Sunday, 30 September 2012

JAZZ-ROCK TABLEAUX


Accordo dei Contrari come from Bologna and began life in 2001 on the initiative of Cristian Franchi (drums), Giovanni Parmeggiani (keyboards) and Alessandro Pedrini (guitar). After many years of hard work and some line up changes, in 2007 they released an excellent debut album, Kinesis, on the independent label AltrOck with a line up featuring Cristian Franchi (drums), Giovanni Parmeggiani (keyboards), Daniele Piccinini (bass) and Marco Marzo (guitar) plus two guest musicians, Fabio Berti (violin) and Giorgio Trefiletti (sax). The band’s influences range from progressive rock and jazz-rock from the seventies to contemporary jazz and classical music but the final mix is surprisingly fresh and rich in ideas. The album is completely instrumental but the beautiful art work by Davide Guidoni and the words written by the band to comment the album tracks provide an interpretation for the sparkling music that flows away without weak moments for about 45 minutes.
 
Accordo dei Contrari 2007

The opener “Lester” is named after the American music journalist Lester Bangs and marks the beginning of a musical journey. After the first uncertain steps the pace becomes steady and full of vitality with the electric guitar in the forefront backed by pulsing bass lines. The following “Meghiste Kinesis” is darker and tense. According to the liner notes it tries to evoke the ghastly dance of an impending, unprovoked war. A man observes a threatening fleet approaching the coastline and the landing of a formidable army ready to fight...

“ScalaQuadro” is complex and full of musical colours. According to the liner notes it tries to describe the Muses climbing up a stairway to reach the top of a tower, ready to jump in the void for an extreme sacrifice. It's my favourite track on this album and features tense, hypnotic electric guitar riffs and a powerful crescendo with frenzied keyboard patterns. A calmer piano solo finale leads to the following “Gondwana”, a musical evocation in four movements of the irresistible force of the continental drift and of the ties between East and West.


“Anexelenkton” is another excellent track that tries to break the barriers between different genres. The last track, “OM”, is dedicated to the French organist and composer Olivier Messiaen and according to the liner notes consists of visionary apparitions and prepared concern. A perfect conclusion for a very good album!

Accordo dei Contrari: Kinesis (2007). Other opinions:
Assaf Vestin: For a great thrill of an album; an album that mixes fusion with prog-rock characteristics of the past and present; for good musicianship; for a rich and enveloping sound; for a well-balanced mix of melody and technicality - this album will satisfy your needs and more... (read the complete review HERE).
Vitaly Menshikov: “Kinesis” by ADC is a true ensemble effort by accomplished musicians, all of whom play with great mastery and expressivity, but never showcase their strong technical skill just for the sake of it. How did they manage to reach such a high level already with their first release? I’ll leave to you, dear readers, to arrive at a conclusion, though I’m sure your verdict will be favorable in any event... (read the complete review HERE).

You can listen in streaming to the complete album. Click HERE


In 2011 Accordo dei Contrari released an excellent sophomore album “Kublai”, confirming all the good promises of their debut. The line up is the same as in the previous work with two prestigious guests on one track, Richard Sinclair (vocals) and Antonio “Cooper” Cupertino (percussion). According to the band, Kublai represents ordered chaos, light and dark, the balance between written and improvised music.

The lively, jazzy opener “G.B. Evidence” is freely taken from a theme by Thelonious Monk. The band “prog” interpretation is absolutely convincing, full of energy with delightful keyboards rides alternating with frenzied electric guitar passages backed by a nervous rhythm section. Next comes “Arabesque”, a long, complex track that recalls Area and features many Oriental influences. It's my favourite on this album, it starts softly and takes you far away for a long trip where you can smell spices and taste exotic fruits. The following “Dark Magus” begins with the sound of a gong that, according to the band, marks the passage from the visible to the invisible. The atmosphere is tense, full of evocative passages where guitar and organ paint in chiaroscuro on their musical canvas.


