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A frantic fortnight of  gigs for ProgBlog began on March 9th at Genova's Angelo Azzurro Club, a much loved venue under threat of closure. Marina Montobbio's series of Lady Prog Nights was on its third event featuring local symphonic prog bands Melting Clock and Panther & C...

By ProgBlog, Feb 20 2018 03:57PM

In the last blog I commented on how difficult it was to pigeonhole Portico Quartet who don’t really sit easily on a sliding scale between jazz and anywhere but need something else, another superimposed scale perhaps, to give more of an indication of how you might identify their music. I’ve just had a fairly intensive session listening to L’Ora di Tutti (Time for Everyone) by Italian band Muffx and, as with Portico Quartet, I really like their music but whilst they fall somewhere in the amorphous prog cloud, they also defy a strict classification, taking a dash of psychedelia, a dose of proto-prog, incorporating some heavy blues aspects that featured in a number of the early RPI bands, some blues-inflected keyboard prog like Greenslade, swing, and experimentation.

It came as something of a surprise to me that L’Ora di Tutti is their fifth album, although only three prior to this one have been released: ...Saw The... (2007), Small Obsessions (2009), and Époque (2012); the material making up Nocturno which was recorded after Époque was shelved following the untimely death of producer and friend Pierpaolo Cazzolla. The band was formed in Salento (Puglia) by guitarist Luigi Bruno (leader of the Mediterranean Psychedelic Orkestra and co-founder of the Sagra Del Diavolo, the Devil’s Festival) and garnered favourable press when they toured Italy to promote their debut album; a success repeated when they released their second and third albums; they’ve even toured in the UK and have played with special guests from the prog world, like Richard Sinclair (now resident in Puglia) Aldo Tagliapietra and Claudio Simonetti.

The album reflects the band’s geographical roots, with the title L’Ora di Tutti taken from the 1962 cult novel by Maria Corti about the Ottoman attack on Otranto on the eastern side of the Salento peninsula in August 1480. In the book, the event is narrated by five different characters, fishermen and farmers, so in effect it is five stories told in the first person, offering different perspectives that complement each other chronologically; presenting an alternative narrative of heroism and sacrifice in contrast to the official chronicles. There are subtly different cover graphics for the vinyl and CD releases by Massimo Pasca, who appears to be channelling images of hell like Coppo di Marcovaldo, Pieter Bruegel or Hieronymus Bosch, depicting the attack; it’s not a mainstream prog cover but does fit a ‘dark prog’ tag, a category firmly associated with Genoa’s Black Widow Records who co-produced and distributed the disc.

Opening track Un' Alba come Tante (A Dawn like Many Others) begins as far away from the sleeve artwork as you can imagine, with birdsong indicating the bucolic existence associated with the heel of Italy. The introduction of a deliberate flanged bass figure (played by Ilario Suppressa) and electric piano (courtesy of Mauro Tre) is reminiscent of early structured Pink Floyd; there’s a short, heavy fuzzed bass riff which resolves into a triumphant sounding, uplifting motif which is repeated on brassy synth before the riff changes style, becoming firstly more bluesy then jazzy with a swing beat provided by Alberto Ria. A walking bass line overlain with a synth solo has a very 70’s feel, like a subdued Greenslade, before a reprise of the ‘heroic’ riff that could have featured in the 70’s BBC TV series Gangsters (see Greenslade’s Time and Tide, 1975) with wah-wahed electric piano, finally ending with a section reminiscent of Barrett-era Pink Floyd. There are two guest brass players on the track, Gianni Alemanno who plays trumpet and Andrea Doremi on trombone whose contributions fit seamlessly with the piece, adding brightness rather than colour and enhancing the jazzy nature of the composition.

It’s a great start to the record, 11 minutes of predominantly riff-based music and some impressive but unflashy soloing. The constant changes prevent it from becoming boring and the bright riff which features near the start and is reprised later on in the track is a true ear-worm; I set off to work on Friday whistling the refrain and came back home still whistling the phrase! Only a minute shorter, second track Vengono dal Mare (They come from the Sea) quickly moves from the relative tranquility of wave sounds to vaguely disturbing guitar (think of the opening sequence of David Cronenberg’s cinematic adaptation of Crash by JG Ballard, scored by Howard Shore.) There’s a short spoken passage in Turkish by Gorkem Ismail which adds to the atmosphere without relieving the tension, then a short guitar figure before the introduction of a driving riff underneath a repeating keyboard figure and some more wah-wahed keyboard. There’s a slightly sinister edge to this track which reminds me of Goblin, so it comes as no surprise that Claudio Simonetti has played as a guest with the band.

