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Regarded as a prog metal classic, Dream Theater's Metropolis pt.2: Scenes from a Memory is now 20 years old

ProgBlog reflects on the current state of prog metal

By ProgBlog, Feb 12 2017 10:27PM

The acceptance of and concordant renewed interest in progressive rock has allowed the development of a support industry that uses the reach of the internet for marketing. Prog was niche at the beginning of the 90s, subsumed by a massive music industry singularly interested in shareholder return, leaving the artist a small cog in a very big machine. Prog survived by utilising the available technology, aided by fans with a working knowledge of the internet and who were often an integral part of this technological revolution, who helped to set up some of the earliest band websites and fan forums.

I was fortunate to have an academic email account before the roll-out of commercial hosts and dutifully signed up to the amazing Elephant Talk and a somewhat more earnest Gentle Giant forum. The first mention of Notes from the Edge, the Yes-related internet newsletter run by Mike Tiano and Jeff Hunnicutt and YesWorld, the online Yes resource, was in the booklet for Keys to Ascension (1996) but one major development was the beginning of a dedicated progressive rock / art-rock mail order business. Not only had I begun to pick up Voiceprint newsletters at John Wetton gigs, Discpline Global Mobile (DGM) was reinventing the role of the record label with an innovative, ethical business strategy. Utilising the online presence of these sites, I was able to access some fantastic music, both recorded and as exclusive pre-release playbacks in the presence of the artists themselves.


The Epitaph playback
The Epitaph playback

If we leap forward to the present, I have become much less reliant on Amazon and way more enamoured with Burning Shed and Italy’s BTF and I’ve also started to use Bandcamp, the latter having the advantage of providing a download in addition to the physical medium. I know that Amazon provides this service but with Bandcamp you are able, should you wish, communicate directly with the musicians but whether you do or not, there’s a feeling of better connecting with the artists and consequently, as you’re not simply getting a product, a sense of reward. You're also avoiding tax avoiders


Post-Christmas has been a relatively busy period for acquisition of music for me. A trip into Croydon HMV saw me return home with sale-price vinyl copies of Wish You Were Here and Animals (just in time for its 40th anniversary) though if I’d ever imagined a return of the LP, I’d have never traded-in my original copies.



HMV shopping trip
HMV shopping trip

Browsing the progressive rock suggestions on Bandcamp I came across Awake & Dreaming the 2006 release by The Gift and, having seen them perform at the Resonance Festival in 2014 and been suitably impressed by both the music and the message, I thought that was a worthy addition to my collection. A couple of weeks after that I engaged in a Twitter conversation with Lorenzo Gervasi (Lorenzo Vas) who was the keyboards player with Milan-based Lethe. Their only album release, Nymphae (1994) is available as a download from Mellow Records via Bandcamp and proved to be another Italian prog gem. I subscribe to the BTF newsletter and I frequently get seduced into buying some of the old classics I’ve not been able to pick up on my travels around Italy. The most recent of these purchases was Vietato ai minori di 18 anni? The 1973 release from Jumbo which had been on my radar since seeing vocalist/guitarist Alvaro Fella on stage with CAP in Genova in 2014. This album leaves behind the blues influences that remained on DNA (1972) and is a more mature effort including some avant garde styling.


Awake & Dreaming by The Gift
Awake & Dreaming by The Gift

An awful week at work in January made me think about dropping everything and going on a weekend jaunt to Italy but I fought off the initial impulse and decided to plan something more sensible. There are lots of progressive rock-themed events around Italy throughout the year but a Facebook link took me to Fabio Zuffanti’s Z-Fest, which this year is going to be held at the very end of March so I decided to organise the mini-break to include some live progressivo Italiano. Held in Milan, this year’s line-up is Finisterre, Cellar Noise and Christadoro. I’m already well versed in the works of the former and I’d read about the latter, named after drummer Mox Christadoro, a man with over 30 years experience in the Italian music scene (though not all of it in Italian prog!) so I pre-ordered a copy of the album from Zuffanti’s Bandcamp page. Meanwhile, the Burning Shed newsletter proclaimed the availability of a limited–edition 2015 re-master of the first Kaipa album (Kaipa, 1975) on 180g blue vinyl, including a CD of the album with two bonus tracks. Another album I’d been following with interest, I had to order it.


Z Fest 2017
Z Fest 2017

The two albums arrived with a couple of days of each other. First was Christadoro, a project which brought together a bunch of highly proficient musicians from varied backgrounds, united by their love of progressive rock. Joining Christadoro (drums and percussion) and bassist Fabio Zuffanti, who was at least partly responsible for the idea are Pier Panzeri from Biglietto per l’Inferno (guitars), Paul ‘Ske’ Botta who I’d seen with Not a Good Sign on the first day of the Riviera Prog festival in Genova in 2014 (keyboards) and vocalist Andrea ‘Mitzi’ Dal Santo. The core band is augmented with some renowned guests including PFM’s Franco Mussida.

