Monday, 30 April 2012

PROGRESSIVE EVOLUTION

From  Rock Progressivo Italiano: an introduction to Italian Progressive Rock

Trieste
, September 24, 2007. At Tartini Conservatory, a sanctuary of classical music in the city, there’s a seminar about “the concept album in progressive rock”. The conference is presented by a music professor and features Francesco Di Giacomo as a special guest and speaker. Well, I have to admit that I find it a bit strange to attend a meeting where the music of Banco del Mutuo Soccorso is compared to the work of Liszt or Mendelssohn more frequently than with the work of King Crimson or Genesis but it’s proof that progressive rock is far more than simple entertainment. Francesco Di Giacomo talks about “Darwin!”, one of the best known concept albums of the Italian progressive scene of the early seventies and says that the album wasn’t conceived as a scientific treatise since doing so would have been pretentious and pointless. It was meant as a poetical parable to explain our evolution as men, the upright man is a metaphor for dignity, for the overcoming of stupidity... The lecture goes on with the reading of lyrics, some old videos, some musical examples... Very interesting indeed! If I had to give someone advice about the best starting point to explore Italian progressive rock it would be “Darwin!”!  

Francesco Di Giacomo

The album was released in 1972, a few months after the excellent eponymous debut album, with the same line-up featuring Vittorio Nocenzi (organ, harpsichord, synthesizer), Gianni Nocenzi (piano), Marcello Todaro (electric and acoustic guitar), Renato D’Angelo (bass, contrabass), Pier Luigi Calderoni (drums, cymbals) and Francesco Di Giacomo (vocals). On account of the recording techniques of that period the sound quality wasn’t flawless and almost thirty years after, in 1991, the band felt the need to re-record both their first two albums with up to date technologies and slightly different arrangements. The result was impeccable but I have to say that I still prefer the freshness and emotional intensity of the originals.  

Darwin! - album cover
The opener “L’evoluzione” (The evolution) is a long, complex track that sets the right atmosphere. It begins softly, the music is evocative and dreamy while soaring vocals seem to invite you to close your eyes and try, try hard to think of the genesis of the universe in a different way... No great Gods but just cells, fibres, heat and energy blended together to give birth to the Creation. Mother Earth is spinning inside a cloud, she wants a baby and she’s going to have him, son of Earth and Electricity! “Grey layers of lava and coral / Wet and colourless skies / Here the World is breathing...”. Then the rhythm increases while primordial life blossoms in an unexpected way... “The sea vomits shapeless creatures pushed out in clots on putrid shores / The land hosts the muddy herds that pass crawling on their likes / And the time will change the flabby bodies into forms that are able to survive...”. The music flows away like lava from a volcano, there’s room for drum solos and organ rides while “free sounds stir acoustic spirals of virgin air...”. When the rhythm calms down it’s time for reflection and for a new awareness. Observing an ancient skull you realize that Adam can’t exist and that just seven days are not enough to create. Adam is now dead and with him genesis as told in the Bible... A new awareness leads to a delicate classically inspired piano and organ passage and to the poetical image of a new light... “High, a halcyon squawks making arabesques over the gorses and the sea / Now the sun knows whom to warm...”. 

“La conquista della posizione eretta” (The conquest of the upright position) is another long track featuring many changes in rhythm and atmosphere. It begins with a wild ride on a frenzied rhythm... Try to imagine a wild ape-like man running among rocks and rushes following the smells of other beasts, the footsteps of his prey, roaring and screaming. Then suddenly the music calms down. The ape-man realizes that he can see nothing but his path and the wish arises in him to see more, far beyond the trees. He tries to stand up... “I try and fall and then I try again / I can stand upright just awhile / The scream resounds all along the vault / It goes up to the volcanoes and then I stand watching / My eyes drink flights and jumps, my forests and my likes... Now I can look straight, far over there where the air touches the sea...”. 

  
“Danza dei grandi rettili” (Dance of the big reptiles) is a wonderful instrumental where classical influences are perfectly blended with jazzier passages. Bass lines underline the slow, heavy paces of dinosaurs walking on earth, surrounded by a wild nature. Well, after Steven Spielberg’s film “Jurassic Park” it shouldn’t be so difficult to get a picture of what the music is about!

“Cento mani e cento occhi” (A hundred hands a hundred eyes) is about the need to socialize and join forces to fight for a common goal. It starts in a frenzied way while the lyrics depict hunters running after their prey. A solitary ape-like man observes the hunters wondering whether he should approach or run away. Suddenly the rhythm calms down and after a new rise in tension the solitary ape-like man approaches the hunters. One of them gives him his prey and he’s surprised... “On your spear you offer me some meat that I didn’t obtain with my strength / What kind of action is this!”. For him this behaviour isn’t in keeping with a strong being but the hunter, backed by his companions, answers: “Our strength is in a hundred hands / And a hundred eyes watch out for us / You are alone! / If you want you can go now, or stay here and join us...”. Here Francesco Di Giacomo’s vocals contrast with Vittorio Nocenzi’s, later backed by a powerful choir. The contrast underlines the clash between the instinct of freedom and the need for socialization. “From a herd to a moving tribe, from a village to a city / People breathing at the same rhythm / Men closed inside boxes of stone where you can’t hear the wind...”. Well, even if the need for socialization might prevail, the instinct to run away and look for freedom will remain...

