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Alusa Fallax - Intorno Alla Mia Cattiva Educazione

Click on the album cover to hear a RealAudio sample.



Comments:
Northern Italy's Alusa Fallax started playing in the early 60s, and released their only album in 1974. Intorno Alla Mia Cattiva Educazione sounds like something out of a strange Giancarlo Gianinni film. Your ears are instantly charmed by organ swirls, lazy French horn melodies, colorful bursts of flute, harmonized saxes, angular electric guitar, energetic drumming, and warm vocals. Side A of the original LP is a classic example of symphonic prog done with Italian style. It consists of shorter sections that are connected to form a side-long epic. Side B consists of mid-length songs based in part on themes from Side A. The music isn't on par with Side A, but most listeners will enjoy the majority of the tracks. I think most people will enjoy the musical passages, but the vocalist tends to impress some people and offend others. Their singer sounds a bit like the guy from Locanda Delle Fate after a night of heavy drinking and smoking. His voice is somewhat rough, yet holds a certain charm. Overall, I recommend this CD to fans of lesser known Italian prog bands like Blocco Mentale, Murple, and Campo Di Marte. Actually, this album is a great introduction to Italy's more obscure prog bands.

Compositions: 9.5/10
Vocals(in Italian): 8/10
Recording Quality: 8/10

Il Balleto Di Bronzo - YS

Click on the album cover to hear a RealAudio sample.


Comments:
Progressive rock's most controversial album. Many claim that YS is the "masterpiece of all masterpieces", while others claim that it is just an average album not worthy of all the hype. In my opinion, YS is a great album(not a masterpiece, but certainly one of the best from the Italian prog scene). My main problem with the album, though, is that some of the sections drag on for too long, especially the last 7 minutes. The intensity of the music sort of makes-up for the repetition, but you really have to be in the mood for it. For example, the bassist tends to repeat a bass pattern, while the keyboardist adds tons of keyboards(sometimes all counterpoint), and the guitarist wails all over the madness. The keyboardist is indeed awesome. His style mixes Keith Emerson's style with dark, and haunting, baroque influences. When the singer starts to sing, I'm reminded of some of the average heavy metal singers from the 80's. He isn't that bad, but it does take a while to get familiar with his style. You should definitely check out YS if you're into Italian progressive rock, but don't expect a masterpiece because you might be disappointed.

Compositions: 9.5/10
Vocals(in Italian): 8/10
Recording Quality: 9/10

Luciano Basso - Voci

Click on the album cover to hear a RealAudio sample.


Comments:
I listened to Voci recently after putting it away for a year or so, and the quality of the album suddenly stunned me. For some reason Voci didn't grab me at first. Sure, I thought that it was good, but it didn't stay in the ol' CD player for too long. Voci is an instrumental classic. Basically, Luciano Basso plays tons of vintage keyboards(hammond, clavinet, piano, and mellotron), wrote all of the material, and is helped out by a violinist, guitarist, bassist, and drummer. The instrumental pieces are pure Italian symphonic progressive rock, consisting of multiple parts, countermelodies, theme development, and that beautiful Italian sound that we all love.

Compositions: 9/10
Vocals(none): N/A
Recording Quality: 9/10

Franco Battiato - Fetus, Pollution, Clic


Comments:
Franco Battiato is a rather well-known pop star in Italy these days. But, in the early 70s he released a series of experimental albums that combined the warmth of Italian progressive rock, with the avant-garde influence of Karlheinze Stockhausen and the emerging electronic synth technology. So far, I have three CDs from him and they are quite impressive. Fetus and Pollution(released in 1972 and 1973) combine Italian prog with electronic synth, sampling(early sampling!), tape manipulation, and even some pop influences. The new listener instantly notices Franco's use of the VCS 3 synth. This early synth sounds incredible. Its tone is similar to the Modular Moog, but in my opinion it's also capable of producing endless amounts of unheard of sounds, tones, and sound effects(because the Moogs were so overused back then). The electronic sounds on the Battiato albums are quite unique for the era. Once in a while, passages even remind me of the krautrock band Faust, but Battiato sounds more sophisticated and bourgeois. Clic, on the hand, is a full-blown avant-garde album. The focus here is on using noise, and blocks of sounds, as music. Fans of Cage, Stockhausen, and early Zappa will really enjoy the album. There is one passage in particular that really impressed me on Clic. At one point, Battiato uses a string-quartet to create a symphonic exploration that sounds like an angular Picasso painting, if some of Picasso's work could be put to music it would sound like that passage. Overall, these albums come highly recommended to prog fans seeking new sounds, and musical ideas. Apparently, Battiato is well-known within the electronica community, but most prog fans will find the music absolutely appealing.


