Monday, 14 May 2012

GLANCES TOWARDS THE SKY

From  Rock Progressivo Italiano: an introduction to Italian Progressive Rock

Le Orme began life in Venice in 1966 as a “beat” band. After two albums in a beat, psychedelic style and some line-up changes, in 1971 they released what many people think is the first Italian progressive rock album, “Collage”. The line-up here features Aldo Tagliapietra (vocals, bass, acoustic guitar), Antonio Pagliuca (Hammond organ, electric piano) and Michi Dei Rossi (drums, percussion). In studio they got the help of an expert producer, Gian Piero Reverberi, who helped shape their innovative sound blending British prog influences (Emerson Lake & Palmer and, most of all, Quatermass) with Italian melody and classical music. The result was an extremely successful album that is now considered a cornerstone of Italian progressive rock.


The opener title track is almost a “prog baroque” anthem inspired by Domenico Scarlatti’s  Sonata in E major, K 380. It starts with a powerful organ surge soon backed by a lively marching beat while the middle section is softer and has a strong classical flavour. Organ and rhythm sections then come back for the “grand finale”. It’s a magnificent track and it has become a kind of trademark of the band.

An acoustic guitar pattern introduces the next track, “Era inverno” (It was winter), which is about a troubled love between a young man and a prostitute... “Every night you get ready / Always beautiful and smiling / An actress who doesn’t change scene / The sadness of the moon / In the hands of the people / Who own you fake joy... I would like to tell you / I don’t care what people think / I still remember that evening / It was winter time and you were shaking / You were shining on the snow / I said: It’s the first time...”.


The claustrophobic “Cemento Armato” (Reinforced concrete) is about the need to run away from the smog and pollution you find in modern metropolitan areas. It begins almost as a desperate burst of pain, just vocals and piano... “Reinforced concrete, the big city / You can feel that life is going away / Near home you can’t breath / It’s always dark, we’re grieving / There are more hooters in the air than nightingale songs / It’s better to run away and never come back...”. The long instrumental section is complex and frenzied, you can almost feel the oppressive atmosphere of a busy, foggy city. Eventually the tension fades away... “Sweet awakening, the sun is with me / In the air you can hear the sound of a guitar / Home is far away / Everything melted / I can’t even remember yesterday friends / Reinforced concrete, the big city / You can feel that life is going away...”.


“Sguardo verso il cielo” (Glance towards the sky) is still one of the best pieces of the band’s repertoire. It’s a song of hope full of positive energy, almost a lay prayer... “The joy to sing, the wish to dream / The feel of reaching what you haven’t got / Here comes another day like yesterday / You have to wait for the morning to start again... The strength to smile, the strength to fight / The fault of being alive and not being able to change / Like a dead branch, neglected / Which tries in vain to blossom... The mask of a clown in the middle of a desert / A fire that goes out, a glance towards the sky / A glance towards the sky where the sun is a wonder / Where nothingness becomes the world / Where Your light shines...”.


“Evasione Totale” (Total breakthrough) is a long instrumental where the members of the band can showcase their musicianship. It begins softly and the atmosphere is dark and spacey. After a chaotic, improvised middle section a church-like organ pattern and pulsing bass lines bring back a sense of order for the finale.

“Immagini” (Images) is a short organ driven piece. The lyrics suggest evocative images with a psychedelic touch... Well try to imagine a stream on the moon, a garden in the middle of the sun, a cypress in the desert, violet lawns, a moving statue and people talking around... But there’s something missing! “A wonderful sun, a wonderful day / Many stars in the night / Some smiles on the lips, some lips on the lips / But she isn’t there, she isn’t there...”.


“Morte di un fiore” (Death of a flower) begins with acoustic guitar and vocals, then organ and piano bring a melancholic, elegiac feeling. The lyrics describe the death of a young prostitute in a poetical way... “They wrote that for you the music was over between four and five in the morning / As the water of the stream running toward the sea / In a pale morning your last short time ran away / And the wind that kissed you was your only companion...”.

Well, “Collage” is a great album featuring many evergreens of the band and they still perform in concert “Collage” and “Sguardo verso il cielo” in medley as a “gran-finale”. This excellent, successful album paved the way for many other prog bands as Premiata Forneria Marconi, Banco del Mutuo Soccorso and Osanna...

Sunday, 13 May 2012

PICTURES AT AN EXHIBITION

Murple was one of the many “one-shot bands” of Italian prog scene of the early seventies. After the release of an excellent debut album “Io sono Murple” (I am Murple) in 1974 they disappeared... until 2007, when three of the original members, Pier Carlo Zanco (vocals, piano, keyboards), Duilio Sorrenti (drums, percussion) and Mario Garbarino (bass) reformed the band and, with the help of some guest musician such Sabina Gagliardi (vocals) and Edoardo Massimi (guitar), recorded a brand new album that was released on the independent label BTF in 2008. The album features good packaging and an interesting booklet where you can find the explanation of the “conceptual work“...