“L'ombra di un sogno” (Shadow of a dream) features Richard Sinclair on vocals. Richard Sinclair wrote the lyrics for this piece as well, a charming elegy for a lost companion, his beloved, faithful dog. Dreamy memories shine through this melancholic song of intense beauty. “Più limpida e chiara di ogni impressione vissuta part I” (Clearer, brighter than any lived impression) is more aggressive and according to the band tries to describe the hopes and fears of everyone's life while the last track “Battery Park” was inspired by the gentle flow of the Hudson river on a windy and sunny day in February 2007 in New York City. Here gentle piano touches contrast with the thundering force of some guitar riffs in an effective way. Well, a perfect conclusion for a wonderful album!

Accordo dei Contrari: Kublai (2011). Other opinions:
Raffaella Benvenuto-Berry: A perfect marriage of formal elegance and emotion, rich with diverse influences but always cohesive, Kublai clearly proves that Accordo dei Contrari are ready to take their rightful place alongside D.F.A. as purveyors of impeccably executed, yet warm and emotional jazz-rock in which keyboards play a prominent role. The band have amply fulfilled the promise shown by their debut, Kinesis, and the compositional and technical maturity shown on their sophomore effort bodes extremely well for their future career. A must for fans of the Canterbury scene and classic jazz-rock in general, Kublai will delight anyone who loves great music – whatever the label attached to it... (read the complete review HERE).

You can listen in streaming to the complete album. Click HERE

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Sunday, 23 September 2012

TOTEMIC POEMS


Altare Thotemico come from Emilia and are based in Parma, although the members of the band come from different cities. The band was formed on the initiative of vocalist and poet Gianni Venturi and Leonardo Caligiuri (keyboards, flute) with the aim of blending progressive rock with psychedelia and poetry. The line up was completed by Enrico Scaccaglia (guitars), Valerio Venturi (bass) and Davide Zannotti (drums) and in 2009 they released an eponymous debut album on the independent label Ma.Ra.Cash Records. The album features a nice artwork by Domizia Parri while the members of the band showcase a good musicianship and some good ideas.


The nostalgic, heartfelt opener “Il canto che sprofonda” (The singing that makes me crumble) begins softly with a delicate guitar arpeggio and a soaring flute. The lyrics evoke a lost, unforgotten love and powerful memories begin to fill an empty room... “Between a smile and a tear / I feel with my eyes shut a clear image of you / And a thin singing makes me crumble...”. Well, here some keyboards passages recall PFM's “Impressioni di settembre” but the result is good. Next comes the bizarre “Lo sciamano” (The shaman), that tries to lead you beyond the doors of perception in a quest for a singing of light while shadows melt in a psychedelic crescendo.

L'interessante vita del topo” (The interesting life of the mouse) in my opinion is not at the same level of the previous tracks. The music recalls The Doors with a touch of Area but the performance of the vocalist here is not convincing at all. The following “Demon” is better. It starts with a church-like organ passage, then hard guitar riffs come in and the vocals evoke a playful devil who think that Paradise is too boring... “My name is Demon Lucipher, morning star / And on my forehead I proudly bring the mark of Cain...”.

Altare Thotemico 2009

Computer organico” (Organic computer) is another psychedelic track with Oriental influences and experimental vocals drawing neuronal migrations, empty consciousness and the relativity of Time. “L'addormato” (The sleeping man) features a slow, alcoholic pace and seventies echoes and leads to the dark, dreamy “La mente mia” (My mind), one of my favourites track on this album... “The great bard can begin the bright song from the oversea... A wave of love breaks the chains / Of hearts crushed by too many pains...”.

Suite per Marianna” is another good track that could recall Pholas Dactylus with its peculiar, visionary poetry and evocative musical colours... “My mind has roots / That's why sometimes I switch it off...”. The spacey “Oltre” (Beyond) concludes the album with some reflections about the relativity of Time and the true meaning of life...


All in all this is an album with light and shadows where you can find some good ideas and less convincing passages. This work is not flawless but I think that this is a band that deserves credit and I'm looking forward to listen to their new album...

