Friday, 15 June 2012

BACK FROM HELL!


Biglietto per l'Inferno (the name means Ticket to Hell) come from Lecco. They started their activity in 1972 and, until their split up at the end of 1975, they has been a terrific band on stage. Their shows were full of energy and musical talent but during their Halcyon Days they had the chance to release only one album, the excellent eponymous one. Biglietto per l’Inferno’s second album was recorded in 1974 but, on account of the financial troubles of their label (Trident), it was left unrefined and unreleased until 1992 when Mellow Records published the old masters. Finally it was re-mastered and re-released in 2004 by “La Vetraia-BTF” with the supervision of the band. The original sound quality and production was very far from perfect and it was quite difficult to fix it up after almost 30 years, but they tried hard…

Biglietto per l'Inferno.folk

In 2007 on the initiative of original members Giuseppe “Pilly” Cossa (piano, accordion) and Mauro Gnecchi (drums, percussion) a new project called Biglietto per l’Inferno.folk was formed for some live performances featuring the old repertoire of the band and in 2009 a new album featuring new arrangements of the historic pieces was released on the independent label BTF, “Tra l’assurdo e la ragione” (Between absurd and reason). The present line up features also Enrico Fagnoni (bass), Ranieri “Ragno” Fumagalli (flutes, ocarinas, hornpipes), Carlo Redi (mandolin, violin) Renata Tomasella (flutes, ocarinas) and Franco Giaffreda (electric and acoustic guitar). The original vocalist Claudio Canali retired long time ago from mundane life and today he’s a monk of the Order of Saint Benedict, so lead vocals are now provided by a female singer, Mariolina Sala. Anyway the old singer gave his blessing to the new project and Brother Claudio appears as a special guest on two tracks of the album. Another original member of the band, Giuseppe “Baffo” Banfi, features as producer and helped the band during the recording sessions.




Well, in my opinion, this new project is absolutely good. The new arrangements feature folk influences but respect the spirit of the old compositions. Mazurkas and tarantellas, jigs and reels are in some way blended with hard rock and the result is a well crafted and balanced mix of fresh sounds and vintage suggestions. As in the past, the concerts are still the strength of the band and their performances attract many people, so old and young enthusiastic fans are pushing the band to go on and on since the new project is not a boring unplugged version of the old band but a lively act still able to stir emotions. The title track of the new album, an old piece that was never recorded before, is a funny kind of nursery rhyme full of energy and joyful madness that in some way depict the good vibrations of the new line up, especially on stage... “Between absurd and reason there’s just a soap-bubble / Your shadow and desire are going to clash...”




By the way, former bassist of Biglietto per l’Inferno Fauto Branchini is not taking part to the new project but he has not given up music and is working on a rock opera under the name Fausto Branchini – Biglietto per l’Inferno (Facebook).

Biglietto per l'Inferno.folk: Tra l'assurdo e la ragione (2009). Other opinions:
Paul Fowler: The return of Biglietto per L'inferno, or should I say Biglietto Per L'inferno.folk is most welcome and despite the lack of new material they've turned out an excellent album. I hope we can expect more from this great band in the future with an album of totally new material. Welcome back! (Read the complete review HERE)

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Thursday, 7 June 2012

LIFE, LOVE AND MUSIC


Toto Torquati is an Italian artist who, after the release of two solo albums in the early seventies, continued his career as a session man, arranger and producer. During the years he collaborated with Italian pop stars and singer songwriters such as Claudio Baglioni, Lucio Dalla, Mina, Patty Pravo, Francesco De Gregori, Rino Gaetano and many others but he didn’t release any other solo album until 2009. On the 1st of April 2009 I was in Rome and I had the chance to attend the showcase where Toto Torquati presented his new work, “Vita, Amore e Musica” (Life, Love and Music). He was introduced by Claudio Baglioni (a romantic singer song-writer who is very famous in Italy, although not one of my favourites) who sung three of his old hits arranged by Toto Torquati (included the hit “Questo piccolo grande amore”). Then Toto Torquati performed almost all the tracks of the new album with the help of a band of young musicians featuring Antonello Ruggiero (drums), Stefano Napoli, (bass, upright-bass), Fabio De Vincenti (electric guitar), Simone Gianlorenzi (electric and acoustic guitar) and Valeria Scognamiglio (violin). Toto Torquati was like a keyboards wizard performing charms and the show was emotionally intense and full of pathos. I was really impressed by the vitality and the energy he could transmit to the public. 