Ottocento (800) features some great Farfisa organ, a keyboard tone not unlike the work of Rick Wright or Bo Hansson but any hint of Pink Floyd is covered with new additions, gull-cry guitar and other-worldly theremin. It’s the most psychedelic of the four tracks and possibly the least musically complex with stomping fuzzed bass and other fairly straightforward bass lines and rhythms, but there is some mesmerising highly reverbed guitar which sketches the outlines of a Middle Eastern scale.

Bernabei, named after an Ottoman soldier who doesn’t actually appear in Corti’s novel, is the shortest of the four tracks but following a deliberate, short, heavy riff that links to the preceding track, a fast Middle Eastern-scale guitar line is reintroduced and there’s some experimental early-Floyd jamming. A picked guitar motif is played over some Turkish text and then the guitar and synthesizer double up to play a fast eastern-sounding riff. The group switches between rock improvisation, jazz sections and the eastern riff, all played presto vivace and the record closes with a reprise of the eastern riff.

Written by Bruno and recorded live in the studio in two 10-hour stints after days of rehearsal, it’s possible to detect a sense of urgency about the music but it’s coherent and well played. I like the fact that the band has chosen a concept that relates to their home region, an examination of personal cultural history and an interpretation of what is regarded as a major literary work. The link to Goblin goes a bit deeper than occasional sections sounding like them; they had the idea of making the album as a soundtrack to an imaginary 70’s film of the novel, choosing instrumentation to match. This obviously adds to the prog sound but also puts Muffx in the Giallo category.

It’s prog, but it’s a mixture of heavy, Italian proto-prog (influenced by Deep Purple and Black Sabbath), psychedelia and jazz. It may be another ‘hard-to-pigeonhole’ album, but it's really good.

Muffx - L'Oro di Tutti (2017) BWRDIST 675

By ProgBlog, Jun 5 2016 09:39PM

It wasn’t until I began to examine the causes of the demise of the first wave of progressive rock, in association with reading the essays written by Robert Fripp and printed in the sleeve notes of DGM releases at the commencement of the third wave of prog, that I really paid any attention to the record label. Part of this was due to the relatively wide range of record companies that oversaw the releases by the relatively narrow range of bands that I listened to and certainly during the early 70s it seemed that record companies, riding the lucrative wave of the 33rpm vinyl album, were content to let their charges do almost whatever they wanted as long as the coffers continued to be filled and furthermore, taking on a new act that wasn’t quite so successful wasn’t so much of a risk when there were some big acts in the stable who were guaranteed to produce hit albums.

At the time I think I was more interested in the graphic used to represent the record label, proudly applied to the centre of the disc that might give some more information about the music; the green, red/orange and white of Atlantic on my Yes albums that gave way to Roger Dean’s cover artwork on Tales from Topographic Oceans (1973) and Relayer (1974); the green lava-lamp blob, another Roger Dean design, representing the EMI progressive subsidiary Harvest on my copies of Pink Floyd’s Atom Heart Mother (1970), Meddle (1971), A Nice Pair (1974) and Triumvirat’s Spartacus (1975), though the Floyd’s association with Hipgnosis and their approach to design resulted in Dark Side of the Moon (1973) boasting the iconic (triangle) prism; Wish You Were Here (1975) has a George Hardie robotic handshake and Animals (1977) has a fish eye lens dog on side one and sheep on side two. Roger Dean was evidently in demand by the progressive record labels because he also designed the replacement for the Vertigo swirl, with the UFO-like spacecraft and illustrated the first Virgin Records label, originally in black and white, and the closely related image, without the lizard, for the budget Virgin stable mate Caroline. My only copies Vertigo albums on vinyl are Octopus (1972) by Gentle Giant and the eponymous debut by Trace (1974), both of which feature the spaceships and all my albums on Virgin had a coloured logo which, by the time of Ommadawn (1975) had shed the lizard and was simply a stylised photo of the mirror girl.

I quite quickly recognised that there was one record company that appeared to have a monopoly on jazz-rock fusion, with CBS being home to The Mahavishnu Orchestra, Weather Report and Return to Forever but it wasn’t until I discovered the link back to Miles Davis that I understood why. When I picked up Neil Ardley’s Kaleidoscope of Rainbows (from 1976) on tape in the early 80s I wondered if there was a jazz rock thing going on with Gull Records because Isotope were also on Gull; I had all three of the Isotope studio releases but never realised that it was a label associated with Morgan studios because Isotope (1974), Illusion (1974) and Deep End (1975) were recorded at Advision, Rockfield and Trident respectively.