Murple live 2010

In 1874 took place in Saint Petersburg an exhibition dedicated to the work of the Russian painter Viktor Hartmann. Modest Mussorgsky, who was a friend of the painter, composed his piano suite “Pictures at an Exhibition” on the emotional wave that was provoked by the paintings... Well, Murple’s work is not a rock interpretation of Mussorgsky music (like EL&P’s), but an original work inspired by the same paintings. In the booklet you can find the images of the paintings with a short commentary, so you can match the music and images and for a guided tour, a “promenade”, through the tracks of the album. “Quadri di un’esposizione” is a good work, although in my opinion it’s not outstanding. Sometimes vintage and modern sounds are mixed together a bit clumsily, but the music flows away smoothly enough all along the album, track after track, during its less than 34 minutes length.


The first painting, “Promenade & Gnomus”, represents a wicked dwarf wondering in a forest and a sound of spacey keyboards introduces a beautiful short symphonic track... “In the deepest dark of your wood / The meeting with that hidden being / Twisted limps spread fear...”. The second scene “Promenade & il vecchio castello” (Promenade and the old castle) is set in Italy where a troubadour sing his song in front of the walls of an old medieval castle in a sad landscape. The dreamy and baroque atmosphere here is enriched by female vocals and by a good instrumental break in “Seventies style”. The third scene “Tuileries” is set in Paris where some happy children play in a garden. It’s a short and joyful instrumental led by classical guitar and piano... The fourth painting, “Bydlo”, represents an heavy Polish chariot towed by oxen and here the music curiously swings from vintage sounds to a definitely more “synthetic atmospheres”... 


The fifth painting, “Il ballo dei pulcini” (The dance of the chicks), represents some dancers disguised as chicks coming out from their eggs, while the music reminds me slightly of some works of Rondò Veneziano and Lucio Battisti. The next painting “Samuel Goldenberg & Schmuyle” represents the meeting of two antithetic men and the music is built upon a “dialog” between piano and synthesizers. The following “Promenade & Limoges” represents a noisy scene in the market square of Limoges and here pop sounds are intertwined with a short drum solo and a “vintage organ flavour”... The eight scene, “Catacombae”, depicts a visit to the catacombs of Paris and the music features a church choir and a good gothic atmosphere... The ninth painting represents “Baba Yaga”, a bizarre witch, and the music inspired by this image in my opinion is by far the weakest track on the album, definitively too “poppish” (some melodic lines reminds me of a song by Zucchero Fornaciari, “Solo seduto su una panchina del porto...”). Tha last painting, “La grande porta di Kiev & Promenade”, represents a project for a gate in city of Kiev while the music reminds me of Le Orme’s “Verità nascoste” and features strings on a marching beat and a delicate piano outro.


Well, on the whole, although non essential, this album should be interesting for Italianprog lovers. After the release of the album the band played some gigs with a line up featuring Pier Carlo Zanco (vocals, piano, keyboards), Duilio Sorrenti (drums, percussion), Mario Garbarino (bass), Maurizio Campagnano (guitar) and Claudia D’Ottavi (vocals). I hope Murple won’t wait too long for their next work!



Read the interview with Murple at Progarchives. Click HERE


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Saturday, 12 May 2012

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

From  Rock Progressivo Italiano: an introduction to Italian Progressive Rock

In 1972, when Premiata Forneria Marconi released their debut album, all the members of the band were already experienced musicians and their live performances were excellent. The band began life in the late sixties playing “beat” as I Quelli and later as I Krel. Eventually, in 1971, they chose the name Premiata Forneria Marconi, inspired by the name of a bakery. On the debut album the line-up featured Franco Mussida (guitar, vocals), Mauro Pagani (flute, violin, vocals), Giorgio Piazza (bass), Flavio Premoli (organ, piano, mellotron, moog, vocals) and Franz Di Cioccio (drums, percussion, vocals). According to the band, they chose to record “Storia di un minuto” playing “live in studio” to keep the freshness of their concerts and the result was a “fresh” and very personal blending of progressive rock, classical influences and Italian folklore, powerful and delicate at the same time. It was conceived as a concept album and tells the story of a man who remembers a whole day in just one minute of dreams and visions [1].


The first track “Introduzione” is just a short introduction with reminiscences of King Crimson and it leads to “Impressioni di settembre” (September Impressions), probably the best known PFM song. You can still hear echoes coming “from the Court of the Crimson King”, while the suggestive lyrics written by Mogol “paint” the feelings of a man looking for himself in the countryside on a foggy September morning... “How many dew-drops around me / I’m looking for the Sun but I can’t find it / The country is still asleep, maybe not / It’s awake, it’s staring at me, I don’t know / Now the smell of the soil, smell of grain is slowly coming up towards me / And life softly beats in my chest breathing the fog, I think of you / How much green all around here and even further / The grass seems almost a sea / And my thoughts fly lightly and go away / I’m almost afraid they will get lost... But at the same time the Sun is leaking through the fog / As always the day will be!”. The instrumental refrain is really catchy, with the powerful sound of the moog in the forefront, “à la Emerson Lake & Palmer” (according to the band, “Lucky Man” was really a source of inspiration for this track). The album version is slightly different and more dilated compared to the single version that you can usually find in anthologies (for instance in “Prime Impressioni” or “Gli anni settanta”). In 1974 “Impressioni di settembre” was released in English as “The World Became The World” with lyrics by Peter Sinfield but I prefer by far the original version! 


