Sunday, 20 January 2013

HEAVEN AND HELL

La Maschera di Cera are an Italian prog band based in Genoa that came to life in 2001 on the initiative of bassist and multi instrumentalist Fabio Zuffanti. The line-up on “LuxAde”, their third album, also features Agostino Macor (keyboards), Alessandro Corvaglia (vocals, acoustic guitar), Andrea Monetti (flute, sax) and Maurizio Di Tollo (drums). The album was released in 2006 for the independent label Immaginifica and was produced by PFM drummer Franz Di Cioccio. Well, all La Maschera di Cera’s albums are absolutely worth listening to and “LuxAde”, a conceptual work based on the contrast between light and dark as metaphors of good (Lux) and evil (Ade), is my favourite one so far. The sound of the band is deeply rooted in the seventies and the influences of bands as Banco del Mutuo Soccorso or Le Orme are clear, nonetheless they do not lack originality managing to add a personal and up to date touch to vintage sounds with excellent results.




The opener “Porta del cielo” (Heaven’s door) is just a short delicate instrumental introduction for piano solo that leads to “Doppia immagine” (Double image), a complex track describing the urge to leave a dark reality of mirrors and false images and to look for the light and a better way of life. The music features swirling flutes and a jazzy sax solo and there are many changes in rhythm and mood that seem to underline how winding and difficult a spiritual path towards enlightenment might be. “I’m looking for the dawn inside my heart / I’m walking on a rope... I’m still living among the mirages of my dreams / I don’t want to keep on walking on the same steps / I’m wasting every moment of my life...”.




“Un senso all’impossibile” (A sense to the impossible) is a long, complex track in two parts. The first part, “Teatro di follia” (Theatre of madness), begins softly and features acoustic guitar and delicate flute lines. An introspective quest for light and truth could make you lose touch with reality and drive you insane. Blinded by the light and by your desire to fly away like Icarus you risk falling... “When the wind blows further to the North / Towards white and pale auroras / This earth will slowly melt into a mirage, like Atlantis... The horizon broke the border of my world / Closed and still / In a trip, theatre of madness / I was giving a sense to the impossible...”. Pounding bass lines coming out from the fading sound of the blowing wind introduces the second part of the track, “Il ricordo” (The Remembrance), then soaring swirling flute notes come in and the rhythm takes off. Here the music might recall BMS, featuring wild keyboard waves and passionate vocals. Holy passions and vain dreams of glory drive your flight to nowhere and once you have realized that, a feeling of rage rises, then rage gives way to an infinite tiredness... “I run after planets and faint versions of God / But now, all that I was running after is vanishing in the wind / And my soul is tired to start again from zero / To breathe again / To burn again / To fly again...”.




“Orpheus” is a track full of energy featuring a particular dark, bitter-sweet mood. When you lose contact with reality you also risk losing the people you love. Losing love can lead to losing hope... “I look at your face and I can’t find it anymore / I can’t hear your voice / I feel the abyss that is here and I want to take you with me...”. The title was inspired by a character of ancient Greek mythology. You can imagine travelling down to the underworld to take back what you have lost, as Orpheus did to save his dead lover Eurydice, but you know that it would be useless... “I’m not dreaming anymore / I chose to go far beyond / Thousands of errors with me... I’m not looking for the truth anymore / If you are sinking with me...”.

“Nuova luce” (New light) is a complex track in four parts, “Passato” (Past), “Sogno” (Dream), “Presente” (Present) and “Realtà” (Reality). The music features sudden changes in mood and some interesting classical hints. Once you have found a new light you could realize that, all in all, it’s not better than the one you left... “Over there, lost forever / Melted into the dark / This consumed new light will vanish / Other colours / Different reality...”. The end of this track reminds me of Lucio Battisti and evokes some other “thoughts and words”...




Next comes the wonderful suite in nine parts “Enciclica 1168”, the “plat de résistance” of this work. It tells the story, set in the Middle Ages, of a monk obsessed by his faith in God. The first part “Scena I: Preludio (gennaio 17)” describes an abbey and the troubled monk. The abbey is surrounded by a village whose inhabitants don’t care for the “holy hand of God” and live in sin, getting drunk and creating barriers between what belongs to earth and the holy thoughts due to God. In the following scenes the music and words describe the monk killing a blasphemous man, pushed by the vision of a cross of light. Once the crime has been discovered the inhabitants of the village try to track the monk down but he transforms himself into a gigantic wasp with angel wings to exterminate the sinful people wiping them out from the earth... “A blade of light / Was all they needed / To melt the wax of its flight...”. The perfect interaction between all the members of the band help create a Gothic atmosphere where the evil side of religious power is depicted as in a psychedelic dream. 