Darwin! - inside gatefold

“750.000 anni fa... l’amore?” (750,000 years ago... love?) is an amazing piano driven ballad about the discovery of feelings. Love is far more than the instinct to breed, it can stir powerful emotions. The lyrics describe a shy ape-like man observing a beautiful woman with her tribe. Emotions and desires rise... “I hold my breath / If you see me you will run away... If you really were mine / I would dress your breast in water drops / Then under your feet I would spread veils of wind and leaves / Bright body with large flanks / I’d take you in the green fields and I would dance / I would dance with you under the moon...”. But the ape-like man can’t move and can’t speak, he’s aware he is ugly and fears that the woman might refuse him and run away...


“Miserere alla storia” (Miserere to History) is a complex track featuring a mysterious atmosphere and an Oriental flavour leading you to the roots of history, to Babel and to ancient Egypt... “Glory to Babel, let the sphinx keep on laughing for millennia / Let’s build in the sky up to Sirius / Let horses froth on the Milky Way...”. Recitative vocals seem to draw a mocking, disquieting prophecy about the destiny of Man... “How long will your intellect live, if behind you the human race is disappearing?”. 

The last track “Ed ora io domando tempo al tempo ed egli mi risponde... non ne ho!” (And now I ask time to Time and he answers me... I haven’t got it!) is about time passing by. Men are like puppets hanging on the eternal, heavy wheel of time that keeps on spinning... You can hear the wheel creaking and squeaking, munching lives and smashing bones, breaking wills and desires, slow and inexorable like an old, gloomy Waltz... “Oh, gigantic wheel why do you make me think / If later in your spinning you will restrain my mind... It goes, it keeps on going / The wheel never misses a beat and goes on and on...”.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

AN INTERESTING METAMORPHOSIS

What happened to Le Orme? At the end of 2009 one of founder members, the bassist and vocalist Aldo Tagliapietra left the band. In 2010 the old keyboardist, Tony Pagliuca, released an album featuring old pieces from the band’s repertoire rearranged for piano solo, the excellent Après Midi - Ormeggiando. Then, he teamed up again with Aldo and with another former member of the band, Tolo Marton, for some live exhibitions and new projects while the other members, Michi Dei Rossi and Michele Bon decided to go on under the name Le Orme looking for new blood to complete the line-up. In short, from the band’s family tree sprouted some new branches and I think it’s pointless looking for the “true and authentic” Le Orme now. People grow up and change during their life, the members of a band can leave and come back but what really matters is the music and its capability to stir emotions. Is it good or bad? Did the musicians lose their inspiration? Are they playing just by rote now? Did the soul of the band vanish into the dark?


In April 2011 we got a first answer when Le Orme’s branch featuring historic drummer Michi Dei Rossi, after a live recording in 2010, the official bootleg Progfiles, released a new work with original pieces, La via della seta. Along with Michi Dei Rossi (drums, tubular bells, Glockenspiel, cymbals, Bhayan) there’s still Michele Bon (Hammond C3, piano, synth, keyboards, back vocals), who has been a member of the band for more than twenty years. The new line-up features also Fabio Trentini (bass, bass pedals, acoustic guitars, dulcimer, electric sitar, back vocals), the veteran Jimmy Spitaleri (vocalist of the historic Roman band Metamorfosi) and two young, skilled musicians such as William Dotto (electric guitar) and Federico Gava (piano, synth, keyboards). Well, I had the chance to attend one of their concerts and I have to say that this “metamorphosis” of Le Orme is very good...

Fabio Trentini - Michele Bon - Michi Dei Rossi - Davide "Jimmy" Spitaleri
 
The new album “La via della Seta” is conceived as a long suite. All the tracks are linked together and the music flows without interruptions drawing an imaginary journey along the Silk Road where you can meet the ghosts of merchants, pilgrims, missionaries, soldiers, nomads and cruel Barbarians exploring mysterious cities and civilizations. To be honest the lyrics written by Maurizio Monti are not completely convincing, stylistically they draw on old melodramma canons and are a little naives but the music recalls the best moments of the band. There is more room for guitars and the interaction between piano and keyboards is excellent while the powerful, brilliant rhythm section adds beautiful touches of colour. 

The opener “L’alba di Eurasia” (The dawn of Eurasia) sets the atmosphere. It’s a short instrumental introduction where you can hear the destiny knocking on your door and an amazing guitar work. It leads to another beautiful instrumental track, “Il romanzo di Alessandro” (The story of Alexander), inspired by the life of Alexander the Great, well portrayed in Valerio Massimo Manfredi’s novels as Child of a Dream, Sands of Ammon and Ends of the Earth...