“E’ festa” is another outstanding track. It’s a kind of joyful, frenzied “Rock-Tarantella” almost completely instrumental with a short vocal part...  “As always that’s the feast of a light bird that keeps on flying...”. Here elements of Italian folklore are blended with classical influences. The English version of this song was released on “Photos Of Ghosts” as “Celebration”, but in my opinion the Italian version is better...

The first part of “Dove... Quando...” (Where... When...) is a dreamy, delicate ballad about a man longing for his sweetheart who feels the urge for her knocking heavily on his heart. The inspiration for the music comes from the XV century and the shy vocals get along very well with the melody and lyrics... “Where do you live? Where are you? / Just inside of me / What are you doing? / How do you look? / Just as me / Inventing you here and there is an old game now... What would I do my love, in which way will you smile? / From your ayes and noes what will I learn? / Serene princess from Heaven, you will be mine...”. The theme of the first part is developed by the band in the second one which is completely instrumental. Here the musicians try to blend their classical influences with jazz and rock and the result is really good...

Storia di un minuto: album cover

“La carrozza di Hans” (The carriage of Hans) is one of my favourite PFM songs. The piece is built up starting from the amazing guitar work of Franco Mussida. I dreamt many times of playing it properly on my acoustic guitar and when I was a teenager Franco Mussida seemed to me like a merchant of musical dreams but unfortunately my guitar never turned from a “pumpkin” into a magnificent carriage like in Cinderella’s fairy-tale... “Look! Search! Run far away, fly! / Hans the merchant is waiting for you, fly...”. By the way, in this track there’s not only amazing guitar technique to be found, but a perfect interaction between the guitar and the other instruments. The album version is slightly different from the single version, but I love them both...


The last track “Grazie davvero” (Thanks a lot) is another good piece with a melancholic mood and lyrics about the rain that brings life to the world, the “ageless water” playing with the colours and sounds falling on a pond... “It’s already raining / It rains softly, it rains on me... Thanks so much for living / Thanks for the day that’s here / Thanks for the time that will come... It’s already raining / It rains softly, it rains on me...”.

A great finale for one of the most important albums of the Italian prog scene of the early seventies, one which contributed to outlining an Italian way to progressive rock.



[1] F. DI CIOCCIO, Due volte nella vita, Aereostella, Milano, 2009, p. 42 - 45

Thursday, 10 May 2012

PARALLEL VISIONS

Juglans Regia is an Italian band from Sesto Fiorentino near Florence. They started their activity in 1992 as a metal band under the name of Raising Fear, influenced by the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, but their style changed along the years and, according to Massimiliano Dionigi, founder member and bassist of the band, nowadays their favourite album is Biglietto Per L’Inferno’s eponymous one, a classic of the Italian progressive scene of the early seventies. Juglans Regia’s debut album, “Prisma”, was self-produced and self-released in 2002 and it featured in the line up keyboardist Lapo Martini, who left the band in 2003. The present members are Alessandro Parigi (vocals), Antonello Collini (guitar), David Carretti (drums) and Massimiliano Dionigi (bass). In 2005 they released “Controluce”, another self-production with good ideas but with an overall poor sound quality and where some pieces seem suffering the lack of keyboards. In 2008 they released “Visioni parallele” (Parallel visions), their best work so far, featuring an improved sound quality and some guest musicians on keyboards and back vocals that helped to enrich the sound. In my opinion the result is good...

Juglans Regia in 2005

The opener “Dentro... il Palazzo” (Inside... The Building) is just a short “soft” instrumental introduction before the sudden burst of energy of “L’ultimo respiro” (The last breath)... “Time flows away relentless / And I’m standing still, observing the pointers / That are running an endless game...”. This piece was one of the best tracks (along with the epic “Il vento”) on Juglans Regia’s previous album “Controluce” and here it comes to a new life.

The dark, introspective “La sera” (The Evening) is more straightforward and in my opinion not completely convincing (every now and again it could recall a raw version of the Italian rock band Litfiba) while the following “I colori nell’aria” (The colours in the air) is better. It begins softly, with a singing bird and the sound of mother nature in the background, then the electric guitar takes the lead. The lyrics invite you to open your eyes to discover the nuances of the colours of the world around you, you have to respect the different opinions of people around you and their contradictions... “I haven’t opened my eyes for a long time / Everything is broken, lost and has no identity...”.



“Il volo” (The flight) is another good track. It features an interesting bass groove and an apocalyptic atmosphere. The lyrics are about a waning civilization, there is nothing but floods and destruction everywhere, the only way to survive is flying away... “Wings of gold and silver / Uncomfortable is the legacy of timeless lands / That nobody will forget...”.

