Sunday, 15 April 2018

A SOLAR RIDE

Agorà 2 is the second album by Agorà and their first studio work. It was released in 1976 with a renewed line up featuring Roberto Bacchiocchi (keyboards), Ovidio Urbani (sax), Renato Gasparini (guitar), Mauro Mencaroni (drums), Nino Russo (sax, percussion) and Lucio Cesari (bass, percussion) and marks a step forward for the band that here is clearly focused on refining their jazz-rock sound showcasing a strong leaning for experimentalism and great musicianship. The wonderful artwork by Mario Convertino in some way captures this attitude with a nice black and white drawing...


The dreamy opener “Punto Rosso” (Red Point) is a nice, accessible track with a great interaction between all the instruments that every now and again could recall The Mahavishnu Orchestra. The following “Piramide di domani” (Pyramid of Tomorrow) starts calmly by hypnotic bass lines and a good acoustic guitar work, then the other instruments come in building a mysterious atmosphere sprinkled with exotic flavours. 

The long, melancholic “Tall El Zaatar” ends the first side of the original vinyl. Here the title refers to the tragic siege of Tel al-Zaatar, a fortified, UNRWA-administered refugee camp housing Palestinian refugees in north-eastern Beirut that was carried out by Phalangist forces in August 1976. It’s a kind of committed jazz elegy in memory of the victims...


The second side of the album opens with “La bottega di Duilio” (Duilio’s workshop) that, according to an interview with Ovidio Urbani, was inspired by a man who owned a workshop near the rehearsal room of the band in Serra San Quirico, a very special character in the life of that little town. The piece starts by a percussive pattern that introduces you in his strange laboratory and ironmonger’s shop... 

“Simbiosi (Vasi comunicanti)” (Symbiosis – Communicating vessels) was built up starting from a piano improvisations in the studio by Roberto Bacchiocchi and then elaborated with contribute of the other members of the band in a perfect symbiosis. In fact, the subtitle of this track refers to the name given to a set of containers containing a homogeneous fluid: when the liquid settles, it balances out to the same level in all of the containers regardless of the shape and volume of the containers. If additional liquid is added to one vessel, the liquid will again find a new equal level in all the connected vessels. Here this principle is applied to the music...


The long closer “Cavalcata solare” (Solar ride) is a kind of psychedelic jazz ride through the space. It starts slowly, then the rhythm rises for a long journey into unknown territories and forgotten dreamlands. This track was also released as a single and ends an album that is really worth listening to.

Unfortunately, despite the good quality of their music, Agorà disbanded in 1978 on account of the difficulties to make a living in the troubled, asphyxial Italian music business of the years of lead… 

You can listen to the complete album HERE

Agorà: Agorà 2 (1976). Other opinions:
Conor Fynes: Agorà never seems to stray needlessly, but the music often feels driven more by exploration than composition. The saxophone and Rhodes piano are given the most range here, with the thoughtfully melodic leads of the former generally paving the way on most of the songs… Even during the album's most laid-back passages, Agorà offer plenty to keep the attentive listener occupied. The approach to composition has clearly been designed with the intent of giving the instrumentation room to breathe and explore, but the way the music will always fall back on thick, band-oriented harmonies keeps the album feeling focused… It's not often a 'new' jazz band impresses me like this; if you're any bit into the Mahavishnu Orchestra, the jazzier end of Van der Graaf Generator or the classic sound of prog-fusion in general, check out this album and see what you think of it… (You can read the complete review HERE)

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Thursday, 12 April 2018

ON A NEW LEVEL

Born in Siena in 1970 from the ashes of two other bands called respectively Arf Arf and I Diamanti, Livello 7 had been active until 1976, initially as a cover band and then playing original music inspired by bands such as Weather Report and Perigeo. Although they were very popular in their home town, in those years the band never had the chance to release an album. After the band split up, one of the former members of Livello 7, Franco Caroni, turned to jazz and in 1983 formed another band called Juice Group to play fusion but the project had an ephemeral life. It wasn’t until 2013 that Franco Caroni met with some other musicians to work on the material of his previous bands and on some new composition forming a new band, Acqua Libera. After a hard, painstaking work in the studio, in 2016 Acqua Libera self-released an eponymous debut album with a line up featuring, along with Franco Caroni (bass), Jonathan Caradonna (keyboards – from Profusion), Fabio Bizzarri (guitar – from Vicolo Margana) and Marco Tosi (drums, percussion – also from Vicolo Margana). It’s a real good work where jazz rock and progressive rock influences are perfectly blended with great musicianship and maturity...