Next comes “Verso Sud” (Heading South). It’s about the need to look for new ways to escape the violence of barbarians in love with war and features a delicate piano pattern and soaring melodic vocals... “We’ll need one day a new road...”. The dreamy instrumental “Mondi che si cercano” (Worlds that are looking one after each other) tries to evoke a new road leading to new dreams and a better future, then follows a short reprise of the previous track “Verso Sud (Ripresa)”. “Now a man makes up his mind / He comes to understand / Then a woman awakes and proudly comes forward...”.

The next track “Una donna” (A woman) was inspired by the work of the archaeologist Jeannine Davis-Kimball... The warrior women known to ancient Greek authors as Amazons were long thought to be creatures of myth. Now 50 ancient burial mounds near the town of Pokrovka, Russia, near the Kazakhstan border, have yielded skeletons of women buried with weapons, suggesting the Greek tales may have had some basis in fact. Nomads known as the Sauromatians buried their dead here beginning ca. 600 B.C.; according to Herodotus the Sauromatians were descendants of the Amazons and the Scythians, who lived north of the Sea of Azov [1]. The lyrics evoke a strange meeting between a warrior woman coming out from her grave and a traveling man... “I see a woman who is waiting for me / She comes out from her space to sing...”. Who is the mysterious man? Maybe Marco Polo, to whom is dedicated the following track, the short instrumental “29457, l’asteroide di Marco Polo” (29457, the asteroid of Marco Polo). The title refers to an asteroid that was discovered in 1997 by Italian astronomer Vittorio Goretti who gave it the name of the Venetian adventurer.


Next comes “Serinde”, a beautiful instrumental track that starts softly introducing exotic atmospheres, then the rhythm rises and you can dream of routes leading towards the far East... By the way, the term Serindia combines Seres (China) and India to refer to the part of Asia also known as Sinkiang, Chinese Turkestan or High Asia... It leads to “Incontro dei popoli” (Meeting of people), an intense and melodic ballad featuring heartfelt vocals and acoustic guitar... “I ask for a meeting / People joining together / A new dream for this world will maybe begin...New stories of peace / New communities / Another universe...”. This track is closely linked to the following “La prima melodia” (The first melody), where the lyrics tell about a melody which can brighten the routes of the travelers inviting people of every age to join and celebrate their friendship and their land... “Once upon a time there was a sound passing by / Along our old route...”.

The instrumental “Xi’an – Venezia – Roma” is another excellent track where the musicians try to blend classical influences and exotic flavours. It leads to the conclusive title track, where Jimmy Spitaleri’s powerful, operatic vocals soar drawing beautiful melodic lines (every now and again this track reminds me of Andrea Bocelli’s Con te partirò). A bright, joyful marching beat leads to the “finale” of an album that is really worth listening to... “On the Silk Road / We can live again that past... I feel a new strong energy that will push me forward...”.



Well, in my opinion this is a very good starting point for the band after the metamorphosis...

Le Orme: La via della seta (2011). Other opinions:
Paul Fowler: It has to be said I’m more pleased with this album than I could have ever hoped to be, the song writing is top notch, the instrumental sections beautifully played and generally captivating. On top of that the rich production is the icing on the cake. Whilst not as great as their classic seventies output and let’s face it, what band from that era can match those golden years today, La Via Della Seta is an album every Le Orme fan will want in their collection... (read the complete review HERE).
Henri Strik: The music that comes along with this concept recalls the best moments of Le Orme. There’s even more room for the guitars and the interaction between the piano and the keyboards is excellent while the powerful, brilliant rhythm section adds so much more to the compositions. These compositions are never dull or boring... (read the complete review HERE).


More info:
[1] Quote from J. DAVIS-KIMBALL, Warrior Women of Eurasia, on the site www.archaeology.org

Friday, 27 April 2012

A PIPE ORGAN DELIGHT

Three Monks come from Arezzo and were formed on the initiative of the classical trained organist and composer Paolo Lazzeri (a.k.a. Julius) and of an experienced bassist, Maurizio Bozzi (a.k.a. Bozorius). The trio line up was completed by Roberto Bichi (a.k.a. Placidus) and Claudio Cuseri (a.k.a. Ursinius) who alternate on drums.



Their first album, “Neogothic Progressive Toccatas”, was released in 2010 on the independent label Drycastle Records and re-released with a different art-work one year later on Black Widow Records. The use of a pipe organ sound backed by a rock rhythm section is the trademark of the band and gives a particular Neo-Gothic flavour to the Three Monk’s compositions. I’m sure that fans of Emerson Lake & Palmer, Le Orme or Quatermass will love them! Their debut album features seven instrumental tracks full of energy, seven toccatas where all the members of the band showcase a great musicianship.