“Lacrima nera” (Black tear) is a heavy, straightforward piece about the sense of history and the need to learn from the errors of the past to build up a better future... “There’s blood on the pavement / The flag is waving / A wall is crumbled but another one will be built...”. Next comes “Così vicino...” (So close...), a visionary warning about the dangers of technological progress where roofs of plastic and walls of acrylic glass enclose ideas and the quest for a “clean, safe energy” drives to death and destruction.

Juglans Regia's logo


The excellent title track “Visioni parallele” (Parallel visions) is more complex and features sudden changes in mood and rhythm. The introspective lyrics describe a labyrinth, a metaphorical, timeless city that threatens the freedom of the protagonist. The only way out is self-respect and a continuous compromise between ideals and reality. Listen to this track HERE!
Well, on the whole “Visioni parallele” is not flawless but in my opinion it’s an album full of energy and with some very good moments!


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Monday, 7 May 2012

DARK SHINING DREAMS


Goad are an Italian band from Florence that began life in the seventies on the initiative of multi-instrumentalist Maurilio Rossi and guitarist Gianni Rossi. Among their main influences and “sources of inspiration” you can find bands such as Van Der Graaf Generator, King Crimson, Black Widow, Led Zeppelin, Rush, Triumph, Genesis, Catapilla, Atomic Rooster and Black Sabbath, along with writers and poets as H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe and Edgar Lee Masters. Their early recordings date back to eighties and during the years the band went though many troubles and line up changes. In the nineties they released albums such as “Tribute To Edgar Allan Poe" (1994), “Glimpse” (1998) and “Il Minosse” (1999). Then followed “Dark Virgin” (2001), “Raoment: Spoon River Anthology Songs” (2004) and “The Wood – Dedicated to H.P. Lovecraft” (2006). “In the House of the Dark Shining Dreams” was released in 2007 with a line up featuring Maurilio Rossi (organ, keyboards, moog, mellotron, guitars), Paolo Carniani (drums), Roberto Masini (guitar, violin), Francesco Diddi (violin, flute, sax) and Gianni Rossi (guitar) but during the recording sessions they were helped by some guest musicians. This is the first Goad’s album released on Black Widow Records, an interesting and dynamic Italian independent label from Genoa with a special taste for Gothic and dark prog. It features some re-arranged pieces from their album “Dark Virgin” along with some new songs and two covers.

Goad

The album opens with an instrumental intro taken from Johann Pachelbel's Canon in D. The sound of a violin emerging from a raging storm introduces what seems to be the subject matter of this work... Nightmares! On the second track, “Yet Another Battlefield”, the music seems bellowing from underground with the sound of the organ in the forefront. Muddy, suffering vocals draw imagines of dead grey soldiers, broken shields and feasting crows over a gloomy landscape. You can find the same Gothic atmosphere in the following “The Clapper Beatin’ Fast”, where soaring vocals, distorted guitars and organ depict anguish and fear with words of lead... “In the house of the dark shining dreams / Lived the dumb Phantom / White was her face, vermilion the halo...”. Well, in my opinion the esoteric, obscure lyrics by Luca Leonello Rimbotti are not the strength of this album, moreover the voice of Maurilio Rossi in not always clear and the lyrics are not written in the booklet. Anyway the music is intriguing and flows away like the soundtrack of a horror movie where “a dark night devours and swallows the reality”.

In The House Of The Dark Shining Dreams - Album Cover

“Dark Virgin”, “Olympia”, the Van Der Graaf Generator cover “Killer”, “As Nothing Had Changed”, “Dark virgin 2”, “Steep Path”, “It's Always The Same Thing”, “Springy”, and the King Crimson cover “21st Century Schizoid Man” follow in turn. There are some bluesy passages, classical inspired organ patterns, some hard rock guitar riffs and every now and again you can really feel a “wind of madness whistling in your ears”. The final “Genius Of Europe” includes a passage from Richard Wagner's Siegfried and evokes the ghost of a “world of eternal glory and beauty” corroded by hate and by the “wicked strokes of the new tele-barbarians”. It concludes, after more than 77 minutes, this interesting musical journey in the “Gothic side of prog”. On the whole an album that is worth listening to.


Goad: In The House Of The Dark Shining Dreams (2007). Other opinions
Pete Pardo: The music of Italy's Goad is not going to be for everyone, but if you like very dark prog, and are willing to invest close to 80 minutes of your time, this release could be for you. Next time out, they might want to work on the production a bit, as it's really muddy in spots, but the band obviously has a lot of talent and sound pretty different from the norm, so this should be something to seek out if you like obscure underground prog... (read the complete review HERE)

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Sunday, 6 May 2012

THE STORM AND THE RAINBOW


Corte Aulica is an Italian prog band from Brescia that was formed in 2006 on the initiative of drummer, keyboardist and composer Gustavo Pasini (Lithos, Notabene). The line up features Gustavo Pasini (drums, percussion, piano, vocals), Nicola Gasperi (keyboards, backing vocals), Luca Saccenti (guitar) and Emanuele Jaforte (bass) but on the album there’s also the collaboration of Anna Paderni on flute credited as a special guest. Corte Aulica’s debut album “Il temporale e l’arcobaleno” (The Storm And The Rainbow) was released on the independent label Mellow Records in 2007 and contains seven instrumental tracks plus two “bonus tracks” sung by Gustavo Pasini. The main sources of inspiration of the band come from the “Canterbury scene” (especially Camel) and from the Italian prog scene of the Seventies but the band managed to express their own original ideas without being too derivative. The result is excellent and all along the album you can listen to beautiful melodies soaring from complex rhythm patterns.