The opener “Tempi moderni” (Modern Times) is a wonderful track where melody and rhythm give life to the shadows and lights of a modern, busy world. The title seems to refer to a 1936 silent comedy film written and directed by Charlie Chaplin in which his iconic Little Tramp character struggles to survive in the modern, industrialized world while on a short video posted by the band on YT they chose a drawing of Battersea Station (without flying pigs) to symbolize the good and bad consequences of modernity and progress...

The following “Nautilus” is another excellent piece that could be a perfect score for an exotic maritime adventure. The title refers to the fictional submarine captained by Nemo featured in Jules Verne's novels Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea (1870) and The Mysterious Island (1874)...


The nocturnal “Alla luce della luna” (Under the moonlight) comes from the old repertoire of Livello 7 and was originally entitled “Undiciottavi” (Eleven-eight time) after its time signature. It’s a long, complex piece that evokes dreamy atmospheres and far echoes coming from the dark side of the moon...

The lively, light-hearted “Mr. Lou” was composed in the eighties by keyboardist Luigi Campoccia and comes from the legacy of the Juice Group. It was re-arranged by Acqua Libera that gave to it a new life. It leads to the more recent “Marcina” where strange, haunting waltzes merge into cheerful jazzy passages and vice versa...

Acqua Libera 2016

The title of the following “Sans tambour ni musique” (With no drums, no music) was taken from the verse of a poem by Charles Baudelaire… — And long hearses, with no drums, no music, file slowly through my soul: Hope, conquered, cries, and despotic atrocious agony plants on my bent skull its flag of black… (translation by Geoffrey Wagner from Selected Poems of Charles Baudelaire, Grove Press, 1974). Here the music blossoms like a flower of evil in a rainy spring day...

Then comes the tense, frenzied “Quo vadis”. Quo Vadis (Latin for "Where are you going?") is also the title of a 1951 American epic film directed by Mervyn LeRoy and set in ancient Rome during the final years of Emperor Nero's reign. Although in the liner notes you can’t find any link between this track and the film, I think that it could be a really good soundtrack for a thriller...

The last track, “Prog Mood”, is another piece taken from the repertoire of Livello 7 and was originally entitled “Seiottavi” (Six-eight time). It’s a piece full of energy and sudden changes in atmosphere that closes and album that absolutely worth listening to...

You can listen to the complete album HERE

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Sunday, 8 April 2018

REPEATING THINGS HELPS

Repetita Iuvant is the second album by Ad Maiora, a band from Milan  influenced by the likes of Genesis, King Crimson, Gentle Giant, Yes, Pink Floyd, Premiata Forneria Marconi or Banco del Mutuo Soccorso. It was self-released in 2016 with a consolidated line up featuring Enzo Giardina (drums), Flavio Carnovali (electric guitar), Moreno Piva (bass, classical guitar), Paolo Callioni (vocals) and Sergio Caleca (keyboards) and follows the very promising debut work, Ad Maiora!, from 2014, confirming all the good qualities of the band in mixing vintage and modern sounds with brio and gusto. The art cover by Marcella Arganese in some way seems to portray this attitude: one glance towards the future and another one towards the past... 


The opener “Molokheya” is a dark, melancholic track with Middle Eastern flavours. The title refers to a typical dish of the Egyptian cuisine that here evokes a strange sense of nostalgia. It’s sung in English and the music and lyrics tell about one of the many recent tragic stories of illegal migration in the Mediterranean sea depicting men and hopes that sink in a dark and stormy night along with an old, battered ship overloaded with desperate people trying to escape from their bitter present made of misery and war... 

“Life” in another committed track sung in English. It’s against racism and religious hate, against the murders and slaughters committed in the name of God, against lust and greed. The music is tense, the rhythm is nervous, the music and words express indignation, rage and a desperate need for mercy... 