The sparkling opener “Progressive Magdeburg” is dedicated to the reconstruction of a pipe organ that was destroyed during the bombardment of the German city of Magdeburg. In fact, Magdeburg was heavily bombed by the Royal Air Force during the World War II and the RAF bombing raid on the night of 16 January 1944 destroyed much of the city, including the Cathedral with its beautiful pipe organ built by Adolf Reubke. In 2009 a brand new organ was built in the Cathedral and the band celebrated this “rebirth” with this excellent, thundering piece. 



The long, complex “Toccata Neogotica #1 (Merseburg)” is dedicated to another famous pipe organ that lies in the Cathedral of another German city, Merseburg. It was built by Friedrich Ladegast and, according to the booklet, it was the “inspirer and witness of the first performances of the grat comopsitions by Franz Liszt and Julius Reubke. This piece is a free prog rock influenced tribute to their style and in some passages it could recall Le Orme’s “Collage”. 

Next comes “Neogothic Pedal Solo” features three sections and a mysterious, disquieting atmosphere. It begins with a particular monks choir, then a bass solo follows and finally an organ solo concludes the piece. On the following “Herr Jann” the rhythm section comes back for another fiery musical ride. This piece is dedicated to another magnificent pipe organ, an organ built in 1989 by Georg Jann in the basilica of Waldsassen, in Germany. According to the booklet it is “a splendid fusion of baroque and contemporary organ craft” and the music tries to evoke this perfect blending of classical and modern.



“Deep Red” and  “Profondo Gotico” are two tracks linked together. The first one is beautiful cover of a famous piece by Goblin from the soundtrack of Dario Argento’s film Profondo Rosso. The second one is a “gothic” variation based on Goblin’s theme and is a tribute to one of “the most significant rock composition for pipe organ”.

The conclusive “Toccata Neogotica #7 (St. Florian)” is another wonderful piece full of charm and dark energy. It is dedicated to the Austrian composer Anton Bruckner who was the organist of the Sankt Florian’s abbey. He died in Vienna in 1896 at the age of 72 and was buried in the crypt of St. Florian monastery church, right below his favourite organ as he wished. 

On the whole I think that this is a very good album, especially recommended to Keith Emerson’s fans!


Three Monks: Neogothic Progressive Toccatas (2010). Other opinions:
Jim Russell: “Neogothic Progressive Toccatas” will truly be a one of a kind in your progressive rock collection. The project is cantered around the incredible pipe organ playing of Paolo Lazzeri supported by a thundering bass/drums rhythm sections and little else. This album is a church organ purist’s dream... The music is incredibly heavy, vast, formal, and tinged with centuries of age. You feel as if you are walking into one of those centuries old European cathedrals and hearing the bombast of the ancient organ, yet it is swirled into often dizzying progressive rock pieces... (read the complete review HERE)
Olav Martin Bjørnsen: If you like the organ and love the pipe organ, or vice versa, Three Monks have crafted a CD you have to investigate. If not for any other reason than for its rather unique nature; to my knowledge, the number of progressive rock albums with a pipe organ as the main instrument makes for a very limited selection. In this case bass, drums and the pipe organ combine neatly to create majestic, dramatic and dark musical landscapes of an impressive nature, with a vast array of subtle and finer details to discover as one becomes more familiar with this creation... (read the complete review HERE)

Read the interview on Progarchives. Click HERE


More info:

Thursday, 26 April 2012

WINTER TALES

Arpia’s sophomore album, “Terramare”, was released in 2006, more than ten years after the interesting debut work “Liberazione”, but in my opinion it’s not at the same level of its predecessor. The line up still features Leonardo Bonetti (bass, synthesizers, vocals), Fabio Brait (guitar) and Aldo Orazi (drums) and the overall sound is enriched by two guests: Paola Feraiorni (vocals) and Tonino De’ Sisinno (percussion). According to the band, there’s a common source of inspiration for all the songs: the recurrent idea of Earth and Sea, “elements of physical force and sexuality, poles of a real and recognizable continuity, horizontal and pertaining both to a game of commonly accepted contrasts...”. Although there’s a common thread, “Terramare” is an heterogeneous album where you can find excellent tracks and really weak ones. Themusic is more straightforward than in the past and features some powerful guitar riffs and more reflective passages. The lyrics of some pieces are take from XIII Century Italian poems adapted by the band. Well, this kind of operation could conceal a lack of creativity, however in some cases it works very well.



The opener “Bambina regina” (Baby Queen) begins softly but after a while the rhythm takes off like a Zeppelin and hard electric guitar riffs come in... “Black grace of rebellion / Right for your look / You live and you go away in vain / Without mercy...”. The suggestive “Rosa” (Rose) is calmer and features a good duet with male and female vocals. The lyrics are taken from a poem by Cielo d'Alcamo, one of the main exponents of the Italian medieval jester poetry. It’s followed by “Diana”, a good track about a mysterious woman on the run... “The echo of a last jump / Go! Don’t turn back...”.