Corte Aulica

The opener “Chiaroscuro” begins with a nice electric guitar solo, then goes on through many changes in rhythm and atmosphere. Next comes the excellent title track where the “stormy” guitar work and some dreamy piano passages produce a very interesting contrast. “Corte aulica” is another beautiful track, complex and melodic in the meantime. There are no weak moments and the music flows steadily stirring the imagination of the listener. “Tiziana”, “La principessa del parco”, “Via Rua Sovera, 19” and “Zwanenbeek” are all full of colourful nuances and really worth listening to.


The last two tracks, “Grazie a te” (Thanks to you) and “La ragione d'autunno” (The reason in Autumn), are credited as “bonus tracks” because they are older compositions by Gustavo Pasini. “The voice whispers looking for a reason / A smile shines new emotions / Without fears you are spellbound / Autumn makes you change your way...”. Gustavo Pasini’s vocals on the bonus tracks are not flawless, but according to an interview with the musician these songs were “too personal” to be sung by another person and the choice to sing them in an “imperfect way” was made to keep all their emotional content.


Well, on the whole “Il temporale a l’arcobaleno” is really a very good album and the last two tracks do not waste the pleasure of listening at all!

You can listen in streaming to the complete album HERE

Corte Aulica: Il temporale e l'arcobaleno (2007). Other opinions:
Vitaly Menshikov: Despite its quasi-derivative nature, this is quite an outstanding debut release and very decent recording in general, definitely worthy of your attention if you lack anything new in the style of Camel while awaiting your idols’ return from their prolonged vacation... (read the complete review HERE)


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Saturday, 5 May 2012

STRANGE COLOURS

I Pennelli di Vermeer are an Italian prog band from Naples that was formed in 2003 by Pasquale Sorrentino (vocals, acoustic guitar), Giovanni Santoro (bass), Raffele Polimeno (keyboards), Pasquale Palombo (electric guitar) and Marco Sorrentino (drums, vocals). All the members of the band are fond of painting, so they decided to call their project “I Pennlli di Vermeer” (The Vermeer’s Brushes) in honour to the Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675). This passion can be found in their music as well, a wonderful patchwork of different influences and styles ranging from symphonic rock to ska, tango, baroque, nursery rhyme. “La primavera dei sordi” (The springtime of the deaf), their first full length album was released in 2008 on the independent label La Canzonetta and features some special guests (among others Lino Vairetti, leader of Osanna) who contributed to enrich the sound. The result is very good: the ten tracks were composed mixing together different colours like in painting, combining shadows and lights with sarcasm and irony. The lyrics are full of double meanings and are often sung in a very  particular and theatrical way.


The opener “Tre cadaveri nel cassetto” (Three corpses in the drawer) is a kind of dark, witty nursery rhyme built upon a strange marching beat, while the next track “Manifesto cm 70x100” is a sarcastic, committed piece featuring a bizarre rhythm of ska. It condemns a policy made of words without actions that let rubbish cover the streets of Naples. The mood changes on the following track “Cinque minuti... una notte” (Five minutes... A night), a dreamy and “colourful” ballad...

 

Next comes “L’urlo” (The scream), a piece inspired by an Edvard Munch’s famous painting. It features Osanna’s Lino Vairetti as a special guest and it’s an interesting mix of country, hard rock and even opera compressed in less that three minutes... “There is a reason behind every scream / Pain, joy, rage, a simple emotion...”. Then comes “Nel giardino di Belzebù” (In Beelzebub’s garden), a kind of journey through the dark paths of love that features beautiful female vocals and a delicate melody.


“S.K.L.ERO” is more aggressive, almost “electro”, and deals with drug addiction while the following “Luce” (Light) is a funny piece where different musical influences (ranging from baroque to rock, from folk to “varieté française”) are the perfect background for light words that seem to be conceived as “touches of colour”. The futuristic “Incuboinuncubo” (Nightmare in a cube) is about “trash TV” while the ironic and irreverent “Carogna” (Stinker) features an almost operatic atmosphere and a good guitar work. The last track “Autogestione” (Self-management) could be a perfect soundtrack for the recent protests of the Italian students and features a children choir and a funny swinging march rhythm... 