Altare Thotemico: Altare Thotemico (2009). Other opinions
Paul Fowler: Altare Thotemico are a band tipping their hat to the classic seventies Italian prog bands, yet with enough of their own identity to make this not a totally retrogressive release. Their prog skilfully blends elements of rock, blues and jazz together with an inventive touch of zaniness moving into avant-gardism in places, particularly at the end of the album on Oltre... (read the complete review HERE).
Jim Russell: This is the kind of album which I find thrilling and rare these days. First, it rocks without any noticeable metal influence. Remember when rock could be damn heavy without metal influence or obligatory shredding? Second, it sounds warm and homey on the production side rather than overly slick and coldly mechanical. Third, surprises! Yes, we have songs here that will try anything and everything, even injecting pure weirdness like they used to do in the old days. Thankfully there are almost no English vocals; most singing is fantastic dramatic Italian... Be aware that Altare Thotemico is not especially entry-level RPI. While much of the music is I think universally approachable, the delivery and style of vocalist Venturi demands listeners willing to go to the edge with him... (read the complete review HERE).

Read the interview with Altare Thotemico at progarchives. Click HERE

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Sunday, 16 September 2012

THE MASK IN THE GARDEN OF THE ROSES


Mad Puppet began life in Bolzano in 1980 with a line up featuring Mauro Rossi (drums), Michael Seberich (bass), Manfred Kaufmann (keyboards), Manfred Schweigkofler (vocals), Christoph Senoner (guitar) and Arthur Frei (guitar). In 1982 they released “Masque”, a self-produced album that sounds very different from the mainstream albums of that period. In the early eighties progressive rock was completely out of fashion but the young musicians involved in this project went against the tide and managed to shape a nice mix of seventies influences with a personal touch. Of course the album is not flawless nor particularly original but it's really worth listening to.

Mad Puppet 2010

The opener “Wild Rushing Waters” begins softly. It deals with a religious theme and draws from... Genesis! The following “Look Out” recalls The Doors and evokes the shadow of Jim Morrison passing by, sailing across the grey night. “The Masque Of The Red Death” is a long, complex track introduced by a charming medieval atmosphere and inspired by a short story by Edgar Allan Poe about a masquerade ball and a dangerous, uninvited guest. “Icarus” is another long, complex track, a suite in two parts with lyrics inspired by the ancient myth of the Greek hero. Here the music flows away with gentle giants smiling in the background and “steppen-wolves” running wild all around. The bitter-sweet, nervous “Wheels Of Time” concludes this good work with a pungent reflection about the changes that time provokes on our lives and our sense of freedom and security. The album was re-released on CD in 1992 on the independent label WMMS Music and now you can listen to it on the official website of the band. Click HERE


After the promising debut album released in 1982 Mad Puppet went through some line up changes and many problems. Their sophomore album, “Not Only Mad”, wasn't released until 1991 with a line up featuring the veterans Manfred Kaufmann (keyboards), Manfred Schweigkofler (vocals), Christoph Senoner (guitar) along with the new members Günter Falser (drums, percussion) and Thomas Pichler (bass, clarinet). During the recording sessions the band was helped by two guest musicians as well, Hans Tutzer (sax) and Ray S. Rasp (vocals). This time Mas Puppet tried to shape a more conventional, mainstream sound and prog lovers could find highly disappointing their stylistic choice. On the album you can find some good ideas and some tracks, such as “Suicide Of Waterfall”, “Gonzalo” or “You”, are pleasant but sometimes the overall sound really seems closer to a kind of dark, synthetic pop than to progressive rock. Well, listening to this album you will set off on musical trip that will take you closer to Roxy Music's Avalon than to the court of the crimson king. All in all this work rarely strikes the right chords and it is “neither hot nor cold”... but maybe my criticism is too harsh! You can listen to the complete album and legally download it for free from the official website of the band and judge by yourselves. Click HERE


In 1994 Mad Puppet released what can be considered their best album so far, “King Laurin And His Rosegarden”. This work features a slightly renewed line up with Manfred Kaufmann (keyboards), Manfred Schweigkofler (vocals), Christoph Senoner (guitars, vocals), Thomas Pichler (bass) and Georg Lang (drums, percussion). During the recording sessions they were helped by many guest musicians who contributed to enrich the sound adding many musical colours. The result of all this hard work is a complex concept album inspired by local folklore with an amazing synthesis of modern and vintage sounds.  