The last track, the colourful instrumental “Schema (v.s.d.)” is a perfect conclusion for an amazing album. Dark and light have many nuances and I’m sure you’ll discover a new one every time you listen to this brilliant work... 

Saturday, 19 January 2013

LANGUAGES AND SOUNDS

Rêverie began life in Milan in 1996 on the initiative of composer and guitarist Valerio Vado with the aim of performing an original “ethnic-progressive” music inspired by European and Mediterranean culture, a mix of traditional Italian Renaissance and Baroque music with up to date sounds. After three interesting demos and a good live activity, in 2008 Rêverie finally released a self-produced debut album titled “Shakespeare, la donna, il sogno” with a line up featuring Valerio Vado (guitars, keyboards, backing vocals), Fanny Fortunati (vocals, percussion), Fulvia Borini (flute, mandolin), Alberto Sozzi (clarinet, keyboards, banjo, flute), Daniele Defranchis (guitars) and Mariella Mancuso (cello). 
 
Reverie 2007

Most of the pieces on “Shakespeare, la donna, il sogno” (Shakespeare, the woman, the dream) come from the soundtrack for a theatre play of the same name written by Stefania Amato, Fanny Fortunati, Valerio Vado and Mariangela Zabatino. The play is set in Elsinore, in Denmark, where a company of musicians perform music from the Renaissance. At a given moment one of the musicians, by accident, evokes the spirit of Yorick, a joker at the ancient court of Elsinore, who comes to life again and tries to bring back to life also a “dark lady” lost in his memory. To do so he tries to remember his beloved woman through the verses of Shakespeare... Well, the soundtrack for this play features some English traditional tunes from the XVI-XVII centuries revised and arranged by the band and some original tracks in the same style. The overall sound is prevalently acoustic and if you like bands and artists such as Amazing Blondel or the Italian minstrel Angelo Branduardi I'm sure you'll like this album as well! 
 

The short instrumental opener “Willson's Wilde” sets the atmosphere followed by “Sonetto 18” and “Sonetto 8”. The English lyrics, as you can guess, are taken from Shakespeare's sonnets and interpreted by Fanny Fortunati's delicate vocals... “Music to hear, why hear'st thou music sadly? Sweets with sweets war not, joy delights in joy...”. Another nice short instrumental, “A Toy”, leads to two more sonnets, “Sonetto 47” and “Sonetto 147”, then the instrumental “Passamezzo antico” introduces the last two tracks taken from the play, “O Mistress Mine” and “Sonetto 130”. 


The album features two more tracks not related with the play, “Plurestantay memoroj” and "Kiam alvenos la fino”, sung in Esperanto and credited as bonus tracks. The atmosphere of the last two tracks is different from that of the previous ones and they sound a bit like fillers here, even if they do not waste the final result.

****

In 2011 Rêverie released on the independent label Downbridge Publishing their best work so far, “Revado”, with a line up featuring Valerio Vado (guitars, keyboards, backing vocals), Fanny Fortunati (vocals, percussion), Fulvia Borini (flute, mandolin), Alberto Sozzi (clarinet, keyboards, didjeridoo), Daniele Defranchis (guitars, bass) and Laura Balbinot (cello). The overall sound here is richer than on the previous work and the result of the recording sessions is a well balanced mix of influences ranging from classical music to prog, from folk to Kosmische music. “Revado” was released as a double album with a first disc sung in Esperanto and a second disc featuring the Italian version of the same pieces. The lyrics in Esperanto were written by Andrea Fontana and in my opinion the band managed to explore the sound of this particular language in a very effective way. The Italian version of the same pieces allows an interesting comparison with the sound of the Italian language while in the booklet you can find also a translation of all the lyrics from Esperanto into English checked by the London Esperanto Club. 
 