On the whole “La primavera dei sordi” is a very interesting album, funny and fresh. Even if it lasts less than 40 minutes, there are no weak moments and it’s really worth to check out. You can listen to the album in streaming HERE

I Pennelli di Vermeer: La primavera dei sordi (2008). Other opinions:
Erik Neuteboom: During my first listening session I was blown away, what a varied and unique prog this is with an important role for the vocals, from an opera-like female voice to theatrical vocal harmonies or even a small children choir... (read the complete review HERE)


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Friday, 4 May 2012

SYMPHONIC LIGHTS

Quasar Lux Symphoniae come from Udine and have been active for more than thirty years. The band began life 1976 on the initiative of Roberto Sgorlon, Umberto Del Negro and Stefano Vallan. After a first immature demo recorded in 1977 featuring psychedelic influences, The Dead Dream (later re-recorded in 1995 and finally released in 2012) and some line up changes, in 1984 Quasar Lux Symphoniae released a debut album, more hard rock oriented, Night Hymn. The nineties were the most creative period of the band that released albums such as Abraham (1994), The Enlightening March of the Argonauts (1995) and MIT (1999), more influenced by classical music. In 2009, after a long hiatus, Quasar Lux Symphoniae released a new album, “Synopsis”, with a renewed, extended line up featuring Paolo Paroni (keyboards, piano), Fabio Giacomello (acoustic guitar), Elvio Tavian (lead guitar), Marco Filippo (rhythm guitar), Mauro Chiapolino (bass), Fabrizio Morassutto (drums), Ulisse Tonon (keyboards), Annalisa Malvasio (vocals) and Luca Vigneri (vocals). They were helped by two founder members, Roberto Sgorlon and Umberto Del Negro, who contributed to the song-writing: the first composed the music along with Paolo Paroni while the latter wrote the lyrics of most of the songs.


“Synopsis” was conceived as a kind of homage to the different styles the band went through during its long history and is the result of two years hard work in studio. The result it’s excellent, the overall sound is strongly influenced by opera and classical music but maintains a well balanced sense of melody and a pulsing rock background. All the members of the band showcase a great musicianship, especially the two singers, although in my opinion the choice to sing in English could be penalising with this kind of repertoire.

The excellent instrumental opener “Rhapsody and Fugue” is a complex four-part fugue in baroque style: It’s an amazing, well-crafted piece that combines rock and classical music in a perfect way and if you like works such as New Troll’s “Concerto Grosso” or Il Rovescio della Medaglia’s “Contaminazione” I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.


Next comes the dreamy, melodic “Arcano”. It begins with a delicate piano pattern and soaring male vocals.... “They move and then they wait / The world tomorrow, the dark today...”. Then operatic female vocals follow backed by the other instruments... “Sky is crying on me / Illusion is giving me life...”. Well, to be honest the lyrics are not the strength of this piece.

The claustrophobic “Snake Dream” is a homage to the band’s hard rock period. It begins with a powerful church-like organ introduction, then vocals and some good electric guitar riffs come in. The theatrical, operatic voice of Luca Vigneri is quite inspired when he invokes to be released from the fogs of a nightmare... “I feel a strange sensation, different / While in this dream, a snake rolls herself around me... I’d like to go out from here my old friend... What a fog, it’s oppressing my mind...”. A very good track!


“Flighting Thoughts” is built upon a Fabio Giacomello’s acoustic guitar arpeggio and recalls the atmospheres of the album “MIT”. The mood is almost mystical... “The flight became so difficult / While air of mystery is around us, we are the light / Giant thoughts in our time... While we exist you will dream / In every place you will be like the old stones / Hopeful and alone...”.

“Oblivion” is a tribute to the early psychedelic period of the band. The music every now and again could recall Pink Floyd but with a strong classical flavour, while the amazing voice of Annalisa Malvasio invites you to follow her in another dimension, looking for new colours... “Follow me, I will be / I will be your king / Surrounding me, Oblivion...”.

The melancholic “Islemind”, is another melodic piece where interact male and female vocals... “People fade into the sea / As me in my world, tricking this time... I wish to feel love / I’d like to run away...”.


The long, complex “Moses”, is a kind of short rock opera that recalls “Abraham”, the rock opera released by the band in 1994 on a double album. The vocal parts are excellent, Luca Vigneri interprets in a heartfelt, melodic way the feelings of Moses who is planning to leave Egypt... “Pharaoh! You’ll burn with innocent blood! / And nothing will save you... / Between the door’s pain and the moon...”. An excellent finale for a very good album!


Quasar Lux Symphoniae: Synopsis (2009). Other opinions:
Vitaly Menshikov: This music will please any connoisseur of the art-rock genre, unless someone is exclusively into its highly-complicated variants, like Yes’ “Topographic Oceans” or “Brain Salad Surgery” by ELP. Highly recommended... (read the complete review HERE)