Next comes the hard, cynical “Monsieur Verdoux” (inspired by a film directed by Charlie Chaplin in 1947 about the story of  an unemployed banker who becomes a serial killer... “If a single crime never pays / With nine killed wives you are a hero / Monsieur Verdoux!”. Then comes the mysterious, unquiet “Mari” (Seas). “It will not be these lightning / it will not be this abyss / Through sea, through ion / Through blood and sea / I’m coming, now I’m raging / be ready, I’m here...”.




“Libera” (Free) is a straightforward hard rock piece with lyrics freely taken from a Torquato Tasso’s poem title “Tacciono i boschi e i fiumi” (The woods and the rivers are silent). It leads to “Umbria”, a little dark gem, featuring a gothic atmosphere that recalls the atmosphere of some films by Dario Argento and the music of Goblin... “Come to this caress of mine / It will be that which you haven’t grazed / Come, feel in this kiss / All my silences...”.

“Luminosa” (Luminous) is another excellent track, It was inspired by a Guido Cavalcanti’s poem titled “Luminosa apparizione di donna” (Luminous appearance of woman) and features a particular, tasteful blending of rock, Piazzolla’s tango and Italian folklore. The following two tracks are not as good. “Metrò”, a kind of nocturnal urban delirium with a hard, oppressive atmosphere and the hard, proto-punk, “Contrasto della villanella”, with lyrics freely taken from a poem by Ciacco dell'Anguillara, in my opinion are weakest points of this album.


The sensual, dreamy “Piccolina” (Little girl) is better. It describes a voluptuous, sinful wish... “Little girl, come between my arms / There’s no one who can love you like me... My glances are sweet because your bosom is honey...”. The music of conclusive track “Terramare” brings back Led Zeppelin echoes and dark atmospheres while the lyrics are freely take from a poem by Rinaldo d'Aquino titled “Lamento per la partenzo del crociato” (Lament for the departure of the crusader). 

On the whole, a good “hard-dark-prog” album, but I don’t think it’s an essential one in a prog collection.

Arpia: Terramare (2006). Other opinions:
Christos Ampatzis: The overall quality of the tracks in Terramare is high enough to give it a good rating. Some songs fail to maintain the interest in very high levels but the rest keep the value of the whole product high enough... (read the complete review HERE)

Arpia 2009

In 2009 Arpia released their third and last album so far, “Racconto d’inverno” (Winter tale) with a line up featuring the multi instrumentalist and composer Leonardo Bonetti (vocals, acoustic guitar, bass and keyboards), Paola Feraiorni (vocals), Fabio Brait (acoustic guitar) and Aldo Orazi (drums). This album marks a change in the musical direction of the band. It was conceived as a long acoustic suite where melancholic musical landscapes are drawn by male and female vocals. The rhythm section is never invasive, acoustic guitars are omnipresent, there are not spectacular solos but the music perfectly fits the mood of the lyrics and flows away describing with notes what Leonardo Bonetti described with words. In fact, “Racconto d’inverno is not only a musical work but also a novel. They’re like two faces of the same coin. It’s very difficult to appreciate the mood and the atmosphere of this album without knowing what it’s about.

The main sources of inspiration for this opera were Stalker, a 1979 science fiction film directed by Andrei Tarkovsky and “Racconto d’autunno”, a novel by the Italian writer Tommaso Landolfi (1908-1979). According to Leonardo Bonetti it was impossible for him transpose in music and words the work of Landolfi, so he decided to write his own novel to shape his feelings in a better way. The result in my opinion is very good and I enjoyed both the book and the music.


 
The plot is set somewhere in the mountains of Northern Italy, not far from a border, during the period 1943-1945. After the Italian army disbanded, Northern Italy was poisoned by the conflicts between Nazi-fascists and bands of partisans... “Crime and Pride / Our lady the Black Death is marching without pain...”. Desperation, death and hunger are the background for this work that tells the story of a desperate man who is running away from this gloomy country and looks for an escape. The fugitive arrives in a tumbling down villa built upon the ruins of an ancient abbey, a kind of labyrinth haunted by a strange presence... A man tries to help him to cross the border but they are trapped in winter weather and have to come back to the villa. Here dreams and reality melt while hope and love come out under the shadows of an impending death.

The titles of the tracks are just like the titles of the chapters of a book. The tracks are not separate entities but movements of a long suite while the lyrics recall the story narrated by the book evoking images and feelings. The contrast between male and female vocals is the strength of a bold and complex album with a particular “unplugged” rock sound. On the whole, an excellent album!


