L'Estate di San Martino — Kim
L'Estate di San Martino is one of those projects that never kept a high profile, but always produced top quality music. Ten years ago, the band's 2012 release pierced me right in my heart with its sublime beauty, diversity and freshness, and I still hold this record as one of my Rock Progressivo Italiano favorites from the second decade of the 21st century. The band does not have PFM's ultimate popularity, or Le Orme's symphonic leanings, or the extravagant approach of Banco del Mutuo Soccorsso (I should mention here, that the legendary Francesco Di Giacomo did some guest vocals on a couple of “L'Estate's” albums). Nonetheless, their style fits perfectly well with a more melancholic, impeccably melodic and almost pre-Raphaelite dreamy pattern, that progheads associate with the likes of Locanda delle Fate, Il Volo and lately La Coscienza di Zeno.
Kim is, as you may guess, the most recent output by this collective, with one major change in approach – the vocals now play a much greater part in the band's sound, than ever before. Not surprising at all, since it would be a shame to have a vocalist like Andrea Pieroni to be overshadowed by instruments. Andrea has a wonderful, clear and passionate voice that not only creates a certain mood, but is versatile enough to tell a story.
Which is really important, as it turns out.
Concept-wise, the album looks like a close relative to the much-lauded Sadako e le mille gru di carta by Logos (if you missed this one, please run and read Thomas' review and grab the CD), and also tells a story of an incurable little girl, albeit with a different angle and a bit of sci-fi projections. I possess only so much knowledge of Italian, as to be able to grasp the basics of the story, so I won't pretend I know it all. Italian-speakers would enjoy an extra layer of Kim's nuances, that I am sure of.
The rest of listeners should not feel themselves deprived in any sense, as they have plenty of other things to enjoy throughout the record. From the opening Cretto with a crystal-clear interplay of keys and flute, through the Banco-style optimistic Libera, to an immediate earworm of Immaginami, every track adds something new and shines with different color.
The twin jewels in the crown here are the closing two compositions, Caleidoscopio and Tewar. Caleidoscopio has a groovy neo-prog feel, and tastes almost like Pendragon on holiday in Umbria, while Tewar is an 11-minutes kaleidoscope itself, a multipart patchwork of instrumental pieces including great drum parts and beautiful ethereal vocalization in the outro.
Kim did not disappoint yours truly and will unlikely disappoint you: there's enough place for neo-prog epicness, pure canzone-type melodicism, wide array of instruments and intricate arrangements. Kim does not rock as lively and flamboyantly as Barock Project or Il Tempio della Clessidre do, but it surely has its share of groove driven pieces, that fit the rest of the playtime as closely as Cinderella's shoe.
Pure aesthetical rapture, no expiry date.
Reale Accademia di Musica — Lame Di Luce
When I joined DPRP's ranks some five years ago, Reale Accademia di Musica's (RAM) Angeli Mutanti was amongst the first albums I chose for a review. Triggered by the band's remarkable return after a lifetime absence of 46 years, this excellent album stimulated my senses and warmed my heart with memories of old and made me envision new ones as I gazed upon travel guides for a return journey to Italy in the sun.
Thus far, a variety of circumstances has prevented this from actually happening, but the desire to book a trip has once again returned, for Lame di Luce's progressive pop freshness makes another brilliant plea to travel abroad and enjoy Italy and all of its irresistible cultural gastronomic wealth. The more I indulge on the album the stronger this feeling becomes and I can already taste the delicious assorted flavours of their ice cream, so to speak.
Over the past five years, RAM has remained fairly intact with a permanent line-up existing out of founding member Pericle Sponzilli (vocals, guitars), Fabio Liberatori (piano, Hammond organ, synthesizers), Erika Pao Savastani (vocals) and Fabio Fraschini (bass). They are now joined by guest musician Francesco Isola, who has taken over on drums from Andy Bartolucci. Danilo Pao (Deserto Rosso) participates in production and contributes with a touch of Fender VI to various tracks.