The concept, hinted at in a quotation from Richie Havens printed on the inner sleeve

I really sing songs that move me

I’m not in show business

I’m in the communications business

is a presentation of seven popular Italian songs written by some of the biggest names in Italy during the 70s, given a progressive rock makeover in the same way that Yes performed Simon and Garfunkel’s America. Another track Ricercare nel mare dell’Inequitudine della paura (Searching the sea of anxiety and fear) is a Franco Mussida solo acoustic guitar prelude to L’ombra della luce (The shadow of the light) by Franco Battiato and uses some unexpected musical intervals. This pair of tracks (I couldn’t detect the transition between the two) are my favourites from the album, though I’m impressed with each of the interpretations and how neatly they have been turned prog. There may not be the complexity associated with progressivo Italiano but there’s some great playing; when the needle hit the groove on the first playing I was struck by the excellent-sounding organ of L’operaio Gerolamo and the driving guitar riff. The great organ work continues on Il sosia (The Lookalike) but not until we’ve had a traditional Zuffanti motif, the reading from some text, in this instance the recital of lines from a 1971 TV series Il Segno del Comando followed by a brief jazz-rock workout before getting a little heavy-psyche. The slide guitar and laid-back tempo on L’ultimo spettacolo calls to mind Pink Floyd’s Fat Old Sun and despite an interesting instrumental break in the middle of the song and a more rocking ending, I feel this is the weakest track on the album.

Figli di... is guitar-driven heavy rock but the vocals are clear and good. There’s more dynamic range and a healthy dose of drama in the side 2 opener Lo stambecco ferito which verges on Van der Graaf Generator territory. Solo begins with a cello section provided by Zeno Gabaglio, electric piano features heavily but there’s also some good Mellotron work. Overall it’s a rewarding buy, though not straightforward prog; the band are playing songs that move them...


Christadoro - insive sleeve
Christadoro - insive sleeve

The old purchase is actually a current re-release of old material, Kaipa’s eponymous debut. In my worldwide search for forgotten masterpieces I’d come across the group but finding examples of the early material was somewhat difficult. My initial investigations were before I understood the role of Roine Stolt and before I’d seen The Flower Kings play live – a slightly disappointing performance because the music wasn’t dominated by keyboards, which I’d come to expect; this re-issue of the early Kaipa albums is a masterstroke.

Kaipa might be keyboard-driven but there’s a nice balance with the guitar, think of Camel between their debut and Moonmadness and the result is first-class symphonic progressive rock. I love the Swedish vocals in the same way Italian prog is best sung in Italian; the lead vocals, provided by keyboard player Hans Lundin, are confident and come across as poetic and naturally flowing.

It would be too simplistic to simply class the music as being like Camel or Focus, just because these are bands who play melodic symphonic prog. The major difference between Kaipa and those two bands is the bass of Tomas Eriksson, who uses a Rickenbacker to achieve a punchy, trebly tone. Camel tend not to conform to a style that incorporates church music, whereas Focus and Kaipa include medieval-sounding compositions, a feeling enhanced by the use of harpsichord. It would have been hard for them not to have been influenced by their fellow countryman Bo Hansson, the first Swedish rock star to gain acclaim outside his native land (thanks to Charisma Records) and there are passages which use heavy reverb organ and guitar producing the distant feel that pervades Hansson’s Music Inspired by The Lord of the Rings. The one sound I don’t particularly like is the string synthesizer, though it’s not overused.



Kaipa by Kaipa
Kaipa by Kaipa

One intriguing comparison can be made with Australians Sebastian Hardie, another band fitting that Camel/Focus/Yes symphonic style. There’s a section where a Kaipa melody line (forgive me for not being over-familiar with the tracks on Kaipa) reminds me of Rosanna from Four Moments by Sebastian Hardie; what is interesting is that the Prog Archive reviews for the Australians are overwhelming negative, suggesting their music is too derivative and labelling them ‘cheesy’. Four Moments was released in 1976, a year after Kaipa. One reviewer has also called Kaipa ‘cheesy’ though the majority find the album pleasant but not over-complex, but still worthwhile. I’d go a little further. This is good symphonic progressive rock where the language and the local folk influences make it stand apart from so-called derivative acts which I think tend to be mostly American. It’s another gem, one that surely played a part in the Sweden-centred progressive revival of the 90s.




Two new purchases, two different eras, two enjoyable pieces of music.

By ProgBlog, Aug 30 2014 04:06PM

I’ve just spent a very enjoyable eight days in Tuscany. Based in Cisanello on the outskirts of Pisa, it was easy to get around the region using the railway system. I love the steep hillsides, with olive groves and vines dappled in warm sunlight and shadows from the cumulus clouds above; the uniform rows of stone pines and fields of sunflower and maize; the ancient hill forts originally occupied by long-passed civilizations.

The ideal holiday should combine a number of things, including appropriate weather (I do like my skiing!), some exercise, some relaxation, some culture, contrasting landscapes, good food. I may be a scientist but I like art and architecture; most of my photographs are architectural when previously they’d been predominantly landscapes. Our summer holiday this year was intended to cover most of the essentials, plus suitable interludes for browsing through the racks in record stores...

I’d put together a list based on personal preferences, descriptions from Andrea Parentin’s Rock Progressivo Italiano and Progressive Italiano by Alessandro Caboli and Giovanni Ottone, amounting to 23 mostly 70s RPI albums that I wanted to buy, believing that I might find maybe five of them. Top of the list was Terra in Bocca by I Giganti, which features prominently in the literature but, from talking to Alessandro Magnani of Pisa’s GAP records as well as hours spent in other music stores, copies are very hard to come by. On this visit to Pisa I didn’t actually buy anything in GAP but I did have quite a good chat with Alessandro. The shop is amazing, not least because Alessandro’s stock includes music he’s not too fond of, it’s full of vinyl and Alessandro can tell you about the style of music on any record. He very kindly played me some of Searching for a Land by the New Trolls which was organ-dominated and more like ELP than the blues-guitar infused proto-prog of the Concerto Grosso. It was evident he also liked prog, recommending Circus 2000 as something I should look out for, but also picking out a single track from an album by a folk artist (I don’t remember the name) that he cited as prog, and it was, but the rest of the album was singer-songwriter easy listening that was of no interest. Flicking through some albums he described one as being ‘very political’ and when pressed, he said it was left-wing, and wouldn’t have anything ‘from the right’. During the time I spent in there, three other audiophiles were browsing the records, asking questions and getting full answers; a truly interactive shop.

Pisa’s other record store, La Galleria del Disco (Sanantonio42 Records Shop seems to have been replaced with a clothes store that sells some music, rather than the other way round) does have a dedicated prog section and, because GAP was closed until a couple of days before we were due to return to the UK, I managed to visit twice and pick up a number of items from my list, plus a CD that wasn’t on my list but did interest me, Atlantide by The Trip (the first album as a keyboard-fronted trio) and a cheap Seventh Sojourn. Upstairs, there’s a fairly impressive selection of new vinyl for sale, indicating that Italians certainly have not fallen out of love with 12” albums and gatefold sleeves. This hypothesis was reinforced by the presence of turntables for sale in a few of the record shops I visited, including a Rega Planar 1 for €299 in Sky Stone & Songs, Lucca. This store has a reasonable collection of prog but it is mixed in with the full range of other Italian artists. Perhaps the most striking feature of the shop was the impressive range of Metal, both on CD and vinyl.

A planned trip to look for sea glass in Antignano allowed me to include a stop in Piccadilly Sound, Livorno. Atlantic Star, 36 properties away on the Via Grande had closed down, but visits to Piccadilly either side of lunch resulted in picking up three titles from my list, plus a fourth thrown in for good measure. Warner has a budget series of 2LP in 1CD and fortunately for me, the two Delirium CDs I’d wanted were included on the one CD. The bonus was the inclusion of Preludio, Tema, Variazione e Canzona on the CD with L’Uomo by Osanna.

The trip to Firenze resulted in another bumper crop, though on arrival I was disappointed with the branch of Galleria del Disco. The sottopassaggio leading out from the station has two stores and it wasn’t until we were returning to the station that we discovered the branch with the dedicated progressive Italiano. Outside of Genova, this is the only record store I’ve found that stocks a good range of BTF CDs, so I crossed another couple of classic albums of my list and indulged in three more recent releases, two from Fabio Zuffanti-related Finisterre and one from another of Zuffanti’s projects, Hostsonaten. I had picked up Fiaba by Procession, something I’d included in my 23, but chose not to buy it because of the absence of keyboards. Firenze is also home to Alberti. I went to the rather large branch in Borgo San Lorenzo, close to the cathedral. The prog was mixed in with other Italian artists and though I didn’t cross off any more titles, I bought myself a special edition 40th anniversary Banco del Mutuo Soccorso that includes three previously unreleased tracks, live tracks and a substantial booklet. I also couldn’t resist picking up a cheap copy of the first Yes album.

All in all this was a very successful holiday, ticking all the right boxes for culture, relaxation, scenery and exercise and also because of achieving 48% of my targeted albums. Tuscany next year?


My purchases were: Franco Battiato, Sulle corded Aries; Alan Sorrenti, Aria; Festa Mobile, Diario di viaggio della Festa mobile; Panna Fredda, Uno; The Trip, Atlantide; Arti+Mestieri, Tilt; Osanna, L’Uomo and Preludio, Tema, Variazione e Canzona; Delirium, Dolce Acqua and Delirium III - Viaggio negli Archipelaghi del Tempo; 40th Anniversary Banco del Mutuo Soccorso’s eponymous first album; Alusa Fallax, Intorno alla mia Cattiva Educazione; Campo di Marte, Campo di Marte; Hostsonaten, Winterthrough; Finisterre, In ogni Luogo and La Meccanica Naturale


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