Toto Torquati 2009

The new pieces are almost completely instrumental but on stage a speaker read a short poetical commentary for every track (in the CD booklet you can find all the commentaries written by Luigi Calabrò).It took almost twenty years to Toto Torquati to compose, record and refine the tracks on this album, but the result is remarkable. In the booklet “Vita, Amore e Musica” is described as “acrobatic music spreading between two majestic frontiers, life and death” and Toto Torquati here really seems oozing love for life and music...


The opener is a solemn crescendo, the beautiful, classical inspired “Inno”, then there’s a sudden change in mood and atmosphere with the crazy and synthetic happiness of “Dance”. “Tema per Giulia” is romantic and dreamy, while “Ritratto” features a strong flavour of “Mitteleuropa” where “into the choreography of notes in black and white, a light melancholy goes up like a thread of smoke...”. “Suonando a casa” features a great swinging piano work. “Viaggio” is a beautiful musical journey around the world with an exotic taste and a perfect interaction between bass, guitar and keyboards. “Valzer” is another great track where European tradition is blended with a colourful touch of jazz. “Perhaps you have to caress your dreams if you want that they keep faith in you”: the long, jazzy and dreamy “Sogno” leads the new horizons of peace and serenity of “Orizzonti”. 


“Maestoso Pater correndo”, is introduced by a church-like organ and is my favourite track on this album. Listening to it you can fly high “on the wings of a prayer rooted in your heart...”. Next comes the quiet, delicate “Ninna nanna” that is described as “a whisper to listen to into the voiceless confusion of men...”. Then, in the “Jazz Paradise”, you can listen to “the stars playing piano” before the last track, “Vulcano” (mentioned as bonus track), featuring a nice groove and excellent keyboards parts.

Well, more the seventy minutes with no room for boredom... An excellent album, well performed and recorded that should be appeal Italian prog fans.

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Tuesday, 5 June 2012

A FRESH ELECTRICAL FORCE


Forza Elettro Motrice (in short F.E.M.) began life in Meda in 2007 on the initiative of keyboardist Alberto Citterio and guitarist Paolo Colombo with the aim to rediscover the progressive rock sounds of the seventies. After some line up changes the band started to work on some original compositions and, after a first demo in 2011, in 2012 they released Epsilon, a debut EP featuring four pieces for about 22 minutes of music. The current line up features Giacomo Balzarotti (vocals, classical guitar), Emanuele Borsati (drums, percussion), Marco Buzzi (bass), Alberto Citterio (piano, keyboards) and Paolo Colombo (guitars) and the result of their efforts is quite interesting. The overall sound of the band draws on the style of Italian prog masters of the seventies such as Banco del Mutuo Soccorso, Locanda delle Fate or Alphataurus but the enthusiasm of the musicians is great and their song-writing skills good enough to express something original and not too derivative.


The delicate, short opener “Nella stanza vuota” (Into the empty room) begins with a nice piano pattern, then soaring melodic vocals come in describing the search for a shelter, a hidden place where you can be alone with your thoughts, a quiet room where you can let you thoughts run free and have a rest when you are sad... “The empty room, I close my eyes / And I paint a picture with my thoughts / I am a cloud, I am a cloud / A cloud lost in a gust of wind...”. For a while you don't have to think of anything and you melt in the air, escaping from reality. Then piano and vocals give way to the following “Fuori dal mondo” (Out of the world), a good instrumental that describes the breakthrough from the daily grind. Now you're flying like a cloud looking for an imaginary harbour in the sky, baffled by fresh keyboard waves and warm guitar passages...