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Tuesday, 1 May 2012

A VERY BOLD CHALLENGE

From  Rock Progressivo Italiano: an introduction to Italian Progressive Rock

I Giganti were basically a vocal quartet, active from 1964 with a line-up featuring Giacomo Di Martino, Sergio Di Martino, Francesco Marsella and Enrico Maria Papes. They were part of the “Italian beat” scene until 1971, when they decided to change their musical direction and released their only progressive effort, “Terra in bocca (Poesia di un delitto)” (Soil in the mouth – Poetry of a crime), a complex concept-album about the “mafia”. The lyrics were written by the journalist Piero De Rossi and, according to an article on the official website of the band, they were inspired by an interview with an old inmate. The music was composed by Vince Tempera and Mino Di Martino and interpreted by the band with the help of some great guest musicians as, among others, Vince Tempera (keyboards), Ares Tavolazzi (bass), Ellade Bandini (drums) and Marcello Giancarlo Della Casa (guitars). This album was conceived as a rock opera and it was supposed to be performed in theatre, however, in 1971 it was boycotted by the media and was a flop. So, after awhile, the band split up, overwhelmed by disappointment. Well, I fear that it is not easy to explain to people living abroad why this excellent work was boycotted and censored by the media. The lyrics are about a murder committed in 1936 in a village in Sicily and are quite poetic and inspired, but the “mafia” was a hard topic to deal with then…

I Giganti in 1966

In 1960 the Italian government not only wasn’t concerned by the Mafia but it used to deny its existence… The Mafia was and is a system that in Sicily contains and rules the economic interests and the power of a class that we can call approximately “borghese” (upper middle class)… The Mafia doesn’t rise and grow in the absence of the State, when the powers of the State and of its institutions are feeble or completely lacking, but inside the State. The Mafia is a “parasitic borghesia” – “una borghesia che non imprende ma soltanto sfrutta” (an upper middle class that doesn’t do business but only exploits)... Leonardo Sciascia wrote these words in 1972 as an introduction to a re-print of his novel “Il giorno della civetta” (The Day Of The Owl). Well, all in all reading novels may be more enjoyable and instructive than reading many other “serious” works about Italian mafia... So, if you really want to get into the mood of this album and understand what “Terra in bocca” is about, I suggest you read some novels such as “The Day Of The Owl” and “To Each His Own” by Leonardo Sciascia or some novels by Andrea Camilleri...


Actually, there are two different versions of this album... Rare to find in its original issue (especially with the poster) on RiFi, “Terra in bocca” has recently been reissued by Akarma on vinyl, and this reissue also includes a song from their last single. The unusual cover and poster were designed by Gianni Sassi and recall the style of his later works with Cramps. The Vinyl Magic CD issue of “Terra in bocca” exists in two different forms, the first one was released in 1989 and is curiously different from the original LP, probably coming from a demo tape. The total length of the album is 44:11 minutes, and in contrast with the final version, this sounds less rich and orchestrated but more intense at times. This first reissue also included a miniature reproduction of the original poster. A second issue from 1993 (almost identical to the first in the CD cover, though with a different disc label), is 46:44 minutes long and is presumably taken from the original masters. This doesn't include the mini-poster [1]. I like both versions, but I will base my review on the VM2000 Records version (VM CD 013), distributed by BTF, that is the “demo” one and lasts 44:11 minutes. The lyrics here are slightly different from the “original” version, there are more narrative vocal parts and the long instrumental introduction is missing [2].
  
The album begins with a simple acoustic guitar arpeggio and with vocals introducing the main theme... The singing voice “plays the part” of a friend of a murdered boy and it describes the scene of the crime... “They found you stretched at full length / With four bullets planted in your chest / They shot you treacherously / They didn’t let you suspect anything / Now you’re lying without your shoes / In a hawthorn bush / While the boats that remember you since you were a child are sailing on the sea / Somebody’s already running down the alley / While the police passing by carry your body without life to your house still asleep...”. In this version of the album the first three minutes seem to be taken from an album of a singer-songwriter, just guitar and vocals and a theme quite easy to play and sing with friends around a bonfire. Then comes the first narrative part... “You were my best friend, I remember all about you / This morning I woke up early because I couldn’t sleep / And walking again over your last day’s steps / I’m on the beach and I’m staring at the boats that come back with the lights off... On that day our village was awakening / As ever, as every day...”.

I Giganti in 1968

Then the simple musical structure gives way to a more fragmented, complex part where suggestive harmony vocals describe the village and its climate of daily violence and hypocrisy. The four members of the band share the vocal parts (some narrative and in the form of dialogue) that are intertwined with short instrumental breaks. The music underlines the strength of the lyrics... “In the whole village there are only hundred houses / A big church with the bell tower / And a pub without pretension / There are only a hundred houses in the village / It is so curled up that it seems a courtyard / Four narrow alleys that lead to the square / One woman, two women, one old man, one child with the jugs on their heads / A long procession goes down to the centre of the village just to buy water...”. In the village the Municipality has been promising an aqueduct for twenty years, but the water never comes. There are two families that share the power (speculating on labour, building trade, citrus fruits and fish export) and only for reasons of prestige they fight each other over the business of water distribution... “The patriarchs of two families / As they were two Nations / Fight thousands battles / They have been enemies for generations... Monday: shots in the fish-market / Tuesday: they blew up a house with TNT / Wednesday: in the country a shepherd was murdered / Thursday: they threw down the tank truck from the dock / Friday: they found the cistern polluted / Then on Saturday all the village was without water / But on Sunday everybody goes to the square to celebrate the Saint of the day / Everybody greets each other, everything’s O.K...”.