The only label that came anywhere close to indicating that their bands were all worth listening to was Charisma. After the demise of Andrew Loog Oldham’s Immediate label in 1970, The Nice released Five Bridges (1970) and the posthumous Elegy (1971) on Charisma. My second hand copy of Elegy has the original ‘scroll’ logo and my Five Bridges, bought new, has a bold block Charisma on a blue background surmounted by a small Mad Hatter. Almost everything else I have on the label on vinyl features the John Tenniel Hatter: Genesis, Van der Graaf Generator and Peter Hammill solo material, Refugee, Bo Hansson, Steve Hackett, Brand X; even my re-released English version of Le Orme’s Felona and Sorona, distributed by BTF in Italy, has the famous Mad Hatter image. The exceptions include Peter Gabriel Plays Live (1983) where there’s a small cover photo image of Gabriel in black and white, and sides two and four of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (1974) which feature the shattering glass photos from the Hipgnosis cover without any text. The Charisma roster was hand-picked by founder Tony Stratton-Smith and, without the corporate restrictions of the majors, featured a good range of like-minded artists; not that I was ever tempted to buy anything by Clifford T Ward. Almost all the major labels all had an imprint that championed alternative or progressive rock. EMI had Harvest; Philips/Phonogram had Vertigo; Decca had Deram (with Camel, Caravan and the Moody Blues on their books until the Moodies set up their own label and shops, Threshold); Pye had Dawn, home to Northern Ireland’s only progressive rock band Fruupp. RCA also had a short-lived specialist label, Neon, only ever releasing 11 albums, all in 1971 but which included the only, self-titled album by Tonton Macoute (very much on the jazzier side of prog), the Mellotron-heavy self-titled album by Spring and the proto-prog of Indian Summer with their eponymous album.

One of the first labels I came across was Manticore, set up by Emerson, Lake and Palmer in 1973 which wasn’t too long after I first started to listen to prog, conceived as a vehicle for not just their own music but also for acts that interested the trio but which were finding it difficult to get music released. Manticore brought Italian prog giants Premiata Forneria Marconi (PFM) and Banco to UK and US consciousness and followed in the footsteps of the Moody Blues and Threshold Records, a sub-division of their old label Decca, formed in 1969 following the release of On the Threshold of a Dream. Manticore, named after the chimeric creature that appears on the sleeve of Tarkus pre-dated Led Zeppelin’s Swan Song Records by a year.

Gentle Giant switched record companies from Vertigo to the Black Sabbath label World Wide Artists before the release of In a Glass House but WWA folded following financial difficulties some time after the release of The Power and the Glory in 1974 and their next effort, Free Hand (1975) was released on Chrysalis. This deal came about after Gentle Giant toured in the US supporting Jethro Tull, Tull having been the reason for the formation of the label by Chris Wright and Terry Ellis when they couldn’t get a record deal in the late 60s. Another label independent of the majors, apart from overseas distribution deals, Chrysalis may have been a pun based on the founders’ names but the imagery, the stage prior to a butterfly emerging from its cocoon, captured the zeitgeist. Procol Harum were another prog band that released records on Chrysalis.

King Crimson were signed to EG music but their 60s and 70s material was released via distributors (independent) Island Records and Polydor, a UK subsidiary of Germany’s Polyphon-Musikwerke that was founded in 1913. The 80s incarnation of Crimson released three albums on EG and there were a number of other releases, called Editions EG, including albums by Robert Fripp’s League of Gentlemen, Penguin Cafe Orchestra, Brian Eno and Quiet Sun. EG ended up being distributed by Virgin who were then sold to EMI but in the mean time Fripp, who had been in a long-term dispute with EG, formed Discipline Global Mobile to release King Crimson and related material. From the outset DGM set out to provide an alternative business model to the majors which Fripp described as unethical and founded on exploitation. The main principle of DGM was to allow the artists to retain copyright of their material which meant that none of the DGM artists would have to go through the same process that Fripp had done with EG.

It would appear that the industry has changed. There may be only three majors now, after takeovers and mergers and there still might be multi-million dollar contracts, but the progressive rock community has witnessed to some innovative ways to release records, from the crowd-funded financing of Marillion to the founding of a progressive rock-specific label, Kscope, with the stated aim to be artistically focused and sympathetic to adventurous and explorative music. I always thought it was worth reading the label...

By ProgBlog, Apr 13 2015 03:58PM

During the halcyon days of progressive rock, when bands took time out to recharge their batteries and subsequently, when punk came along and the influence of prog artists waned, there was always an outlet for creative talent (enough to keep up the mortgage repayments) especially for keyboard players: film score work. Instrumental prog has cropped up in a variety of TV and film roles, from the exceptionally famous Tubular Bells overture in The Exorcist to Greenslade performing the soundtrack to the gritty, post-modern criminal gang drama Gangsters, set in multi-cultural Birmingham that began life as a BBC TV play in 1975 and was followed by two series in 1976 and 1978. A portion of Pink Floyd’s Echoes even featured in Jacob Bronowski’s seminal series The Ascent of Man in the early 70s.

