links:
https://myspace.com/rhundesfoins

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Rh%C3%B9n/348653246789

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. 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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TRACKLISTING:
1. Tanto Gonfio Saremo (5:49)
2. La Cumbia Inglés (6:04)
3. Zamba del Chaparrón (6:43)
4. Camino a Dos Rius (4:05)
5. Saracinesca (5:29)
6. Amuleto (3:36)
7. Impro (1:39)
8. Peperina en el Semaforo (6:11)

LINEUP:
Facundo Moreno – classical guitar, charango
Santiago Moreno – classical guitar
Tommaso Rolando – contrabass, electric bass
Marco Ravera – electric guitar
Mattia Tommasini – violin
Santo Florelli – drums
Manuel Merialdo – percussion, glockenspiel

With:
Filippo Gambetta – diatonic accordion (3)
Tatiana Zakharova – voice (7)

Aparecidos were established by Argentine brothers Facundo and Santiago Moreno, who in 2001  had left their home country and settled in the Italian “prog hub” of Genoa, where they had the opportunity to meet other like-minded musicians. The band’s debut album, titled Lo Que Hay en el Charco, was released in 2009 for independent label Dodicilune. For their sophomore effort,  recorded with a slightly different lineup (which includes two members of fellow Genoese band Calomito, guitarist Marco Ravera and bassist Tommaso Rolando), they joined the AltrOck Productions roster – already home to a number of distinguished contemporary acts.

Palito Bombón Helado was released in November 2012, at the tail end of a year characterized by a large number of high-quality releases. Though the album appeared on the market almost at the same time as Mirrors, the highly anticipated live album by AltrOck’s standard-bearers Yugen, it managed to attract the attention of the growing contingent of devotees of the Milan-based label’s output.  Indeed, Palito Bombón Helado – whose title and endearingly naïf artwork refer to the ice cream bars on a stick sold in the streets of Buenos Aires at a time when ice was a rarity imported from the US and England – feels like a breath of fresh air, marrying superb musicianship with the bittersweet combination of wistfulness and joie de vivre typical of Argentina’s rich musical tradition, whose mostly European background mingles with African and indigenous influences.

In Aparecidos’ musical universe, the folk/acoustic and the electric/rock component coexist in perfect harmony, complementing each other rather than competing for attention. An exquisite flair for melody lends the music a natural flow, making it easy on the ear. The compositions emphasize the ties between Argentina and the rest of the South American continent:  “La Cumbia Inglés” draws on a traditional Colombian dance adopted in the Argentine canon, while the prominent presence of the charango (a stringed instrument traditionally made with the shell of an armadillo) anchors the album to the native heritage of the Andean region. The instrument’s  distinctive lilting, metallic tone, introduced to European audiences by Chilean bands Inti Illimani and Quilapayún in the Seventies and Eighties, blends with the intricate classical guitar patterns to perfection. Santo Florelli’s drumming, complemented by Manuel Merialdo’s percussion and Tommaso Rolando’s bass and contrabass, evidences a great sense of rhythm, sometimes imparting a solemn, almost grandiose pace to the music.

Though Palito Bombón Helado is conceived as an instrumental album, occasional vocal touches add to the overall musical texture – such as the vocalizing (courtesy of Tatiana Zakharova)  that enhances the upbeat, march-like pace of “Saracinesca”, or the appealing, Brazilian-tinged warbling at the end of opener “Tanto Gonfio Saremo”.  All of the 8 tracks have their distinct personalities, and feature some spectacular musicianship from everyone involved – warm hand percussion underpinning the seamless interplay of the brothers Moreno’s classical guitars, the crystalline tinkle of the glockenspiel, the accordion’s folksy wistfulness that tempers the joyful bounce of much of the music, the violin’s sweeping lyricism.

Marco Ravera’s elegantly understated electric guitar connects the music to the rock universe, though without stepping too assertively into the limelight: outstanding examples of its role can be found in the afore-mentioned “La Cumbia Inglés” and in the hauntingly beautiful closing track “Peperina en el Semaforo”. Mattia Tommasini’s violin comes into its own in the subdued “Zamba del Chaparrón”, based on Argentina’s national dance, showcasing the effortless nature of the instrumental interplay, with perfect balance between the electric exertions of Ravera’s guitar and the acoustic instruments, and a brief foray into Avant territory towards the end, with drums, accordion and guitar playing in a sort of skewed slo-mo pattern. On the other hand, the short “Impro” is just what the title implies, with a snippet of the iconic “’O Sole Mio” paying a humorious homage to the Italian tradition.