Terra in bocca: inner sleeve

After another instrumental break, featuring a good electric guitar solo, the voice playing the part of the friend of the victim comes back describing the funeral... “Then in the village white of sun / Your funeral silently streams / People cry, the violets blossom / And a girl feels sick...”. The girl who is sick is the girlfriend of the murdered boy... Then a beautiful melody breaks in introducing a struggling love theme with vocals soaring upon an acoustic guitar pattern...  “You, you full of sun / She, she white of salt / A sunset that was dying into the sea / That’s how you fell in love each other... On Sundays you were looking for her glance among the people in the church / She was stealthy smiling, fearing God’s blame...”. At one moment the love theme is broken by a dramatic recitative part in the form of dialogue bringing a sense of impending tragedy... Then the love theme starts again concluding the first part of the album.

The second part opens with an instrumental introduction with electric guitar in the forefront and leads to a dramatic mood... “A bells’ lament breaks in thousands sounds / Slow, dark magic that doesn’t let anybody in the village sleep / When I was talking about your father / And about the tragedy of a village where omertà rules / You used to withdraw into silence and you almost didn’t speak at all / Yes, in your innocent glance there was only ingenuity / You full of sun / She white of salt / These images are for me souvenirs / Of a fragile love / Of a simple love / Of your desperate love / That doesn’t want to die / Stubborn as a donkey / Violent as a storm / Fragile as a scary child...”. The contrast between the beautiful melodies drawn by the harmony vocals and bitter words of the lyrics might appear strange but the result in my opinion is quite good... “Misery carries in his womb violence as a son / That will have to eat up all the good to grow up / Leaving only the evil...”.

I Giganti in 1970

After 6:15 a voice comes in “playing the part” of the father of the murdered boy. The father was trying to find the water by himself digging in his farm... “Someone then gave me advice to mind my own business... I answered them to go away / I do what I like, this ground is my home / They threatened me and they wounded my pride / I lied because of my honour and I shouted in their face / I found the water and I’m going to give it for free to everybody...”. Through the voice of the father you can see the reasons for the crime as the final point of a crescendo of violence... “Then I found my mule slaughtered / Then they burn my barns / Someday after they cut down my vineyard / Just to frighten me, to frighten me / No no no I won’t give up...”. So, searching for water was an act of rebellion and the murder of the boy was the punishment for the rebellion against power in the village. After an instrumental section, the voice of the father comes back and is filled with despair and remorse... “Your black eyes wide open in the void / In front of death took a photograph of fear / When they found your body / Without shoes without life / In your mouth still open in a last call for help / There was no breath but only soil...”. The reflections of the father looking at the dead body of his son are highly dramatic and well supported by the music... “Everybody is silent now / The house is crowded / People pray while crying / For each prayer one rose / They covered you with roses / Sitting on a chair I’m watching everything / But I’m not so brave to look at you / Who have I to thank / For this dead son / For this pain / For my pain / For this...”. Then the remorse gives way to rage and to the impending vengeance... “It will remain only / Only my remorse / Like a shadow / It won’t leave me / It will scream in the night / In the silence of the night / Slowly it will destroy me / It will destroy me / I’m crying, I’m crying, I’m crying / I know who I have to thank / Now I know what I have to do / Yes, I know who I have to thank / Now I know what I have to do...”.


“Of course he knows the killer / And he’s already waiting for him at the crossroads / And when the killer passes along the ditch / He shoots him in the face and so be it...”. In the following section the voice of the friend comes back to tell the end of the story in a narrative part... “Then your father gave himself up to the police / But from the jail he let us know / That he would have liked / You were buried in his farm / Near his home in his field / When we started digging that ground / Something extraordinary happened / The soil began to get wet / More and more, more and more / Streams of water like blood in the veins / Wet that arid ground / Your father was right / He lost a son / But he found the water / Yes, but if your father was right / What was your reason?”. In the booklet you can find an excerpt from a poem of the Italian poet Gabriele D’Annunzio describing the water gushing out from a spring. A little message of hope in a dramatic story of hatred and violence...

A return to the opening theme concludes the album... “How many hopes how many illusions / You had on this world / They killed you without a reason / As they would have killed a soldier in war / They found you stretched at full length / With four bullets planted in your chest / You thought you were almost immortal / But you died in a common way / When you were just sixteen...”.

“Terra in bocca” is a piece of poetry dressed up in a progressive rock suit. No need for coarse language to describe violence, the word “mafia” is never pronounced... Nevertheless, poetry and progressive music in the Italy of 1971 were a kind of act of rebellion. Well, in my opinion this album deserves the status of masterpiece!



[1] Quote from the site Italianprog.com
[2] See B. SALVARANI – O. SEMELLINI, Terra in bocca – Quando i Giganti sfidarono la mafia, Il Margine, Trento, 2009. The whole book is dedicated to this seminal work. A CD containing a remastered version of the original album is included.