“Nel mezzo del cielo” (In the middle of the sky) is a complex, beautiful track with many changes in rhythm and mood. It begins with a joyful energy that takes you up towards the sky, then the rhythm suddenly calms down and gives way to a dreamy acoustic passage... “Only a few steps to take off in the sky / And suddenly the silence envelops me and the world stands still...”. The music invites you to fly high and get lost in the space, then a more melodramatic passage follows and the operatic vocals of Giacomo Balzarotti announce a comeback to reality. While you are floating in the air pursuing a thought and a new life begins to beat in your chest a sudden lightening takes you down on earth...


“Noi granelli di sabbia” (We are grains of sand) is another long, complex track. This excellent piece concludes the album describing the “landing”. Well, when you fall down after a dream the impact is not always so hard, you can survive and sometimes you can even enjoy the perfume of the earth and discover new colours around you... “And feeling the earth in the palms of my hand I rediscover its aroma... Feeling like a grain of sand and forgetting that in front of us there is the sea to gaze at...”. The music every now and again could recall Genesis while the warm, heartfelt singing of Giacomo Balzaretti depicts the need to accept what life brings to us without trying to obtain what is out of reach. You can't stop the time or the wind and you can't keep on longing to be somewhere else at all costs, you have to look at yourself in the mirror and face reality... “Grains of sand spread in the world, I will recognize my eyes / I will recognize myself / I will accept myself and my image will reappear in the mirror...”.


Well, in my opinion this is a very promising debut. The band has a good potential and the musicians are still working on a more challenging task, a concept album inspired by a science-fiction story by German writer Kurd Lasswitz. Sulla bolla di sapone. I'm looking forward to listen to it!


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Sunday, 3 June 2012

A BROKEN SILENCE


Stefano Testa is an Italian artist who was born in Rome in 1949 and lives in PorrettaTerme, a spa town in the province of Bologna. In 1977 he released an excellent debut album, “Una vita, una balena bianca e altre cose” (A life, a white whale and other things) where he managed to blend prog influences and “canzone d’autore”. Unfortunately the album was not successful at all and he left the music business for a long time. In 1994 his debut album was re-discovered and re-released by the independent label Mellow Records and became a cult album for many prog lovers. In 2012 Stefano Testa finally released a new album on the independent label Snowdonia, “Il silenzio del mondo” (The silence of the world), helped by Remo Righetti (who took charge of all instruments and programming). This time the influences of singer-songwriters as Fabrizio De André, Francesco De Gregori, Claudio Lolli, Leo Ferré or Tom Waits prevail and there are less instrumental parts and progressive-rock echoes than on the debut album from the seventies. Well, times have changed but I’m happy that the creative vein of Stefano Testa is not dry and I like very much this new work even if for many progressive fans it could be less interesting than the previous one.


The opener “Domani è festa” (Tomorrow is a holiday) is an amazing, bitter-sweet waltz with a strong sense of melody. It describes a melancholic day before a holiday, a long, solitary waiting for something that maybe will never come... “Beyond the gate lies the usual road / But there's something that makes the sundown sick / It really seems that the sky is falling...”.

Trecento gradini” (Three-hundred steps) is one of my favourite tracks on this album. It's a dreamy, mystic piece featuring mild Oriental flavours and a mysterious atmosphere. The lyrics describe a fugitive man who is climbing the three hundreds steps of a marble hill. He reaches a house on top of the hill, then time and space get blurred... “I, exiled without a passport, I run away from home / Groggy from sleep, I fell asleep on those fresh sofas / And your city didn't seem so close...”. But there's no escape from life, the old fugitive can't find a way out as if was lost in a labyrinth while past and future melt in a hopeless dream...


Metamorfosi” (Metamorphosis) features South-American atmospheres and a dark mood. It's another excellent track that describes an impending change. But not every change is positive, slogans and daily violence can transform a quiet man in a wild beast... “I see my teeth of wolf growing and this real hook / I'm waiting for the night with a new cheerfulness / And I toast to the war, and war will be! / I don't need anything but the moon, the moon of the dogs / To go down in the street looking for company and make you shake as little birds...”. A final hint to the Fascist anthem “Giovinezza” could suggest that the times that were changing were those before World War II, but you never know...