Reverie 2011

The opener “La tradezerta komercisto / Il mercante del deserto” (Trader across the desert) takes you on a long journey through hot, exotic landscapes following the tracks of timeless merchants and travellers... “All around, a world of waves / The winding caravan creeps along the dune-edge / Wind burning on my face / No rocks here / But in the heart appears a stony will to live / Burnished by the sand...”. The music is evocative and full of warm colours, ethnic and classical instruments embroider flying carpets of notes as the soaring vocals lead the way. When you finally reach an oasis you can get lost in your dreams under a shady palm while time begins to slip from your hands as if it was sand in an hourglass.

The ethereal “Kiam alvenos la fino / Quando verrà la fine” ( When the end comes) is melodic and dreamy. This piece was included in the previous album and here you can find it in a new, improved version. The lyrics depict Death not as the end of your life but as the beginning of a something new, still unknown... “When the End comes, it will be sweet like breath of wind on summer morning / The dear faces of my loved ones will slip away like fading dreams / And I shall be alone...”.

 
“Arkana belulino / La belle dame sans merci” (Arcane beauty) is darker and features electric guitar solo passages, lively percussion patterns, mellotron touches and a mysterious atmosphere. The lyrics depict a strange love story between a man and a beautiful dancer, a dangerous woman with a magic smile... “You have entered my life on the waves of mystery / And now I remember no more whether ever I knew your hidden origin...”. Once the man is under the spell of the woman he has no escape, the beautiful creature is biding her time, ready to strike... “Now you kiss my neck with unhesitating force / See, a stage exit / A life cut short by bites...”.


“Plurmiljaraj knaboj / Ragazzi millenari” (Boys across millennia) has a strong Mediterranean flavour and tells the story of two boys, Ishmael and Isaac, two brothers separated by a wall that prevent them from understand each other. It's a metaphorical way to depict the never ending conflict between Israel and Palestine... “Our brotherhood is shattered thanks to despair / I so wish that he would call me... But these calls cannot be, because of the wall...”.

“Danco de l' maro / Danza del mare” (Dance of the sea) begins softly, with the sound of the waves in the background and beautiful vocals soaring from the sea... “From a dark wave of the sea / Suddenly flickers like a tinkling bell / The light of the free spirit with taste as bitter as sea...”. Then the rhythm takes off and you can set your thoughts free while dancing with the sea. This piece reminds me every now and again of Angelo Branduardi and blends in some way Renaissance classical music with touches of Latin folklore. 



“Plurestantaj momoroj / Via dei ricordi” (Lasting memories) is a new version of another track included in the previous album. An electric guitar solo, sound effects and an uneasy mood lead to melodic vocals that revive the memories of an old journey, precious pictures that can still fill your soul with warmth and make you hear the sound of the wind and an echo of forgotten voices... “Would the impressions leave some room where newly hope could grow? / Within the lasting memories, is there clue to the way ahead?...”.

“Koto kay lumo / Fango e luce” (Mud and light) is melancholic and dark. The music alternates acoustic and electric passages while the lyrics deal with the mysteries of our brain and some philosophical issues such as free will and knowledge. Maybe freedom is just a dream and the forces of Mother Nature are stronger than our will... “Even if I could foretell the workings of the brain by some mighty computer / Would that really mean that every choice of mine is just self-delusion?...”. 
 

“Pluvas rosmareno / Piove rosmarino” (Rosemary rain) is a dreamy, melodic love song where ancient myths and visions seem almost coming to life in a surreal, ethereal atmosphere and the borders between dream and reality are blurred... “No longer can frontiers mark difference between two mingled seas / Which through love and through divinity have become an Ocean...”. 
 
The long, complex “Silkovojo / Via della seta” (Silk road) is a suite divided into three parts. It describes in music and words a dreamy journey along the Silk Road, from Europe to the ancient city of Kashgar, in Western China... “Weighed down with dreams, I crossed the sea / And now I wander quietly among the dunes in a still atmosphere / This is my reality / Only such dreams light up life / Like lamps lighting us from within / To guide our wandering on the Earth...”. An excellent track!

The instrumental “Oceano / Oceano” (Ocean) concludes the album. It's an experimental, “cosmic” piece written and performed by Alberto Sozzi featuring about six minutes of sound effects and evocative clarinet lines. It adds more colours to a very interesting album that, according to the band, should be considered as a tribute to the eternal need of looking for new horizons.