Arpia: Racconto d’inverno (2009). Other opinions:
Jim Russell: With my highest compliments to the band members, "Racconto D'inverno" will make my yearly list of best Italian albums, and perhaps flirt with my overall best of 2009 list at ProgArchives. The folks at Musea were wise to latch onto this band. Enthusiastically recommended to fans of Italian progressive and sophisticated pop-rock music... (read the complete review HERE).
Raffaella Benvenuto-Berry: With “Racconto D’Inverno”, Arpia have finally joined the growing number of iconic modern Italian prog bands. This is an album that will appeal to all lovers of music relying on simplicity and purity, rather than technical flash, to convey its message... (read the complete review HERE).

More info:

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

TALKING ABOUT A... LIBERATION!

Although Arpia have been active since 1984, their debut album “Liberazione” (Liberation) wasn’t released until 1995 thanks to the independent label Pick Up Records with a line-up featuring Leonardo Bonetti (bass, synthesizers, vocals), Fabio Brait (guitar) and Aldo Orazi (drums). “Liberazione” is subtitled “Anthem for a dream that has become a Republic” and, according to the band, “it is a concept album about the idea of a journey into the historical memory of Italy”. The aim of this concept is rather bold: to express “the need to regain a collective history through individual stories[1].

Arpia

The album is divided into two parts. The first one, “La Resistenza” (The Resistance), is about the struggle against Fascism before and during World War II. The liner notes and the images in the booklet are an integral part of this work since the band tries to describe also in the images and words the atmospheres and the stories that inspired the music and lyrics... The opener “Ragazzo Rosso” (Red Boy) is a powerful instrumental dedicated to a 16 year old student who was arrested in 1927 for having handed out some leaflets against the Fascist Party. The mood of the track is dark, featuring haunting bass lines and heavy guitars...

This is a good introduction to the following “La Roscia”, a long, complex track about a red haired woman executed in 1943 in the Apennines by the Nazi-fascists for having sheltered a partisan. The song is partially sung in dialect and alternates different rhythms to express the different feelings described by the lyrics: mercy, love, fear, rage... “There’s sweat and silence over those charming bodies / Far out there distant glows and lightning...”.




The title track “Liberazione” is set in Modena in 1945 and tries to catch the feelings of a farmer who, while staring at the partisans entering the city, is worried about his property and wonders about the future fearing expropriations by communists... “Look Christ, what you have to endure from your cross! / Bitter offspring of soldiers, deserters and strikers who think that this is a revolution!...”. 

“Piazzale Loreto” is set in Milan in 1945 and is about the feelings of a peasant who stares at the body of Mussolini, hanged head down by the partisans... The music flows steadily trying to express hate, rage and dismay with raw electric guitar riffs... “Take my spits, dux!... Take them like the baptism of the innocents...”.

In the second part, “Il terrore” (Terror), the band tries to evoke the atmosphere and the mood of the Seventies, “the years of lead”. “Strage!” (Slaughter) is about a bomb attack in Milan on December 12, 1969... “It’s a bomb, it’s a bomb!... Mother, mother, it’s an endless massacre!...”.




“La ragazza Carla” (The girl Carla) is set in Piazza della Loggia in Brescia on May 28, 1974 and tries to express the feelings of a girl who is going to a meeting with her boyfriend in the square where a bomb is going to blow up... “The girl Carla wears naive shoes / As if they were poetry...”.

“16 marzo 1978” (March 16, 1978) is about the feelings of a 78 year old retired man, an old political activist, who, while walking in Rome, stumbles on the aftermath of the kidnapping of Aldo Moro, leader of the Democratic Christian Party, then executed by the terrorists of the Red Brigades...

Bologna” is about the bomb attack at the Railway Station on August 2, 1980... The lyrics evoke the dialogues and thoughts of some innocent passengers on the trains approaching or leaving the railway station of Bologna before the explosion... “The railway station now is moving, faster and faster / Look! Now it leaves us...”. 




The final track “Coprofagia” (Coprophagy) is about the result of the elections on March 28, 1994... The music is heavy, with cutting vocals, bass and electric guitars in the forefront that try to suggest anguish and fear, rage and indignation, anger and disdain...

In my opinion, sometimes the style of Arpia seems closer to Hard-Rock and Dark-Metal than to Neo-prog or the “Italianprog” giants of the Seventies as Le Orme, BMS or PFM. Nevertheless “Liberazione” is a good album with a really interesting concept and it’s worth listening to... 

(From the book Rock Progressivo Italiano: an introduction to Italian Progressive Rock)


In Italy every year on April the 25th they celebrate the Anniversary of the Liberation from Nazi-Fascism.