The Rosengarten

All the the tracks are linked together in a long suite that tells the lore of King Laurin and of his mythical garden of roses. In fact, the Rosengarten or Catinaccio is the name of a spectacular spot in the Dolomites and Laurin was the king of the dwarfs who lived up there. The music is less derivative than on the debut album and the song-writing here in my opinion is rather good. Some passages could recall Pink Floyd or Genesis or Marillion, but this influences are just reference points. There are some narrative parts that help to follow the development of the story but, in my opinion, it's a pity that the band chose to sing in English rather than in Italian, German or Ladin since this choice put some limits in the lyrical expression. Anyway, listen to the album and judge by yourselves! You can listen to the complete work and read the lyrics on the official website of the band. Don't miss it! Click HERE
 
Mad Puppet in concert

After the release of the excellent “King Laurin And His Rosegarden” Mad Puppet had good live activity and in 1997 released a live album, Live at Carambolage. Some line up problems followed and in 2000 with a renewed line up featuring Manfred Kaufmann (keyboards), Christoph Senoner (guitars), Thomas Pichler (bass), Michael “Gadget” Gadner (vocals), Bernd Andergassen (drums) and Annalisa Pasqualotto (vocals) Mad Puppet released what is their last album so far, the disappointing “Cube”. Six years after their previous album the band decided another change in their musical direction veering to pop-rock again. I don't know the reasons for this decision, but as a prog lover I find that this album is nothing but a collection of songs with influences ranging from U2 to Duran Duran. Of course, the musicianship is good and there are even some good melodies but here there's almost no trace of progressive rock! The bonus track features even dance influences and recalls Blondie! Anyway, if you are in the mood of listening to some good pop-rock songs you can listen to the complete album for free on their official website. Click HERE


By the way, the band is still active and luckily their last concerts have been more focused on the excellent album released in 1994.

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Friday, 14 September 2012

TEARS AND SHADOWS

NotaBene were formed in Brescia in 2003 on the initiative of Gustavo Pasini (drums, percussion, vocals) and Gianluca Avanzati (bass), both former members of a band called Lithos. After a first eponymous album in 2005 and some line-up changes, in 2007 NotaBene released their best work so far, “Sei lacrime d’ambra” (Six tears of amber), on the independent label Mellow Records. On this album the line-up features, along with Gustavo Pasini and Gianluca Avanzati, Andrea Alberici (vocals), Giampietro Maccabiani (guitars, mandolin) and Daniele Manerba (keyboards, vocals).  


NotaBene’s sources of inspiration range from classical to jazz, from the prog masters of the seventies to Italian melody and “canzone d’autore” but the band managed to shape an original sound blending new ideas and reminiscences from the past. The result is quite good and in this work the music steadily flows away without weak moments conveying feelings and emotions.

The opener “La révolution bourgeoise (parte I)” starts by bringing echoes from the seventies... You can hear breaking news reporting the murder of the Italian poet Pier Paolo Pasolini. It happened one night in Rome in November 1975, during the “years of lead” when every day shootings in the streets, riots and harsh slogans used to poison Italy. The music and lyrics try to drive you back in time. What’s the legacy of those days of ideological fighting? Disillusion reigns now... “We are slaves of an illusion and of our lapses of memory / We’ve lost the last train trying to find a faith in which nobody believes anymore...”.


Next comes the long, complex “Le mistificazioni dell’ombra” (The mystifications of shadows) that starts by depicting the bleak reality of a loser who lives in the shadows and dislikes other people. Then the light of hope turns on... “There’s no need to live in the dark / Stop resenting, it’s dawn now / It’s a sunny day, if you want it...”. Let truth lead your actions... “Ego veritas, tuarum actionum dux sum!”. The instrumental coda is excellent.