Blocco Mentale - POA

Click on the album cover to hear a RealAudio sample.


Comments:
POA is one of the most beautiful Italian progressive rock albums out there. Blocco Mentale were really influenced by early-King Crimson, Genesis, and PFM. The music tends to alternate between heavy guitar/sax sections and softer acoustic guitar/mellotron/flute interludes. Yes, the formula is really popular(then and now), but the quality of the music here is rare. Most of the band members also provide vocals as the album develops. The richness, and variation, in the vocal sections really sets this album apart, and adds a subtle Italian theatrical influence. If you're interested in some of the lesser known Italian prog bands from the 70s, this is a great place to start.

Compositions: 10/10
Vocals(in Italian): 9/10
Recording Quality(I have the Mellow release): 7.5/10

Campo Di Marto - Campo Di Marte

Click on the album cover to hear a RealAudio sample.


Comments:
Campo Di Marte are another underrated 70's Italian prog band who released one excellent album, and were never heard from again. Most of compositions alternate between heavy guitar-driven sections, and mellower passages featuring flute, piano, and mellotron. The use of French horns during some sections is interesting, and adds a unique touch. If I were to point out a flaw, I would mention that the compositions, although quite good, are not of the same quality as those from the top Italian bands. If you're only familiar with hyped bands like Il Balleto Di Bronzo, and Museo Rosenbach(who have released some incredible albums) keep in mind that the Italian 70's prog scene produced tons of albums by underrated bands. Don't be afraid to check some of these out.

Compositions: 7/10
Vocals(in Italian): 7/10
Recording Quality: 8/10

Enzo Capuano - Storia Mai Scritta



Comments:
For years, I've seen this album for sale in prog catalogs, but because it's been mostly ignored by the prog world I figured Enzo's music wasn't worth checking out. Well, my friends, Enzo Capuano's Storia Mai Scritta is a gem! I'm not sure why this CD hasn't received more attention from prog fans, but the music is equal in quality to better known Italian groups like Celeste, Reale Accademia di Musica, and even St Just. While most of the 70s Italian prog bands focused on creating electro-acoustic music that bursted with energy and virtuoso playing, like the bands I mentioned above Enzo went for a mellower, acoustic guitar and piano-led, sound that emphasized warmth and simple melodies over complex instrumental explorations. Enzo's music brings back a traditional Italian acoustic folk sound while updating it with 70s synths, Hammond organ, and drums. While the music is mostly instrumental, several passages feature romantic vocals that never get overly melodic or dramatic. Enzo, vocally-speaking, seems to hit the right mood with a small amount of notes. I can't really see anyone having a problem with his style or his voice, since it's pleasant. Storia Mai Scritta, at first, might sound song-oriented, yet after a few listen most listeners will realize that the LP consists of 8 parts that flow into one another to make a whole. Even when the tracks fade out, I can hear certain themes and melodic patterns reappear on the following tracks. Overall, here goes another high-quality Italian prog album. While Enzo seems to have been ignored by prog collectors, I'm positive that Storia Mai Scritta will be enjoyed by 90% of the listeners who give it a chance.

Compositions: 9/10
Vocals(in Italian): 9/10
Recording Quality: 9/10

Celeste - Celeste

Click on the album cover to hear a RealAudio sample.


Comments:
If you like the relaxing side of bands like PFM, Nueva Idea, and Campo Di Marte then Celeste might be just what you are looking for. The music is mostly mellow, and emphasizes the gentle interaction between flutes, classical guitars, mellotron, and soft vocals. Similar to Harmonium from Canada, Celeste also didn't have a drummer, which makes me wish that they would break out into something heavy and rocking. But, the mellow atmospheres is what makes Celeste stand out.

Compositions: 8/10
Vocals(in Italian): 9/10
Recording Quality: 9/10

Cherry Five - Cherry Five

Click on the album cover to hear a RealAudio sample.


Comments:
Intense, is a word that comes to mind when listen to this Yes-influenced classic from the seventies. The band simply doesn't slow down for a minute as they rush through the multiple sections in each song. My only complaint is that they should have considered releasing an Italian version(like the Maxophone album) of the album. The English vocals are okay(the accents are fine), but the music is really screaming for some Italian. If you're in the mood for Yes-influenced music done with the energy, and optimism, of the 70's Italian prog scene then you will love this CD.