As delightful and refreshing as the delicacy it is named after,  Palito Bombón Helado (mastered by renowned sound engineer Udi Koomran) is stylishly eclectic combination of world music, European folk and jazz with a pinch of Avant-Progressive spice, whose complexity is not immediately apparent, and never contrived. Those who appreciate the work of artists such as Cédric Vuille (his 3 Mice project with Thinking Plague’s Dave Willey and Elaine Di Falco comes to mind) or the late Lars Hollmer will find this album a very rewarding proposition, and even the more “conservative” prog listeners will find a lot to like in these 40 minutes of music, even if they do not reflect the conventional features of the genre. In any case, this is another excellent release from the ever-reliable AltrOck label, which in the past few years has become a byword for music whose uniqueness will please those who are increasingly frustrated by the formulaic nature of so much modern prog.

Links:
http://aparecidos.bandcamp.com/album/palito-bombon-helado

http://production.altrock.it/prod2.asp?lang=eng_&id=203&id2=204

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The name of Argentine band Cucamonga will not fail to ring a bell with Frank Zappa fans, as it references the Californian suburban city (now called Rancho Cucamonga) where Zappa’s Studio Z was located. Unfortunately, the information available on this quintet – led by guitarist Oscar “Frodo” Peralta, who is also the band’s main composer – is very sparse, and they currently have no active website or social media presence. Their debut album, Alter Huevo, recorded in early 2011 in the northern Argentine city of Santa Fe, was released a year later by AltrOck Productions.

Not surprisingly, Zappa is a major influence on Cucamonga’s sound, which comfortably straddles the line between avant-progressive rock and classic jazz-rock/fusion, with liberal doses of humour thrown in as an added bonus. Clearly a bunch of talented and dedicated musicians, their particular brand of music may not be extremely innovative (nor does it claim to be), but it is sure to intrigue the discerning listener, with enough complexity to please the most demanding fans and an endearingly light-hearted attitude to temper the technical dexterity. Though Alter Huevo is mostly instrumental, voices and bursts of laughter add a quirky touch to a few tracks. Warm hints of Latin music are scattered throughout the album, while the accordion – the iconic protagonist of tango music – lends its distinctive Old World flavour to some of  the compositions. However, Cucamonga’s sound rests on three main instruments – guitar, sax and drums – effectively complemented by keyboards and mallet percussion.

With a running time just under 40 minutes, Alter Huevo is a compact, well-balanced album that is easy to enjoy without getting overwhelmed by an excess of notes. Opener “Tetascotch”, the longest track on the album, and the most complex in terms of mood and tempo changes, kicks off with a funny circus-like tune, then takes a more laid-back turn, with all the instruments getting their chance to shine in classic jazz-rock fashion. “El Dengue De La Laguna” continues on the same path, showcasing Julian Macedo’s stellar drumming – propulsive and textural at the same time – while the instrumental interplay often suggests a dialogue without words, with an elegance that hints at vintage Canterbury. “Tu Guaina” and “Variaciones Sobre Tu Hermana” veer towards the Avant end of the spectrum, the latter throwing in some dissonance and moments of rarefied calm enhanced by the cascading tinkle of the mallet percussion.

With “Tillana”, Cucamonga tackle a traditional piece of Carnatic music (the classical music of Southern India) originally rearranged by legendary percussionist Trilok Gurtu for his 1993 album Crazy Saints – which, as can be expected, pushes percussion to the forefront, though guitar, sax and piano also play a strong role. “Cerrazón En Al Teyú Cuaré” alternates slow, melancholy moments with sudden surges of power. The short, upbeat “Dominguillo” introduces album closer “Cletalandia”, based on a hilarious radio broadcast about restoring sensuality in marriage – something that would have definitely won Zappa’s seal of approval. Those familiar with Spanish will enjoy reading the text in the CD booklet. Musically speaking, the track is bookended by energetic sections very much in classic jazz-rock style, powered by Adriano Demartini’s groovy bass lines; while the central part, which includes the broadcast, is accompanied by sparse yet expressive sax.

In keeping with AltrOck’s reputation for stylishly packaged products, Alter Huevo comes with a nicely illustrated booklet (courtesy of the label’s resident graphic artist, the multi-talented Paolo Ske Botta) that successfully combines elegance and whimsy. Udi Koomran’s experienced mastering guarantees excellent sound quality, emphasizing Cucamonga’s varied instrumentation and the impressive skill of the players. Lovers of eclectic jazz-rock with a pinch of avant-garde and world-music spice (as offered by bands as AltrOck’s own Calomito or MoonJune’s Slivovitz) will appreciate this solid, classy offering by an interesting new band. However, it would be a good idea if Cucamonga took a more active role in promoting their music on the Web, which in this day and age is nothing short of indispensable.

Links:
http://www.allmusic.com/artist/cucamonga-p2600792

http://production.altrock.it/prod2.asp?lang=eng_&id=179&id2=180

http://soundcloud.com/udi-koomran/sets/cucomonga-alter-huevo-altrock/

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