Compared to Angeli Mutanti, there are a few noticeable differences. The first is instantly shown in the album's upgraded and polished sound. This gives a wonderful contemporary freshness to the music. Admittedly, I do miss the raw edges embedded within Sponzilli's excellent, vintage flavoured, guitar play. As a result, some of the previously received Barclay James Harvest images come less to the fore, while encountered impressions of Nektar and All About Eve are now mostly out of sight.
A small change of direction to a more pop-minded style is also detectable. This makes beloved progressive moments like La pista e il miraggio and the overwhelming Tempo from Angeli Mutanti belong to the past. But putting focus and emphasis on songs, thereby paying close attention to prog arrangements alongside formidable musical interpretations, the band has successfully created and transformed their style to a beautiful consistent whole which shows there is more beauty to behold in music than just pure prog.
Whether RAM's pop-inspired pathway has also led to a different insight on lead vocals is unknown to me, but here too is a different role division, now in favour of Savastani. Personally I can really appreciate Sponzilli's warm, fragile and mature voice, and his vocal performances in Due Pietre Preziose Birmane and Incontri are once again wonderful to hear. But I can understand the choice perfectly well. For even more than already demonstrated on Angeli Mutanti, Savastani's expressive and angelic voice comes fully in its own in the various wonderful songs crafted by Sponzilli, and those he composed together with Liberatori.
Onde Di Sabbia instantly brings an excellent example of this. It opens in half-twilight brooding with warmth of organ and emotional vocals by Savastani, accompanied by touching subdued harmonies from Sponzilli, one of RAM's vocal strengths. With melody and feel perfectly balanced, the intricately groovy music slowly gains dynamics to reveal a light symphonic touch. Then, delicate organ gives the song a delightful comfortable 70s atmosphere which I so adore in RAM's music.
The subsequent cheerful Ascesa Al Fuji shifts this feel into a modernised sound. Sparkling piano play and beautiful transitions — Sponzilli's underlying guitar parts strongly remind of Steve Hackett in his Genesis prime. Especially the playful symbiosis of catchy melodies and short synth cascades provide a wonderful progressive upwelling, before it tastefully finalises with expressions of Camel and Landmarq. Due Pietre Preziose Birmane adds intimate atmospheres to this with catchy choruses that energise the song, complemented by a wonderful tasty middle part, with bass and smart guitar play chiming with atmospheres of dark and light.
the title track Lame di luce (Blades Of Light) is designed with beautiful interplay in which feeling, emotion and musicality beat as one. It introduces RAM's original and recognizable blues-inspired sound for the first time, with outstanding melodic Barclay James Harvest reminiscent symphonic pleasantries, elevated by Savastani's divine passionate performance. The beautiful, also blues-based, Una ferita da disinfettare takes this one step further. Complemented by enchanting vocals by Savasani, this song has wonderfully varied dreamy synths and ideally coordinated performances, arranged down to the last detail.
These arrangements come fully into their own under headphones, as the spring-evoking brightness of Si parlerà demonstrates. Liberatori goes all out here and delivers an oasis of synths and piano while the rhythm section pours down an irresistible grooviness. The song is guided with playful ease towards a mountainous bridge with guitars and synths in unison. Ore lente's transitions from subdued and small to big, sparkling with fizzing synth play, fascinates equally and opens summer skies through Savastani's heavenly touching voice. Liberatori's mouthwatering synth swirls top off this song's coda.
The slow-paced Incontri finally rounds off the desirable vinyl version with echoing flavours of Pink Floyd. Exciting flows of psychedelics amidst emotive guitars, framed with dreamy synths, lead to ultimate rapture. It's however my vision that if you opt for the vinyl version you have no other choice then to still add the CD to your collection. For not only does this version expand the album with the delightful catchy uptempo rock of Ossessione, but it also includes the album's pinnacle moment (IMHO) in form of the marvellously beautiful Il cavaliere del cigno (l'addio).