Nel vostro quartiere” (In your neighbourhood) begins with a funky groove and a lighter atmosphere but it's only an appearance. The lyrics invite you to dig better into reality by observing what is going on around you, right near your home and family. Stories of solitude and exploitation, broken dreams and loveless children... “How many lights in our neighbourhood / How many dreams to buy and how many wishes / How many promises and how many ageless bodies...”.

Musica” (Music) is about the consolatory power of music. It features some exotic influences with colourful echoes coming from Africa and Latin America... “Music, in the meantime a lot of music / To dance, to try dreaming once again / But, after all, this music is merciless / And makes this void even greater...”.

La ballata dell’angelo svogliato” (The ballad of the lazy angel) is an excellent track with a dark mood that could recall Tom Waits or Nick Cave. It depicts in music and words a strange dream where a lazy angel visits the protagonist of the song. The angel is hopeless, tired of a world where the cult of power rules and vanity is stronger than mercy, where you can find nothing but ice and desert inside the hearts... “I don't know what I can say / It happened just this / If you can, keep on sleeping and forget the rest / Maybe the sleep will heal your pain / For this infectious wound in your heart...”.


Argo soltanto” (Only Argos) is about a return back home after a long period of absence. After many years home could become just a dream and a comeback could be a disappointment. There is no one waiting for you but a dog... “Here there's too much silence / Where is life? / My home is more beautiful / It's the home of a king... Only a nosy dog was sniffing, looking for an owner...”. So, the return leads to a new departure. By the way, Argos is the name of Ulysses' faithful dog!

Niente” (Nothing) is a bright, joyful song about the need to break the silence of the world with a positive attitude... “Nothing to sing / Nothing to play / Nothing to listen to / Nothing to dream of / Nothing to wait for / Nothing to learn / Nothing to look for / Nothing to look at / Nothing to touch / Nothing to buy / Nothing to steal / Nothing to save... We need a huge white sun to burn this silence...”.

Pilù Pilò” (4:33) is a dark nursery rhyme where the threatening ogre is more real than in fairy-tales... “Moon, break the dark night / Shine, make him forget his fear... Sleep, rest for a while / Dream of playing in your courtyard / Dream of your mother coming to you, smiling...”.


Magioel” (4:22) is a melancholic song about the consequences of war. An injured soldier lies in a psychiatric hospital and the nurse who brings him his painkiller is his only hope and looks like an angel... “Everyone has lost his mind / But they pretend and go on / I've been lucky / I have you, Magioel...”.

Io con te” (I with you) is a melodic love song that invites you to dance with your sweetheart under the stars in a summer night while the following “Una canzone banale” (A banal song) is a personal song about a love stronger than time.

Ballata della città felice (La peste di Messina, 1348)” (Ballad of the happy city – the pest of Messina, 1348) features a darker atmosphere. The lyrics depict the arrival of the Black Death in the city of Messina in 1348, carried by a ship. The happy city suddenly has to tackle the horror of the plague and everything changes as in a dream that turns into nightmare.


The final track “Camicie azzurre” (Blue shirts) is lighter and brings a bit of optimism. It's a melodic ballad about the aftermath of a broken relationship. A man finds a new balance and a new tranquillity living alone with his cat... “There not much left to say / Not for this we have to suffer anyway / We have to breathe and listen to the life who is living...”.

Well, all in all I think that this is a very good album and I enjoyed it very much. You can listen to it in streaming on bandcamp (click HERE), so have a try and give it a chance!


Stefano Testa: Il silenzio del mondo (2012). Other opinions.
Jim Russell: For those who don't mind following an artist down a different path, these are wonderful and melodic songs. They are dressed beautifully and with much care, with interesting things happening even within the confines of the simpler song structure. There are RPI styled operatic vocals, excursions into world music sounds, but most importantly, the almost childlike wonder and joy Stefano brings to his melodies and vocals... While "Il Silenzio del Mondo" is not going to appease those RPI fans looking for complex progressive rock, my feeling is that anyone who enjoyed Stefano's debut, itself on the softer side of prog rock, will also enjoy the new album. Fans of the Italian singer/songwriter tradition are surely going to want to check it out. For me it is an excellent album... (read the complete review HERE)-

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