“Maschera di cera” (Mask of wax) is an introspective track about the need to hide from other people because being sincere is not convenient. Sometimes we have to put on a mask of wax to protect our fragility, it’s easy to get lost in this life where there are so many nuances... “Mask of wax, drip down from the face! / I can see a new look that I don’t know / Perhaps it’s just a natural changing / A mutation that I cannot accept...”.


The title track “Sei lacrime d’ambra” (Six tears of amber) is bittersweet and dreamy. It features clear classical influences and many changes in mood and atmosphere. The lyrics depict the disappointment for a reality that exploits people and then throws them away, worn out. The wish to leave is strong and you look at the sky. Suddenly a mysterious shadow comes down inviting you to fly away taking with you nothing but your dearest dreams... “Souls here can happily fly / No condemnations or judgements for what you are / Freedom to express yourself at your best / Respect and passion for everything...”.

“Il treno di Obuda” (The train to Obuda) is a beautiful suite in five parts. It’s a tribute to Sziget Festival, one of the most important music and cultural festivals in Europe that is held every year in August in Hungary, on an island on the Danube, Obuda, close to Budapest. The suite tells of a boy who sets off with his backpack and goes to Obuda by train carrying with him his dreams and leaving behind tiredness and troubles. The journey leads to the magic of the island... “It seems a theatre without walls / A big stage made of living dreams...”.


The  last track is the second part of “La révolution bourgeoise (parte II)”. It’s a long, complex suite in four parts dealing with the generation gap. What’s left of the ideological struggles of the seventies? Well, after so many years spent running after illusions and dreams you realize that youth is gone and that the sleep of reason generates monsters... “I believed I had jumped into the future / But eventually it was just the usual illusion / Now I look back and I laugh a little / They have persuaded me that reality is different...”. Finally the truth hits hard and takes you back to your roots, you look in the mirror and what you see is not a boy but a man... “In the mirror I can’t see my face / It’s my father’s face... And then I can hear the cry of a baby / He wants me, yes, I’m his daddy / I know that this is the whole story / The beginning is the end...”.


More info about the band:

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

PERSISTENT MEMORIES


Ornithos began life in Perugia in 1999 on the initiative of Diego Petrini and Federico Caprai. Both founder members later contribute to form another excellent band, Il Bacio della Medusa, and for some time Ornithos became just a kind of side project. So, it wasn't until 2007 that they started to work hard on a debut album that was finally released in 2012 on the independent label AMS/BTF with a line up featuring along with Diego Petrini (drums, percussion, Mellotron, organ, piano, vocals) and Federico Caprai (bass, vocals) another member of Il Bacio della Medusa, Eva Morelli (flute, sax), Antonello De Cesare (guitars, vocals), Simone Morelli (guitars) and Maria Giulia Carnevalini (vocals). The result of their efforts is a complex concept album, “La trasfigurazione” (The transfiguration), that tries to describe in music and words the cathartic path that a man has to walk to reach the highest level of his consciousness, purifying himself to live in harmony with the universe. The overall sound of the band is clearly influenced by bands such as Jethro Tull, Emerson Lake & Palmer, King Crimson and by the Italian prog masters of the seventies but there are many original ideas as well.

Ornithos 2012

The concept is divided in three chapters. The first one, “Il trittico del tempo che fu” (The triptych of the past), takes you back in time for an inner trip as through a psychoanalytical session. The opener “L'orologio” (The clock) begins softly and you can hear the strikes of a clock... “Unrelenting, time passes by and everything changes... We change too...”. There are many changes in rhythm and mood, lively flute passages alternates with frenzied guitar solos drawing you in the vortex of time. The following track “La persistenza della memoria” (The persistence of memory), drives you towards obscure, invisibles cities and in such surroundings the mind loses its perspective as if it was lost in a limbo, “time and space become trivial and unreal, and echoes of a forgotten prehistoric past beat insistently upon the enthralled consciousness...” (well, this is quote from a short story by H.P. Lovecraft I was reading when listening for the first time to the album, The Tomb, from 1917). Past memories hanging on the heart of Time shine through dreamy atmospheres leading to “Somatizzando l'altare di fuoco” (Somatizing the altar of fire) that marks the beginning of a new awareness. Here Ennio Morricone comes to mind thanks to a sax solo evoking a “spaghetti western” scenario. The instrumental “Ipostasi” concludes the first chapter. It features tango and flamenco flavours and tries to describe the perpetual fight between sensuality and spirituality.