Savastani rises above herself in this minimally guided intricate song with heavenly vocals that touch deep emotionally, while Liberatori's tasteful atmospheric interpretation on piano and synths create a wonderful soothing and peaceful spatial feel. There is a surprising transformation halfway into a finale of lushly decorated "Berliner Schüle" electronic music by Liberatori. It thrives on sequences and immaculately elevating dreamy synth flows. I'll say it again just in case: for prog's sake, don't just buy the vinyl for you will miss out on one of RAM's most brilliant captivating moments.
Overall RAM's Lame di luce successfully meets the heights of my expectations. As before, they have been able to craft a wonderfully diverse and engaging album that twinkles with plenty of exclusive delights and musical treats and as such comes highly recommendable for fans of timeless, song-structured progressive rock, beautifully arranged, rich Italian pop-like flavours, and exceptional performances.
Here's to hoping our local ice parlor will reopen for the season soon, so I can indulge in Lame di luce's tantalising summery freshness, together with my favourite lemon/limoncello ice-cream... 😋
Red Bazar — Inverted Reality
Red Bazar return with their fifth album, and the third album with vocalist and keyboard player Peter Jones. The rest of the band, and founder members, are Andy Wilson (guitars), Mick Wilson (bass) and Paul Comerie (drums). The album is the follow-up to the DPRP-recommended Things As They Appear, released in 2019. (I am not counting the 2021 re-recording of Connections, the original version of which was released in 2008.) With this new release the band had headed further into heavier territory whilst managing to maintain their progressive inclinations. At times the band almost reach metal proportions, as in State Of Disgrace whose lyrics relate the tale of Russian writer and human rights activist Vladimir Bukovsky. However, the melodic chorus and spoken word storytelling cleverly incorporated into the song save it from going too overboard.
The album starts with One Out Of Three that has a vaguely It Bites lilt to it and gives Wilson, an opportunity to lay out some powerful licks on his six string. The thirty seconds of chanting midway through is somewhat of a distraction though and don't add anything to the track other than being a rather unwelcome distraction. Spirit Of Man has a somewhat more sedate beginning and similar sedate middle before a slightly more energetic ending! It does demonstrate the skill of the band in building and maintaining a great atmosphere over an extended period without ever becoming boring, and without resorting to an indulgence of widdly widdlyness. A class song from a mature band who have the ability and confidence to go with their gut instincts.
The last three tracks all hit the 10-minute mark which will excite the prog nutters but, as we all know, length does not equal quality. Fortunately, Red Bazar have never been prone to over-indulgence and the running times are purely incidental and secondary to the actual song. Jones is in fine voice throughout the album, possibly because musically the songs are not dominated by keyboards allowing Jones to focus on his singing. Having not been in the band from the start he has had to fit in with the musical style already established on the first two instrumental albums (and one EP) that the group had released before he joined. And, of course, he is also writing with other musicians who want their instruments to be heard!
There are musical allusions to seventies giants like Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple, although these are never truly overt and have a modern twist. One of the highlights is Smokescreen where a throbbing and driving bass line drives things throughout various instrumental passages that shouldn't really fit together and yet do. Jones lets off several impassioned roars, and it is genuinely disappointing when the song starts fading out as one could simply get lost in the groove for a lot longer.
The album closes with Stop The World whose first 90 seconds are somewhat of a disappointment after what has gone before. However, come the first chorus things start falling into place. Again a repetitive bass line keeps things moving and the keyboard and guitar interjections keep it lively. Comerie's drumming comes into its element throughout putting in fills where least expected. Another brief exploration into metal-type riffing is perhaps a step away from the continuity that the song perhaps deserves but as it is followed by a scorcher of a guitar solo I guess they can be forgiven. The subsequent keyboard explorations (not solos as the rest of the band are very much in evidence) are marinated in prog deliciousness before the band go hell for leather in a tremendous conclusion to the album.
Inverted Reality is really an album whose sum is greater than its parts. Although I have listened to the album many times in preparation for this review I feel there is still a lot more to be discovered. It is one of those releases that will prove to get better with age and familiarity. Well worth making a start on the journey of discovery asap!