More info:


Thursday, 17 January 2013

Monday, 14 January 2013

AS TIME GOES BY

Moogg come from Brescia and began life in 2003 under the name Moog on the initiative of Marco Dolfini (drums, percussion. vocals), Rosario “Penny” Rampulla (bass) and Toni Gafforini (keyboards), one year later guitarist Ivan Vanoglio joined the band and completed the line up. In 2006 the band changed the name into Moogg to differentiate it slightly from the famous Moog synthesizer and in 2007 they released a first demo. In 2009 Penny Rampulla left the band and was replaced on bass by Gianluca Avanzati, former member of other prog bands such as Lithos and NotaBene. With this renewed line up, in 2011 Moogg finally released a debut album on the independent label Mellow Records, “Le ore i giorni gli anni” (The hours, the days, the years). Moogg's source of inspirations range from seventies prog to jazz rock, from psychedelia to Canterbury and every now and again they remind me of D.F.A., another excellent Italian contemporary band. In this album their love for bands such as Caravan and Hatfield and the North shines through but you can find also many original ideas, some nice funky passages, a strong sense of melody and well balanced arrangements.

Moogg 2012


The lively title track opens the album with a touch of bitter-sweet nostalgia and grey and pink colors. When you are young you think that you have all the time to shape your ideas, to find the right sounds for your music and make your dreams come true. Later, as you grow up and the daily grind absorbs your energies, you realize that your time is running short and you have to hurry to reach your goals. You would like to stop for a moment but you can't... “Now I know it / The days are escaping from me / And I keep on running after them...”. 
 



“Classe 21” (The 1921 contingent) is another excellent track dealing with time. The lyrics portray an old man facing a youngster who perceives him just as a burden and finds his stories boring and uninteresting. But in the past the old man was bold and brave, he overcame many obstacles, he fought during the war and every night his past comes back to him and lives again in his dreams... “You seem incapable to think of me as a young man / Films upon films made me believe that my whole past was in black and white...”. The mood is dark while the music marks the contrast between old and new compounding modern and vintage sounds in a very effective way.




The reflective “Il perché di esser me” (The reason to be me) begins softly and the mood is dreamy. The lyrics are about growing up and describe the need to leave behind your childhood. You have to understand what you really want to do in your life, once you have made up your mind you can take a new way but if you look behind for a moment your toys seem almost to be smiling at you asking why you're leaving... “It's time to go away, cheating on nostalgia... Now I drive slowly along this new way...”. Eventually the rhythm takes off and your journey can start. 




“Gli arroganti” (The arrogant people) is a beautiful instrumental track featuring funky patterns and many changes in mood and rhythm. The music seems almost taking you to a party and all you have to do is relax, enjoy the nightlife and get into the swing of things. The following “Responsabilità” (Responsibility) begins with a frenzied rhythm and there's tension in the air. Well, when the party is over you have to take up with reality. You have to pay a tribute to your normality and think of your role on earth. Are you ready to set a family and raise a baby? What would you teach to your children? At least teach them to be brave, they have to set off on a long journey... Eventually the tension melts giving way to a more relaxed Latin rock passage. I know, sometimes you have to throw caution to the wind and go with your heart but beware! “Responsibility!”. 
 



Then comes the dreamy, calm instrumental “Lunalia”, followed by another short instrumental track, “Moogugni”. The title is a kind of mix between the words moog and grumbling and as the rhythm takes off again you have better to get ready for another frenzied ride on the wings of your imagination. The long, complex “Welfare botanico” (Botanic welfare) concludes the album with a touch of “green energy” and some reflections about the meaning of life. There's a green sap which runs inside the trees and makes them grow, it gives them energy without a reason... “I wish I were like that sap, vegetal mind / Going up like that forever / Holding tight the life in me / Knowing there's no other way...”.

All in all, I think that this is a very good album and that it's really worth listening to.