The second chapter, “Presa di coscienza del presente” (Awareness of the present) begins with the lively marching beat of the beautiful instrumental “Al torneo” (At the tournament). Fiery keyboards rides alternates with aggressive guitar solos evoking the eternal fight against false morals and media that try to manipulate your brain. The following “L'arrivo dell'orco – Fuga” (The arrival of the ogre – Fugue) is jazzier, darker. It's another excellent instrumental that tries to describe the fight of a man against discord and fear (allegorically impersonated by the character of the ogre). It leads to the dreamy “Nuvole e luce” (Clouds and light) where the clear voice of Maria Giulia Carnevalini evokes magic perfumes and bright colours. Time is sliding away, confused by sources of light. But hatred is always biding its time and the short “Ritorno al... (Reprise)”, a reprise of “Al torneo”, sounds like a warning suggesting that you can never relax and give up your fight. “Salamandra: regina di Psiche e Saggezza” (Salamander: queen of Psyche and Wisdom) concludes the second chapter with the lead vocals provided by Diego Petrini and Maria Giulia Carnevalini underlying the insecurity and uncertainty created by an inner conflict. Without pain and memory you can't understand the complexity of the world and you risk to become just like a giant of metal with the wings of a mosquito, a dummy with an arid, insensitive heart.


The last chapter “Quiete e redenzione del domani” (Quiet and redemption of the future) begins with “Nel crepuscolo” (At dusk). A drum roll and some hard guitar riffs soon give way to a calmer, dreamy passage and to some sax notes that seem glancing towards the sky. The sundown inspires reflections about a dying day while you are searching for your way that time hides. On the following track, “La notte” (The night), the rhythm rises again and shadows start dancing as witches in a black Sabbath. The wind shakes you and you have to fight your demons without regrets. The complex instrumental “L'alba del nuovo giorno” (Dawn of the new day) describes a desperate running along the path of knowledge and the rediscovery of life while the last track, “This is what we've got: the Flute Song” is sung in English and marks the palingenesis of your soul describing a kind of spiritual rebirth that makes you live in harmony with your ancestors... “In the theatre of life everything can become a tragedy... History rests chained in the past, and then reborn... And this is what we've got!”.


To be honest the lyrics are not the strength of this album and I find the concept not completely convincing. In my opinion the plot is a bit confused and your imagination has to fill all the gaps. Well, maybe the art cover by Federico Caprai describes the atmosphere of this album better than my words, anyway the music is really good and I think that this album really deserves a try!

Ornithos: La trasfigurazione (2012). Other opinions:
Jim Russell: This is music for lovers of the craft, not product for quick consumption. An adventure with emotional highs and lows. And that is where Ornithos ties back to Medusa...both take you on adventures... (read the complete review HERE).
Raffaella Benvenuto-Berry: Eclecticism is the name of the game on La Trasfigurazione, an album that honours the golden age of Italian prog while at the same time searching for new avenues of expression... As is the case with most Italian progressive rock, La Trasfigurazione can be somewhat of an acquired taste, and definitely not for those who favour a minimalistic approach. Musically speaking, even if the album might command the controversial “retro” tag, there is also a sense of modernity in the band’s omnivorous approach which pushes Ornithos’ sound into the 21st century. True, the album occasionally comes across as a tad overambitious when it wants to cram too many ideas into a limited running time of 56 minutes. However, this is a band that possesses talent in spades, and La Trasfigurazione will make a strong impression on lovers of everything RPI – as well as providing a fine complement to Il Bacio della Medusa’s newly released third album, Deus Lo Vult... (read the complete review HERE).

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