Compositions: 9/10
Vocals(in English): 7/10
Recording Quality: 9/10

DFA - work in progress live


Comments:

Chances are, you have probably heard about this new live release from DFA. Well, I'm glad to report that the positive reviews are not just hype. This is one of the best live CDs that I've heard from a prog group. Although I was aware of DFA's first album, Lavori in Corso, I thought that it was a bit overrated. Sure, the compositions were quite good and the playing was sometimes jaw-dropping, but the production sounded a bit cold which ruined it for me. Anyway, DFA live is a different monster. For those of you completely unaware of the band, I would say that their music combines complex symphonic progressive rock with jazz-fusion. The compositions are busy (jump from one idea to the next in a matter of seconds), frantic, and syncopated in a Gentle Giant sort of way. The band consists of a guitarist, bassist, drummer, and keyboardist. Their guitarist really reminds me of the guy from Deus Ex Machina. He likes his jazz-chords, and plays schizo-guitar runs that add to the composition without taking the spot-light. Their keyboardist plays an assortment of new and old keyboards. I hear Hammond, and a Moog-like synth, but some sequences also feature modern ambient sounds and atmospheres. The band is really defined by the crazy interplay between the guitarist and the keyboardist. Many themes and melodies are based on one guy stating a melody, and the other guy finishing the idea. When you combine that with time-signatures galore, and fast tempos you're in for some seriously complex music. I must mention that a few compositions feature mellow sections, so there's a decent amount of variety. This CD was flawlessly recorded during the Nearfest 2000 progressive rock festival. In all, this is one of the top releases for 2001.

Website
Moon June Records

Etna - Etna


Comments:
Here is another underrated Italian prog band that will interest collectors of Italian progressive rock. Etna's music falls somewhere between mid-70s prog-fusion and Italian soundtrack music(ala jazz-funk Ennio Morricone). I bought this CD many years ago around the same time that I was discovering major Italian jazz-fusion bands like Area and Arti E Mistieri. At the time, I thought that Etna were okay and good enough to keep, basically. Well, recently I gave them a few spins and absolutely loved what I heard. Etna differs a bit from other fusion bands in that they weren't into playing at hyper-speeds. They were all gifted musicians, but they only used faster tempos as a release(building tension and releasing) rather than a basis for their careers. Many sections remind me of 70s Italian soundtrack music, yet the music is slightly more complicated. Goblin's Roller would be a perfect comparison. But Etna's sound fits well with music that came out between 1973-74(there is no year-of-release on the CD label). Overall, I really recommend this CD to fans of Area, Arti E Mistieri, Goblin, and mid-seventies Ennio Morricone. Don't expect anything mind-blowing, but Etna are well-worth discovering.

Compositions: 8/10
Vocals(in Italian): N/A
Recording Quality: 8/10

Festa Mobile - Diarro Di Viaggio Della Festa Mobile

Click on the album cover to hear a RealAudio sample.


Comments:
Festa Mobile stands out mostly because of their keyboardist, who plays some of the quirkiest piano melodies I've heard in prog. 1973's Diarro Di Viaggio Della Festa Mobile is this band's only album, but a few of the musicians later emerged as Baricentro. Diarro... is quite a unique album. While the music gets frantic once in a while, there are plenty of beautiful moments to be found as the album unfolds. Their guitarist offers some very tasty Fripp-influenced riffs and he does a good job balancing the quirky piano lines. My only complaint is that most of the songs have traditional song-structures. The band confidently builds to what might seem like a climatic section, but instead choose to go back to an earlier verse or chorus. The tracks also tend to fade out just when the band starts cooking. Overall, though, Festa Mobile are definitely worth searching out.

Compositions: 10/10
Vocals(in Italian): 9/10
Recording Quality: 9/10


Finisterre - Storybook


Comments:

Storybook is a live album from Finisterre's gig at the 1997 Progday Festival in North Carolina. Finisterre, for those of you who are not aware of them, are one of Italy's best prog bands at the moment. Many consider their 1997 CD In Limine as their best release to date. Their style of prog is deeply influenced by the Italian symphonic prog scene of the early 70s, and early Genesis(thankfully, they don't imitate Genesis). Personally, I tend to enjoy studio albums over live albums. Besides live Magma, Kenso, Frank Zappa, and a few others most live prog performances don't compare to the studio work. But, incredibly, this live album kicks ass. First off, the sound-quality is superb. And Finisterre's live sound is as rich and fat as their studio work. In fact, I'm much more impressed with the live versions of some of their best tracks from In Limine. The band not only play their compositions note-perfect, but also extend them with inspiring jam-sections. Their live keyboard-sound relies less on the modern digital sounds found on their studio albums, and more on analog keyboards like the Rhodes, Mellotron, and Moog. The overall sound is earthly, and organic. Along with several tracks from In Limine, and their previous albums. The group also breaks out into jams that turn into covers of several well-known prog classics. Overall, this is one of the best releases of the year. Fans of Finisterre and Italian prog will be in for a treat.

Webpage:
Finisterre.