You can listen to the complete album in streaming HERE

Moogg: Le ore i giorni gli anni (2011). Other opinions:
Michael "Aussie-Byrd-Brother": Anyone who wants to hear an inventive and talented modern band bring the Canterbury sensibilities of Hatfield and the North/Caravan and 70's jazz/rock/fusion kicking and screaming into the modern age, with typical Italian tastefulness and a welcome sense of humour need look no further. Moogg have released a beautifully produced, perfectly played and exciting debut album that deserves plenty of attention, and I can't wait to hear a follow-up. So much charm, potential and talent, and you also won't find a better album to put you in a great mood either!... (read the complete review HERE). 

More info:
http://www.facebook.com/pages/moogg/265768500107356



Sunday, 13 January 2013

THE GENERATION GAP

E.A. Poe are one of the many one-shot bands of the Italian prog scene of the early seventies. They came from the surroundings of Milan and the line-up featured Giorgio Foti (keyboards, vocals), Beppe Ronco (guitar, mandolin), Lello Foti (drums) and Marco Maggi (bass). “Generazioni (Storia di sempre)”, a concept album about the generation gap, is the only album they had the chance to release before disappearing from the scene. It’s a real pity because this album proves that they were a very promising band blending classical influences with jazz and rock in the same vein as Le Orme, BMS and PFM.

E.A. Poe

The opener “Prologo” begins with recitative vocals on a suggestive piano background... “Now we say stop to the kings, to the warlocks, to our artificial paradises / We want to believe in what we feel / Throw in the face of the past the sin of an apple / Imposed or, as you say, inherited / All we want is nothing but to live / Be it right or wrong...”. The lyrics are committed and the passionate words sound like a statement of their purposes, then bass lines start to pulse and to pump tension in while the electric guitar sets off on a jazzy path backed by piano...

“Considerazioni” starts with a catchy bass line, then the other instruments come in adding tasteful sounds and colours while evocative lyrics depict the metaphorical wall that divides the young from older people, awareness and the pleasure at breaking down that wall, even committing errors...


On the next track “Per un’anima” (For a soul) the tension fades in a bittersweet acoustic ballad... “How many hopes in your white face / That melts into the mist of the past / How many memories in your blind eyes / That have seen so many things in such a hurry, you know / Perhaps you were running after what you were feeling inside / Without knowing the price to pay / I don’t know why you are running away from life / Life has gone away to be replaced by remembrance...”.

“Alla ricerca di una dimensione” (Looking for a dimension) recalls some works of Le Orme and features excellent classically inspired organ passages. The atmosphere is tense and solemn while the lyrics try to depict the reasons for the fight against an oppressive reality that can’t be accepted... “I look at a newborn baby... He grows up in hurry and with him grows the wish to kill us all / He doesn’t respect authority / Because of his instinct and because of his love for freedom / Rebellion, what absurdity / He dies along with us and there’s nothing left now / He looks at other people as if he was reading inside himself an unknown story / Perhaps he can’t believe it / He can’t accept it as if it was just nostalgia... We say to him just wait for time to run over you / And you will understand...”.


“Ad un vecchio” (To an old person) is a wonderful symphonic track that seems to come from “Felona e Sorona”. The lyrics are about the mistakes older people make and the impossibility to believe in politicians who are the expression of a generation that pushed people into the madness of war.

“La ballata del cane felice” (The ballad of the happy dog) is more relaxed. It’s a ballad featuring strummed acoustic guitars and mandolin. The lyrics are about love as a traditional value... “Happy dog running after its tail / Close the ancient circle of a game / And when you reach it / That’s love...”. 
 

The final track “Generazioni” is another symphonic track featuring beautiful organ and piano passages and melodic soaring vocals... “Generation, the never ending story / Strange lost meetings / That you can’t find again...”.

On the whole, a very good album that is really worth listening to!


More info about the band:

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

FLYING OVER THE LAGOON

Quanah Parker began life in Venice in 1981, going against the tide in a period when progressive rock was completely out of fashion. They split up in 1985 but, after a long hiatus, in 2005 they came to life again on the initiative of keyboardist and composer Riccardo Scivales. In 2012 Quanah Parker finally released a debut album titled “Quanah!”, on the independent label Diplodisc, with a line up featuring Riccardo Scivales (keybords), Elisabetta “Betty” Montino (vocals), Giovanni Pirrotta (electric guitar), Giuseppe Di Stefano (bass) and Paolo “Ongars” Ongaro (drums). Over the years all the musicians have honed their skills and the result of the recording sessions is a well balanced mix of classical influences, progressive rock and jazz. Some pieces date back to eighties while others are more recent but you can't find any discontinuity in the style of the band, the overall sound is excellent and everything works. Well, if you like artists such as Banco del Mutuo Soccorso, Santana or Kate Bush, give this album a try!