The surreal “Fermati” (Stop) is a kind of tribute to Premiata Forneria Marconi with smells of geraniums and sounds of strange carriages in the background. The sense of the naive lyrics is that you can’t change the world and burn down everything if your lighter is empty and you have no matches but, to be honest, to find a meaning for this piece would be like promenade a puzzle...

The long, complex “Torba” (Turf) is a beautiful instrumental piece where dark organ waves and soaring electric guitar solos are blended and shaped with maestria and painted with crimson touches of brush… Then it’s the turn of the ironic “Invisibile” (Invisible), a track that stigmatizes the subtle means used by the media to push you into the vortex of consumerism creating artificial needs to sell useless items. The music and lyrics depict the invisible threads that influence your behaviour, you can almost see cool advertising flyers vibrating in the air like confetti to promote status-symbols objects without consistency but essentials for your ego...


Next comes the excellent instrumental title track, “Repetita Iuvant”, with its mysterious atmosphere underlined by pulsing bass lines and haunting organ waves. The title refers to a Latin maxim meaning repeating things helps and usually said to defend the speaker's choice to repeat some important piece of information to ensure reception by the audience...

The following “Etereo” (Ethereal) begins by a nervous electric guitar solo, then the atmosphere gets more relaxed. The music and lyrics tell about the transition from this world to the unknown in the eternal cycle of life, a passage full of doubts about what is going to happen. Imagine to walk the last steps of your life in a state of disquieting serenity and calm anxiety, under an ethereal, starred sky, pure and intangible. Your sweet memories and all your regrets are starting to melt...


The lively, swinging instrumental “Never Mind” could be a good finale for this interesting work, but there’s still room for a bonus track, a cover of “Whaling Stories” by Procol Harum previously released on a compilation by Mellow Records entitled Shine On Magic Hotel.

On the whole, a very good album and an excellent addition to any prog collection!

You can listen to the complete album HERE

Ad Maiora: Repetita Iuvant (2016). Other opinions:
Michael "Aussie-Byrd-Brother": Ad Maiora should be absolutely proud of this addictive disc that hints at so much potential for further albums, with their instrumental and melodic skills firmly on display, and it makes `Repetita Iuvant' one of the most welcome and surprising releases in Italian prog for 2016! (read the complete review HERE)
Tomas Szirmay: The debut was outright terrific, this is a quite definite step up. Ad Maiora is a proud player on the prog scene and needs your immediate attention…  (read the complete review HERE)

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Wednesday, 4 April 2018

ELEMENTS AND PRINCIPLES

Ælementi come from Rome and have been active for more than ten years before realising their debut album. Formed in 2007 and led by guitarist and composer Daniele Lulli, all along this time they have honed their skills and tried to find a personal way to merge different influences ranging from Italian prog bands such as Banco del Mutuo Soccorso or Premiata Forneria Marconi with newer, heavier sounds inspired by likes of Rush or Shadow Gallery. In 2017 they finally managed to release their debut work, entitled Una questione di principio (A matter of principle), thanks to the interest of the independent labels Lizard Records and Andromeda Relix. On the album, the line up features along with Daniele Lulli (guitar) also Francesca Piazza (vocals), Manuele D'Anastasio (drums) and Angelo Celani (bass) plus the guests Dario Pierini (keyboards), Giordana Sanfilippo (backing vocals) and Carlotta Sanfilippo (backing vocals) while the nice art work is provided by Maria Chiara Santoro. The overall sound blends vintage and modern with strong melodic accents and a slight leaning to AOR that is worth listening to, especially if you like other Roman bands such as Magnolia, Layra or Laviàntica...  


The opener “Principio” (Beginning) is a very short instrumental that sets the atmosphere and leads to the melancholic “Lontananza” (Distance) where the music and lyrics depict an overwhelming feeling of absence and where the idea of distance becomes almost a real character to blame, a merciless enemy to fear. As the music flows, reality and bad dreams get blurred under the moonlight...

The careless, melodic “Vuoto” (Emptiness) tells in music and words of an emotionless person who can’t get out of his state of apathy and find a new interest for what’s going on around him. Then it’s the turn of the more elaborated “Straniero” (Stranger) that features an excellent instrumental middle section and is one of my favourite tracks on the album. It’s about a ghost that lingers on Earth expressionless, lost and confused, uncertain about what to do next. He feels like a shadow that tries again and again to take off and fly away without success, a transparent, solitary stranger walking on the streets of the world without a goal, haunted by nostalgia and charmed by new shapes and colours. It’s pointless wondering where he’s bound… Who knows what’s waiting for us in the afterlife?