More info about Arpia:



[1] From the official website of the band

Monday, 23 April 2012

OUT OF THE DARKNESS

Obscura is an interesting Italian prog band from Mantova that was formed in 1996 with a line up featuring Massimo Tabai (keyboards), Matteo Cavallari (guitars), Matteo Pinfari (bass), Marcello Ricci (drums), Barbara Mazzola (flute) and Luca Palleschi (vocals). The recording sessions for their first work, “Le città invisibili” (Invisible Cities), took place in 1997 but before the album was finished Luca Pallaschi left the band to join Moongarden and was replaced by Davide Cagnata. The album was released by Mellow Records only ten years later, when the band was already on a long “hiatus”. The sound quality is not flawless, especially the vocal parts since the singer Davide Cagnata joined the band at the very last moment and had a very short time for rehearsals, but the overall result is not bad at all and the band managed to put together some good compositions, in part inspired by the portraits of imaginary cities depicted by the Italian writer Italo Calvino in his novel Invisible Cities. You can find here a very nice flute work and inspired piano passages with atmospheres that every now and again recall early Genesis, King Crimson and BMS.



The opener “Mondo 3” (World 3) starts with a threatening marching beat in the background and a dark mood. It’s a piece about the absurdity of war. Crazy politicians, powerful businessmen and generals lead starving people in war and lifeless dawns lighten the eyes of the fighters... “No angels in the sky / Their bloodstained wings are too heavy...”.

The next track, “Bersabea”, is a short instrumental for piano and flute that was inspired by an imaginary city suspended between the distorted ideas of Heaven and Hell. It leads to the first part of the dreamy “Limbo Cosmico” (Cosmic Limbo) where the nostalgia for the music of the past is evident and every now and again seems almost talking to the wind... “Slave of your freedom / Now I have no voice to dream anymore... As an ancient melody / Your breath sleeps in space...”.



The agoraphobic “Ombre tra la folla” (Shadows among the crowd) is heavier, with electric guitar riffs in the forefront. The lyrics deal with the secret thoughts of a man who walks in the crowd... “A thick fog surrounds me / It’s my shield against the world... I want to steal your thoughts... Crazy shadows surround me... Laughs, tears, they will never have me / Boredom, indifference, this is the reality / My name has no story / I’m your nothingness...”.   

“Ipazia” is another short instrumental break featuring just acoustic guitar and flute. The name of this track refers to an imaginary city where the language is extremely misleading for the strangers and deceives them in many unexpected ways. It’s a perfect introduction to the following track, the ethereal “La Città del Sole” (The City of the Sun), a piece inspired by the utopian city described in 1602 by the Italian philosopher Tommaso Campanella... “Perhaps we can’t breathe the fate that calls us sons...Here slaves and kings eat the same bread / Hate and Love are nothing but poetry... We will fall here in an oneiric Autumn / Citizens of a new utopia...”.


Then comes the second part of “Limbo Cosmico” that brings back dreamy atmospheres and deep crimson colours... “Tired prophets pray the void / They fear the day of Hope / Like me... Now I wander through gloomy roads / New cities will welcome my God / My only friend is the cry of thunder...”. It’s followed by the beautiful instrumental “Zemrude” that tries to describe in music a city whose form depends on the mood of the people who look at it.

The excellent last track, “Guernica”, closes the album with sad memories of war and a message of hope. Guernica is the title of a famous tableau by Pablo Picasso painted in 1937 and inspired by a scene of the Spanish Civil War. The lyrics depict motionless bloodstained walls and suffering people, then a new day that can light even the darkest pages of history... “A new day that will never set / A new beginning of a new life...”.

Well, on the whole this album is not a masterpiece but the band had a very good potential and it’s a pity they had to give up their activity. Anyway, you never know, maybe a reunion is still possible.

You can listen to the complete album HERE

Obscura: Le città invisibili (2007). Other opinions:
Jim Russell: The album covers quite a bit of musical territory with sections that are quite rocking with distorted metalized chugging guitars to mid-range parts featuring neo-sounding keys, there is mellotron for the tron fanatics, and then all the way to pastoral sections of piano, acoustic, and flute. Sometimes the transitions can be harrowing but this keeps the pace a bit unpredictable and exciting-this is truly an album that will throw some surprises at you... The band seems to excel on the more delicate material and these poignant moments are what make the album... (read the complete review HERE)


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Sunday, 22 April 2012

THE FLIGHT OF THE GREY SWANS

Lorenzo Monni is a young Italian artist who lives in San Donà di Piave, a small town near Venice. He is a multi instrumentalist with a classical background and his aim is to blend classical influences with rock and electronic music. 

Lorenzo Monni

In 2007 he released his first self produced album, “Death Of Future Men”, where he proved to be a brilliant and original composer. It is a completely instrumental work and it should be of interest for fans of Franco Battiato, Goblin, King Crimson, Pink Floyd... The opener “Dust” is excellent. There’s a strong classical symphonic feeling and a particular exotic flavour on this track. In my opinion it gets along very well with the art cover and it could be a perfect soundtrack for a video based on Pierre Benoît’s beautiful novel L’Atlantide. Dust, sand, water, a forgotten oasis in the Sahara, mysterious and dangerous women, adventure, the myth of the lost continent Atlantis that comes true and appears like a mirage where love, dreams and nightmares are mixed up together...