I Giganti - Terra In Bocca


Click on the album cover to hear a RealAudio sample.


Comments:

In 1971, Italian progressive rock was still in its early stages, and bands were working on creating something uniquely Italian and avant-garde. But, I Giganti, out of thin air really, put out what has got to be the first masterpiece from the 70s Italian prog rock scene. The band originally began its career in the 1960s as a vocal-based band. As rock started to get experimental, and bands began to create concept albums with complex instrumental music, I Giganti created an album that highlighted their strong vocals and their taste for catchy melodies. Terra In Bocca starts off with an addictive "Sicilian"-like melody on acoustic guitar and vocals, but as soon as you get comfortable with the direction of the album your ears are treated to a few unexpected surprises, and within a couple of minutes you know that you're in for a musical treat. The album is vocal-heavy(tells the story of a Mafia-related murder) and quite similar to Blocco Mentale's POA, and Latte E Miele Passio Secundum Mattheum. Some of the vocal passages remind me of the guys from Blocco Mentale, yet I Giganti are much stronger. From what I've heard, the lyrics are also considered quite good by most of the Italian music critics. The music, on the other hand, reminds me a bit of Latte E Miele's Passio Secundum Mattheum. What might explain that is that Latte E Miele's unique-sounding guitarist plays on this album, and alot of the atmospheres and jams here seem to have inspired Latte E Miele a year later. What might bother some listeners is the lack of complex instrumental sections. There are plenty of instrumental sections led by mellotron, but the vocals make-up about 90% of the LP. Personally, I love the vocals. The richness, variety, and detail in the vocal sections makes up for the lack of long instrumental section. But, if you're mostly into the instrumental side of prog, then this album might not appeal to you. Overall, if you love Italian vocals in progressive rock this little gem will rank high in your collection. Btw, I want to thank "Frazz" from Frazz Recommends... for introducing me to I Giganti. "Frazz Recommends..." is a excellent review site for Italian prog.

Compositions: 10/10
Vocals(in Italian): 10/10
Recording Quality: 9/10

Goblin - Suspiria


Comments:
I think most people who listen to progressive rock are familiar with the Italian band Goblin. If you're not, the band started off in the early 70s as the band Cherry Five(reviewed above). They changed their band name, started work on another progressive rock album, but suddenly changed careers after receiving a call from a movie director to write the soundtrack to a horror movie entitled "Profundo Rosso". That movie turned out to become a hit in Italy, and the soundtrack a best-seller. Suspiria is a soundtrack to another Italian horror movie, but it's also considered Goblin's scariest and most experimental work to date. Well, as far as "scary" goes by today's standards(X-files influenced soundtracks) the music is typical of the mid-70s. Yet, the music never falls into the "cheesy" Halloween music category. The tracks tend to mix dissonant notes, evil whispering voices, percussion crashes, and even a few funky sections. The tracks are also quite detailed(which is suprising today, since modern soundtrack music isn't supposed to stand out), and work well even without the visuals. Overall, Suspiria is a stronger album than Roller. Word has it, this might be the strongest Goblin soundtrack out there.

Compositions: 8/10
Vocals(minimal): 8/10
Recording Quality: 9/10


Gruppo 2001 - L'Alba Di Domani

Click on the album cover to hear a RealAudio sample.


Comments:

Just when I thought that I've heard most of the 70s prog albums from Italy, I discover yet another gem. Gruppo 2001 released their only album L'Alba Di Domani in 1972. The album, though, might not appeal to everyone. In fact, even the beginning of the LP is deceiving. The first track sounds like typical 70s Italian prog. The band begins with a theme similar to the first track on New Troll's Atomic System. The drummer plays some rather busy drum patterns, and the music takes the usual proggy turns. But, just as soon as you get comfortable with this band, the music completely changes. After the first track, you realize that these guys were also into acoustic Italian folk influenced by some of Cat Stevens' music. I would love to say that the singer sounds a bit like an Italian version of Ian Anderson, but he really reminds me of Cat. Okay, I know that most of you are probably writing this album off already, but please let me mention that the melodies during the more acoustic moments are wonderful and beautiful. The band occasionally returns to a busier form of Italian prog, but the gentle acoustic moments make-up about 70% of the LP. The quality of the melodies, and themes, remains high; this is the sort of music that tends to stick in your head days after playing the CD. As always, keep in mind that Italian LPs from the 70s were usually 30 to 35-minutes in length, and, apparently this CD is only available on a Japanese label, so it sells for around $24. If you don't mind opening your wallet, Gruppo 2001 are worth checking out.

Compositions(The English vocal track sounds odd): 9.5/10
Vocals(in Italian): 10/10
Recording Quality: 9/10

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