Aelementi 2017

The light, melodic “Delirio” (Delirium) is about haunting, irrepressible feelings and overwhelming pulsations while the following “Voce” (Voice) is more complex and deals with the regrets and memories unchained by an old yellow piece of paper with a familiar telephone number written on it. A sensual voice comes out of the blue but it might be too late for listening to it...

The closer “Addio” (Farewell) is a beautiful piece about a troubled relationship where hate and love seem almost be playing a never ending game on the chessboard of fate and where emotions and passions are blended in explosive mix under the eye of a threatening sky. There’s an impending sense of tragedy but there’s also room for hope as the music flows in a crescendo of tension and intensity…

All in all, I think that this a good album even if it’s not one of the most challenging you can find. Anyway, have a try! You can listen to it on deezer or spotify

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Sunday, 1 April 2018

A GATHERING PLACE IN MONTREUX

Agorà came to life in 1974 in the province of Ancona, from the ashes of a band called Oz Master Magnus Ltd. The name of the band refers to a central public space in ancient Greek city-states and the literal meaning of the word is gathering place or assembly. The first line up featured Roberto Bacchiocchi (keyboards, vocals), Ovidio Urbani (sax), Renato Gasparini (guitar, vocals), Paolo Colafrancesco (bass, vocals) and Mauro Mencaroni (drums, vocals), all in love with jazz rock and influenced by bands such as Weather Report and Perigeo. Thanks to a good live activity and to a manager who spotted them, in 1975 they had the chance to play live at the Montreux Jazz Festival and signed a deal with Atlantic Records. Their performance in Switzerland took place on July 7, 1975: a set of about thirty minutes that was entirely recorded and later released on their debut album entitled Live In Montreux. The quality of the recording is good enough to allow you to enjoy the talent of a young, promising band playing a jazz rock sprinkled with many Mediterranean flavours.


The opener “Penetrazione” (Penetration) starts softly by a guitar arpeggio. The atmosphere is dreamy, soaring vocals used as an instrument and a pulsing rhythm section take you away on a journey through the Mediterranean Sea where you can find a place to cry your blues under the moon… Well, all in all, everyone has a blues to cry!

Serra San Quirico, pic from www.comune.serrasanquirico.an.it

Then comes the long, complex “Serra San Quirico”. This piece was divided into two parts on account of the vinyl space available in those days and unfortunately the division persists also on the CD reissue where there’s no need to switch from side A to side B. The title of this piece refers to the village of Serra San Quirico, in the province of Ancona where in the seventies the band had their rehearsal room, in the sacristy of a disused church, by kind permission of the local priest. It’s the place where Agorà’s music was born from endless jam sessions and then shaped, refined and chiselled until the right balance to convey and stir emotions was reached. There are many changes in mood and atmosphere: to the nervous first part follow a calmer middle section and a finale in crescendo and there is many room for inspired solos...

Agorà 1975

Next comes “Acqua celeste” (Blue water), a calm piece but with many currents whirling under the surface and a subtle melancholic vein. It leads to the tasty closer “L’orto di Ovidio” (Ovidio’s garden): according to an interview with Ovidio Urbani, the title refers to the fact that the inspiration for this track came almost out of the blue after a pause where the musicians went out to pick up and eat some cherries from a tree in a nearby garden…

On the whole, a very good work that captures the energy and freshness of the band on stage. Moreover, the album was enhanced by the particular art cover by Italian artist Cesare Monti portraying a tree on the crossroad between via Tortona and via Savona in Milan: on the original version of the LP the tree can be raised and has a small stand on the back making of this album a very rare collector’s item.

You can listen to the complete album HERE

Agorà: Live In Montreux (1975). Other opinions:
Conor Fynes: Live in Montreux suggests plenty of potential and creativity. The last few minutes of this record are about as smooth as jazz fusion gets; I'm really left to wonder how far they might have gone if Agora had stuck together longer… (You can read the complete review HERE)


More info about the band: