ProgBlog

By ProgBlog, Jul 5 2017 07:55PM



The 2017 Porto Antico Prog Festival is being held in Genoa next week (Friday 14th – Sunday 16th July) and as I’m going along, I thought I’d take a look at some of the bands who are performing. Panther & C. play early in the evening on Saturday. I saw them at the Fiera Internazionale della Musica in 2014 and thought they were a confident ensemble playing an impressive melodic symphonic progressive rock, somewhere between the classic Italian style and subsequent incarnations of prog.



Yet another band from the new centre of progressivo Italiano, Panther & C. formed in 2003 but didn’t release their debut album L’Epoca di un Altro (Another Time) until 2015. The entire recording clocks in at less than 38 minutes which may be the ideal length for a vinyl LP but, considering they had other material that was already in a polished format in 2011 and the album only came out on CD and digital formats, it’s somewhat unusual for the times. That’s not to take anything away from the group who play beautifully constructed progressivo Italiano and tend to mix 10 minute+ compositions with shorter pieces. This first release boasts two epics; the opener Conto alla Rovescia (Countdown) and the closing La Leggenda di Arenberg (The Legend of Arenberg.) The latter, if my interpretation of the song is correct, relates to the cobbled track, once used by miners but now an integral part of the infamous Paris-Roubaix classic one-day cycle race, as it runs through the Arenberg Forest in northern France. It’s predominantly instrumental but the vocals possess an expressive, theatrical touch. I detect hints of Locanda delle Fate, especially the interactions between piano and flute and if there’s any reference to the UK prog scene, I’d suggest they were influenced by Lamb Lies Down-era Genesis. The line-up for the first album was comprised of Riccardo Mazzarini on guitar; Mauro Serpe on flute and vocals; Alessandro La Corte on Keyboards; Giorgio Boleto on bass; and Roberto Sanna on drums.





It’s appropriate that they’re once more playing on home turf because they recently released their sophomore effort Il Giusto Equilibrio (The Right Balance) (Black Widow BWRDIST 668), an album which is not yet available in the UK. Sanna has been replaced by Folco Fedele on drums but this doesn’t appear to have changed the sound in any way. This album, like the first, features five tracks mixing short pieces with three longer ones so that the running time is extended to 47 minutes; once more suitable for vinyl. Unlike the first album, Il Giusto Equilibrio has a loose theme linking the five songs, how mankind attempts to reconcile the human condition, finding the right balance between the competing essentials of existence.

Opener …e continua ad essere… (...and Continues to Be...) is firmly in classic territory, commencing with a baroque harpsichord figure before being joined by wildly racing vocals and guitar which in turn subside to calm section which has some haunting Camel-like flute drifting on to the end of the track; short, but perfectly formed. The second (title) track Giusto Equilibrio contrasts the beauty of nature and the dark side of nature, like the lion killing the gazelle. This is the first of the extended pieces and is mostly in the classical style. There’s a particular moment where the piano and organ work together in a style similar to that developed by Banco del Mutuo Soccorso and the changes in style and tempo reinforce this feeling. The track ends with a quite wonderful expansive guitar solo. Oric is the other short track, about the ‘hopes of positive feelings in the transition from one life to another’ neatly distilled into a gentle ballad with mellow picked guitar chords, Mellotron strings and choir and some Genesis-like flute. It works because it provides a dramatic contrast to the other, more full-on prog. Having said that, the second of the three lengthy tracks Fuga dal Lago (Escape to the Lake) begins in a similar fashion. This instrumental has been around since at least 2011 and relates to the need to escape from the stresses of everyday life. There are some amazing melodies weaving their way through this piece, from early Crimson flute passages to some immediate post Gabriel-era Genesis guitar and keyboard lines. The earliest versions of the piece could have fallen into the new-age category and though snatches of programmed keyboard sections remain, it’s now largely shaken off that feel but sounds like neo-prog rather than 70s prog. The last song, the 13’40 L’Occhio del Gabbiano (The Seagull’s Eye) commences with the same mellow picked chords of Oric but builds nicely. It describes a gull who witnesses the attack on the Twin Towers in New York on September 11th 2001, comparing the majesty of natural flight with the murderous intent of the hijackers. The vocals express a remarkable sadness but it’s predominantly instrumental with some great guitar and synthesizer melodies (think Misplaced Childhood and post-Hackett Genesis for sounds), all expertly held together with a dextrous, inventive rhythm section.




The album artwork probably won’t suit all tastes. Whereas L’Epoca di un Altro is illustrated by stand-up cardboard figures of the band in a manner not dissimilar to the figures depicted on the cover of Vital by Van der Graaf, Il Giusto Equilibrio has hands ripping through a leather hide. Fortunately, there’s a hint of revealing something interesting or intriguing behind the ripped covering.

Look beyond the sleeve – the music inside is well worth a listen.


See you in Genoa!






By ProgBlog, May 25 2014 06:31PM

I booked a direct flight from Gatwick to Genova, on British Airways, at a sensible time in the morning. What could be a better start to a weekend of Italian prog (16 - 18 May 2014) than that? It’s a shame trains from East Croydon were not running as smoothly as perhaps they should have but I managed to make check-in with a couple of minutes to spare. The flight was short and relatively comfortable but, though the airport at Genova is only 7km from the city, there’s no metro or train to take you there. There is a bus which takes about 40 minutes but they’re at odd times and so, starting from Croydon at 7.20 in the morning, I eventually reached my hotel, the NH Plaza, at a little after 2pm local time.

I was drawn to Genoa because it seems to be the new home of progressivo Italiano. It’s the biggest port in Italy and is a major point of entry into Europe so, like prog, the city is open to a variety of influences. Armed with a map that I picked up from the airport tourist information I set off for the Fiera di Genova, an exhibition space that’s more accustomed to international boat shows and which sits like a grounded UFO in an industrial estate. The route I took, including a couple of minor inadvertent diversions, revealed the city to be built on a number of levels and I could look out from a bridge to see parapets above and below me like a scene from an Escher painting. Getting down to the coast to the Fiera entrance involved a fairly circuitous route but a set of steps on the road level above the exhibition area allowed me to cut off a huge curve in the road. I thought it remarkable that a three day pass to the event cost less than €33 but this wasn’t simply a prog festival, it was an international fair dedicated to music in all its forms so the trade stands will have helped to subsidise the event. I thought that was an exceptionally reasonable price for 23 RPI acts including some big names in the progressivo Italiano world: La Maschera di Cera; Aldo Tagliapietra; Locanda delle Fate; Alphataurus; Gianni Leone; Osanna; and Gleemen. From a single gig by an RPI band, Goblin, in February this year, I seem to have gone a bit over the top recently; four Italian bands at the Prog Résiste festival last month and now three days worth in one setting.

As I entered the site I was immediately assailed by a phalanx of DJs pumping out dance music and, interestingly, the safe sex stand. Various stages were set around the central hall, which was not in use and appeared to be undergoing some form of renovation. The prog stage was set in a car park adjacent to the upper entrances to the exhibition space but rather too close to a drum demonstration set up where at various times you could hear Blondie and Police covers. Sounds from inside the exhibition hall also filtered out; the pop tunes of a dance class and the multiple beats of a drum demonstration.

The prog acts seemed to have been organised by the staff of Black Widow Records who had closed their shop in the old town for the duration and had a stall in the exhibition centre.

The range of bands on offer meant that there were acts to suit all tastes but, having read Fabio Zuffanti's recent blog about Italian audiences and prog I should have been better prepared for what I would regard as only small gatherings in front of the stage. Though there were never less than 50 in the audience for any of the acts I watched, there can never have been more than 200 at any of the performances which, in the industrial scale of the setting, felt to me to be somewhat disappointing.

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the music which made me aware of some new bands. Il Tempio Delle Clessidre are a Genoese band and their drummer, Paolo Tixi featured on Fabio Zuffanti’s recent solo album La Quarta Vittima. They played melodic symphonic prog and are regarded as something of a successor to Museo Rosenbach because of the inclusion of vocalist Stefano Galifi whose voice has matured since the days of Zarathustra. Opening act Panther & C. were good symphonic prog in the mould of Steve Hackett with a very physically expressive vocalist/flautist and though Unreal City played some material that was more straight-forward rock than prog, they had a flamboyant keyboard player, Emanuele Tarasconi who played in the style of Keith Emerson. I also enjoyed Not A Good Sign who were evidently influenced by King Crimson, and Ingranaggi Della Valle who played a cross between prog and jazz rock, revealing a Mahavishnu influence. The set from La Coscienza di Zeno was better than the performance in Soignies.

Another really lovely feature of the event was that the protagonists wandered in and out of the crowd throughout the day. Fabio Zuffanti and Martin Grice were both fully in evidence on day one; Alvaro Fella, formerly of Jumbo and now confined to a wheelchair spent much of the second afternoon watching the performances and signing copies of Jumbo CDs before taking the stage with C.A.P; and I had a very pleasant chat with Richard Sinclair over a beer on the last afternoon before his appearance with Prophexy. He’s resident in southern Italy and runs a music club, offering his musical expertise in return for an annual fee of €50 which also gives you two original CDs per year. His performance with Prophexy was because they’re averse to anything in 4/4 time and they love early Caravan and Hatfield and the North. It was very nice of him to address me personally when he said “hello” to the crowd. Contact [email protected] for details.

The other unforgettable part of the weekend was La Maschera di Cera performing Le Porte del Domani in full (though Zuffanti was touring his solo album in Canada), followed later that evening by Aldo Tagliapietra performing the entire Felona e Sorona.

I quite like Genova, with its UNESCO world heritage sites that I visited in the mornings before the prog started, and I haven’t seen the entire city. This means that I’ll be booking a ticket if there’s a good line-up for the festival next year.


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