The short, dreamy opener “Chant Of The Sea-Horse” is a charming piece for piano and vocals full of mystery and magic. There are no lyrics and the beautiful voice of Betty Montino here is used as an instrument with amazing results. The following “No Time For Fears” begins softly, again piano and vocals take the lead but then all the members of the band give their contribute and the rhythm rises. The music and lyrics invite you to grow up inside, overcoming your fears. There are many people who are prisoners of the daily grind, they're sad and lost at the end of the day, almost incapable to heed their heart and to develop their inner strength... “Switch the light off / Smile in the dark / And realize you’re alive...”.

“Quanah Parker” begins with a burst of energy and some passages could recall “Garofano Rosso” by Il Banco del Mutuo Soccorso, then the music takes an autonomous direction with many changes in rhythm and mood. Quanah Parker was a Comanche chief, the band was named after him and this piece is a kind of trademark. The music tries to evoke a rebellious spirit and a timeless need for freedom while the lyrics draw a prayer to the wind. Eventually the wind seems to answer... “The voice of wind is crying for a change! / Where is my axe?”. The conclusive electric guitar solo expresses the rising rage of an untamed soul. 
 



“Sailor Song” begins with a nervous rhythm while the lyrics depict the image of a sailor who sets off on a journey across the sea heading East, looking for the rising sun. Soon you realize that the journey is a metaphor for an inner quest, a search for a man's identity leading outside the borders of reality... “Strange reflexes in the dark, charming echoes in the air / Have drawn my ship in an island out of time...”.

“Flight” is an outstanding instrumental track featuring vibrant, pulsating bass lines and even a good bass solo. As the rhythm takes off you can fly across a starry sky following dreams and notes. Then comes “The Garden Awakes” where you can land in an enchanted place and walk barefoot among flowers and leaves, breathing the fresh air of springtime. Behind the gate of this magic garden you can regenerate your soul and forget your dark memories. When you'll leave the garden you will keep the new sounds and colours you have experienced in your heart... “Something strange is happening to me / I can feel a new breath of life... There’s a new human being inside me...”.


“After The Rain” is another track full of optimism. It begins softly, you can hear the sounds of a storm in the background but the storm is soon over. The atmosphere is dreamy, the music is delicate and the voice of Betty Montino soars clear in the air while the dark clouds melt... “Everything seems so perfect and pure... Sun soon will shine and with it my heart...”.

“Asleep” evokes a dream of perfect harmony, a home on a cloud and singing birds all around. Waking up could be very hard in a case like this but you can always close your eyes again and try to go back to your dreams, feeling as if you were floating between the sea and the sky. Here in some passages the music veers to a Latin rock à la Santana as in the following “Silly Fairy Tales” which is in the same dreamy mood and depicts three merry elves and a snoring man dreaming of fairy tales... “Sparklin’ drops captured my attention / So I could see...”.




“People In Sorrow” is a bitter-sweet piano ballad featuring heartfelt vocals and lyrics about solitary boys and girls unaware that there are so many ways to forget the gloom around them. Here and in the following “The Limits Of The Sky” the voice of Betty Montino recalls Kate Bush and takes off running after wuthering heights... “Under the sun, over the hills, running away with you / Watching your eyes, hearing the notes, no strain inside our hearts... If only I could, I’d fly with you to the limits of the sky above / If only I could, I’d colour this song with the colours of the sky!”.

The final track “Shenn Menn” reminds me of some works of Santana and is taken from an original recording from 1984 with a line up featuring Riccardo Scivales (keyboards), Roberto Noè (guitar, vocals), Stefano Corvia (guitar), Roberto Veronese (bass) and Giuliano Bianco (drums). It is credited as a bonus track and is a proof of the good level of the band in their early days.

All in all, I think that this is an excellent album although it's a pity that the band did not exploit their native language for the lyrics giving to the amazing voice of Betty Montino more chances to go off the beaten tracks looking for a wider range of colours and sounds.