The Universe By Ear — III
We are already in February, but I still have some albums from 2022 to review. Latest effort from the Swiss band The Universe By Ear is what we have here and apparently another good one that I missed when it was released in October. I need a parallel life only dedicated to listen to music and discover new bands, to go to live shows and even start playing guitar...
The Universe By Ear is a 3-piece band from Basel, Switzerland, having Beni Bürgin on drums, Pascal Grünenfelder on bass and vocals, and Stef Strittmatter on guitar and vocals. III is of course their third effort, and it has made me check back their previous albums because the musical proposal here is very interesting, at least to my taste. How do you feel if I mention some 70s vibe, some stoner rock with grunge touches here and there and superb vocal melodies? Sounds great, doesn't it? Well, pour in another touch of experimentation and exploration of new sounds, and you will get the mix: brilliant album!
We have only five songs on this album but the length ranges from six to almost twelve minutes so there's plenty of time in each song to discover all the influences that I have mentioned. The interesting transitions among the different parts of each song. Take Sail Around The Sun as the perfect example. It starts with a thick stoner intro that opens to very nice vocal harmonies and does not rush to evolve into an experimental passage before some Pink Floyd influences played by Alice In Chains appear... Not easy to write this, but you will agree with me once you listen to it. I love that combination.
I'm not going to describe each song but please do yourself a favor and check these great songs because you will discover a very good album that ticks many boxes and not for the fact of marking their musical influences but because The Universe By Ear has made a very interesting mix which results in a brilliant and very enjoyable progressive rock album. A band that I will follow from now on in my regular life until I get my parallel one.
Vanguardian — II: The Heretic
Finland has long been known as one of the most “metal” countries, with (using figures on 2023 from Encyclopedia Metallum, put into a graph here) 84.5 metal bands per 100,000 people (the USA by comparison has 10.8). So there is a lot of competition, especially for a young band such as Vanguardian.
The group start off strong on their second EP, with the raucous Back To The Stone Age smashing through the walls with a mix that is equal parts death metal riffs and grooving rhythms, interlaced with harsh screams and fast gunfire chugging. Sounding similar to the early days of Klone at points, it certainly sets the bar high for the rest of the EP.
The Collider keeps up the sentiment of rhythmic brutality, with melody even in the down tuned chopping riffs. The intricacies of the music would place this into the tech death side, with elements of (albeit slowed down) Gorod and Necrophagist present in the music. This one sticks out as being slower than Back To Stone Age, but with more of a consciousness behind the riffs.
Second to last, Pantheon enters with a gentle clean intro and gravelly clean vocals. But don't let this sense of fragility catch you off guard. The track may be more melancholic than the hard hits of the previous two, but it packs no softer a punch. The heaviness of the grooving death metal is just replaced with the heaviness of melancholy.
The namesake of the EP lands with an intense thud and runs from there. Minimalistic verses that somehow retain all the pent-up aggression of the intro follow before it delves into some uneasy cleans over the middle section. Tightly controlled fury and tension comes next with a superb solo riding the waves over the top before the track ends.
A short EP, but showing potential for future releases. Showing a mix of styles between the tech death of Gorod, to the prog beliefs of Klone, with elements of Children Of Bodom thrown in too (coincidentally, the producer Anssi Kippo has previously worked with them). All in all, I enjoyed this one.
Wild Card — Cabin 19 Fever
Take a basket of classical and electric guitars, drums and a B3 Hammond organ; add several other ingredients to stretch things out and create the basis of the stack. Wrap it up with a variety of colourfast tints. Throw a funky pair of canvas shoes, a jazz party hat and a sparkling sequin samba dress into the load and everything is ready to rotate and swing.
The first track spins in a vibrant manner, and offers a pre-wash rinse of tumbling and mesmerising proportions. Olympus is a cleansing prelude for what is to follow. It quickly dissolves any genre preconceptions, offering an expansive view of "what is Jazz?".
Whatever label is applied, the opening tune lifts the spirit and raises sensory expectations. Latin rhythms abound, brass and reeds combine to provide the piece with a hallmark of quality and a glossy sheen.
Everything about Olympus is impressive, the finely picked classical guitar lines are sublime the percussive fills are delightful. This helps to ensure that there is no option other than to immerse yourself in its shifting dramatic soundscape. Toe tap captured, enchanted, and bewitched; the album continues. The sensory porthole pivots, turns and revolves. The full wash day cycle and extent of Wild Card's expressive mix of styles has begun.
Wild Card are Clement Regert on guitar, Sophie Alloway on drums, and organist Andrew Noble. There are fourteen notable guests that feature on the album. These include Binker Golding, Marcus Strickland, Karl Vanden Bossche and Graeme Flowers.
The album contains eight original tunes composed by Regert and two cover versions of recogniseable songs by Peter Gabriel and Toto's David Paich. I guess the most accurate way to pigeonhole Wild Card's overall approach and sound is to say that they create a buttock shifting type of jazz funk.
For readers who appreciate some stylistic signposts I feel that the Latin tinged rhythms and Jazz Funk stylings that are predominant in Cabin 19 Fever recalled the work of bands such as Dick Crouch's Paz, (minus the vibraphone) and aspects of the Morrissey–Mullen band. On the occasions when Wild Card briefly explore outside a well-established groove I was reminded of Spirit Level's approach in their Mice in the Wallet release.
However, such signposts inevitably do not accurately or fully portray the style and substance of the album. Wild Card unquestionably has their own distinctive set of tones and colours and there many subtle changes of direction and moods contained within the band's repertoire. Cabin 19 Fever certainly held my attention and captured my imagination.
Regert's beautifully toned guitar underpins many of the tunes. However, it is arguably the rhythm section and lush organ tones that provide much of the atmosphere that makes the album so enjoyable. The brass and reed work are outstanding and helps the release to jive, dance and swing. The whole album is well recorded and has a wonderfully clear and dynamic sound.
Regert provides many outstanding up-tempo compositions. I particularly like the hard-edged guitar sound that drifts in and out of the hugely enjoyable Definately Maybe. It's a tune that has it all, funky rhythms outstanding musicianship and magnificent tenor saxophone playing courtesy of Binker Golding.
The band excels during Regert's reflective pieces as well. Aleppo Express begins meditatively, but its real memory forming moment occurs during Noble's flowing solo. It's a fine piece that has many textures in its distinctive sections.
However, it is the smiling party time atmosphere of tunes such as Tweenies that have the biggest impact. The players manage to convey an air of excitement and deliver an enthusiastic and infectious groove. It's a great Jazz funk piece.
My favourite piece is probably Deception. It contains many moods; I enjoyed the transition from the main theme to its sudden conclusion. The tune also offers some enchanting melodies. The combination of the tenor sax and trumpet work well together to create a forceful strike force that delivers in an expressive manner.
The two cover tunes work well and contain some excellent instrumental sections. These complement Imaani's soulful soaring vocal. However, whilst they add another stylistic layer to the album, the inclusion of these alternative versions of well-known tunes seems a tad out of place.
Imanni's distinctive voice and expressive delivery reminded me of Joy Yates' work with Pacific Eardrum. This overall feeling was only reinforced by the keyboard work and rhythmic grooves that embellish the tunes.
Overall, much of Wild Card's latest release is very satisfying. It's a fine example of contemporary jazz party music and will no doubt compel anybody who hears it to wear a smile and knock their knees in a youthful manner. Whether it will appeal to those who predominantly enjoy prog is another matter though.
Before I test that theory out by playing some Wild Card to my classic prog loving pal, I had better stack, wrap, and load the machine and spin Cabin 19 Fever again whilst I can. Undoubtedly, after a few minutes of playing this album, my friend will probably hit the stop button and reach out for an album that begins with a short ditty entitled The Revealing Science of God.