The next tracks “Visions”, “Last Touch” and “Humans Against Alien-Cats” every now and again recall slightly of some works by Pink Floyd or Alan Parsons Project, but there’s no plagiarism at all and all you have to do is close your eyes, let the music stir your emotions and set your imagination free. Then comes “Anatomy Of Water Phobia” that could recall the atmosphere of some Dario Argento’s films featuring Goblin soundtracks and that is my favourite track on this album along with the opener. The following track, “Viale Notturno”, has a dark and crepuscular feeling, while the last piece, “The Lost begins with a classical guitar intro leading to another musical journey in exotic territories... A very nice finale for a very interesting work!

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Lorenzo Monni’s sophomore album, “Debris”, was released in 2008 and it’s another interesting blend of rock, electronic and classical music. Perhaps it could be a bit difficult to appreciate this work on the very first listening but if you like the complex “soundscapes” of Robert Fripp, the unconventional and challenging ethno-folk of bands such as Oregon or the scary atmospheres of bands as Goblin I’m sure you’ll find it pretty good. The album is completely instrumental and the sound quality is good, even if it’s another self-produced work. There are less melodic and symphonic passages than on Lorenzo Monni’s previous album, but don’t worry, the result is not pure avant-garde or “musique concrète” and you’ll find here some very good musical ideas...


In my opinion the highlights are the mysterious and exotic “I Met The Craftsman”, the hypnotic “The Dawn Of The Young Dolls” (almost baroque with an Eastern flavour), the acoustic, delicate and dreamy “Naked Dialogues”, the solemn and mystic “Mont Saint-Michel (featuring church like organ and a sampled monks choir) and the long, haunting “Gone”. Nonetheless the other tracks are also worth listen to and I appreciated also the bizarre “Ciel Brouille” (featuring in the background the sampled voice of the Italian singer song-writer Giorgio Gaber), the opener “Embrace” or the dark, creepy “Shapeless”. You can listen in streaming to the complete album, so have a try, click HERE!

Lorenzo Monni: Debris (2008). Other opinions
Jim Russell: The tracks are richly developed pieces covering a variety of moods, almost always with luxurious melodies and only occasionally dissonant... While the album takes a while to fully absorb it’s clear he has a talent for making it accessible to people who may not be huge fans of impressionistic music. Monni is a gifted sound architect with a promising future... (read the complete review HERE).

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In 2010 Lorenzo Monni released his third album, “Grey Swans Of Extremistan”, on the independent label Lizard Records. It was recorded with the help of Luca Visentin (drums, production, mixing, mastering) and Luca Ricci (drums) and, according to the liner notes, it’s a kind of concept album inspired by The Black Swan, a book by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, a Lebanese American essayist whose work focuses on issues such as randomness and probability. The overall sound is guitar driven and recalls post-rock or math rock atmospheres without being derivative. This time Lorenzo Monni avoided “the cascades of synths” that you can find on his previous work but the final result is quite good anyway.


The album is completely instrumental and is divided in two acts. The first act is titled “The Landscape of Extremistan” and features three tracks linked together. The suggestive opener “Cascade” begins softly and sets a mysterious atmosphere with Middle-Eastern flavours, then a steady marching beat starts pulsing... “Contrary Winds” and “Doggered Of The Deep” follow mixing experimental passages and interesting melodic lines with interesting results.

The second act is titled “Grey Swans” and features six tracks. It begins with the dynamic, cheerful “The Mysterious Cyclist Of Cyclette”, then comes the dreamy, ethereal “Amarcord” followed by “The Act Of Being Amazed” where you can find some nice, particular Latin American touches. The short “Mosquitos Will Defeat F.B.I” and the experimental “Zeitgeber” (where Lorenzo Monni “plays” also an hairdryer) in my opinion are not completely convincing but the conclusive “Once Upon A Time In Extremistan” is an excellent track full of energy. On the whole a good album but probably the nice art work by Bridget Farmer describes this album better than my words... Judge by yourselves, you can listen to complete album in streaming. Click HERE


Lorenzo Monni: Grey Swans of Extremistan (2010). Other opinions
Olav Martin Bjørnsen: Lorenzo Monni’s third full-length production “Grey Swans of Extremistan” is a hard to define, instrumental art rock album of good quality and with quite a few inventive and creative twists to it. World music, post-rock and jazz fusion appear to form the outer boundaries in terms of stylistic expression; classical music and psychedelic rock might be appended to such a description as well... (read the complete review HERE).
Jim Russell: This is another impressive step for Monni as he continues what promises to be a very eclectic career. For my tastes though I much preferred the previous album (see my Debris review) which just had more variations and a bit more whimsy. I would like to see Monni work with a great Italian language vocalist in the future, perhaps do something in the avant-classical vein like Opus Avantra, given his classical background. But wherever he goes next I'll be dying to check it out... (read the complete review HERE).

You can find an interview with Lorenzo Monni on Progarchives. Click HERE


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