The last film soundtrack I listened to was the live performance of Profondo Rosso as an accompaniment to the film at the Barbican in February. I have to admit that even though I enjoyed the entire event, I had just gone to see legendary progressivo Italiano band Goblin.

I’m not really much of a soundtrack person. The first examples I ever owned were Pink Floyd’s Cirrus Minor and The Nile Song which appeared on Relics, having originally come from the album Soundtrack from the film More (marking the directorial debut of Barbet Schroeder.) Whereas Cirrus Minor fits in with my idea of a Pink Floyd song, with its church organ tone and spacey effect-ridden organ that calls to mind the title track from A Saucerful of Secrets, the overtly heavy rock Nile Song, which had previously been released as a single in 1969, seems out of synch with the rest of the Floyd oeuvre. At the time, the only other Floyd albums I’d heard were Dark Side of the Moon and a rather confusing bootleg of Atom Heart Mother and, though I listened to and found Hawkwind’s Silver Machine and Black Sabbath’s Paranoid amusing, I didn’t actually attach any musical value to heavy rock. It’s stretching a point but another soundtrack piece from Relics is Careful with That Axe, Eugene, originally the B side of the single Point Me at the Sky; t was re-recorded as Come in Number 51, Your Time is Up and featured in Michelangelo Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point (1970).

The Floyd also released Obscured by Clouds (1972), music from the film La Vallée (also directed by Barbet Schroeder) and though I’d heard Free Four on Alan Freeman’s Saturday Show and at least one of my friends in Infield Park owned the album, I thought that the material was rather lightweight, similar in nature to the material on the first side of Meddle and the second side of Atom Heart Mother and I was never motivated enough to buy a copy. Possibly the most interesting aspect of the album were the rounded corners of the original sleeve!

Apart from two Goblin albums, Profondo Rosso and Suspiria, I only own two soundtrack albums. The first of these is Rick Wakeman’s White Rock which I think is an admirable fit for the film of the 1976 Innsbruck Winter Olympics and is much better than his two preceding studio releases because it is entirely instrumental. The second is a work by another Italian prog outfit, Banco del Mutuo Soccorso. Wakeman’s first foray into film soundtracks, something that he has since disowned, was Ken Russell’s Lisztomania (1975) where Wakeman interpreted Liszt and Wagner. He would later provide soundtracks to more films: The Burning (1981); Crimes of Passion (1984), another collaboration with director Ken Russell and starring Kathleen Turner in which he used themes from Dvorak’s New World Symphony; and Phantom Power (1990), a remake of Phantom of the Opera.

More recently, during my efforts to acquire as much Italian prog as possible, I bought Garofano Rosso (Red Carnation) by Banco del Mutuo Soccorso. The film, directed by Luigi Faccini was based on the novel of the same name by Elio Vittorini, best known for his much admired Conversation in Sicily. Once again located in Sicily, the story deals with tentative youthful longings set within the charged political background of Italy of 1924. The hero is 18 year old Alessio Mainardi, who receives a red carnation from a girl named Giovanna which becomes a symbol of love, desire and a representation of the struggle for political freedom in opposition to Fascism. This sounds like my kind of film but I’ve yet to see it; Banco had a reputation for left-wing politics though for this soundtrack album the operatic vocals of Francesco Di Giacomo, a sound that defines Banco, are missing and the compositions are much shorter. It’s not possible for me to comment on the fit of the songs to the film but this is my least favourite of the early Banco albums, despite the outstanding musicianship. It’s as though the music never gets a chance to develop and consequently is unfulfilling.

I’d been a fan of director Alan Parker since Bugsy Malone and Midnight Express and though I’d been overlooked for the role of Pink in the film of The Wall (which I’m not counting as a soundtrack album), I dutifully went off to the West End to see Birdy (1984) which had a soundtrack by Peter Gabriel including adaptations of tracks from PG III (Melt) and IV (Security). The film is an adaptation of the novel of the same name by William Wharton, though the setting is changed from World War II to Vietnam; it stars Matthew Modine as Birdy and Nicholas Cage as his long-time friend Al.

It’s surprising that Keith Emerson stuck with writing movie scores after his experience on his second venture into the film business with Nighthawks (1981) after what he considered a massive, unnecessary strip-down of the music he had delivered; his first venture was a move into Goblin-territory, providing the music for Dario Argento’s Inferno (1980), which prompted some unfavourable comparisons with Goblin’s performance on Suspiria. Emerson would go on to perform some not-quite blockbusters Best Revenge (1985), Murder Rock (1986), China Free Fall (1987), Iron Man Vol.1 (2001), La Chiesa (2002) and Godzilla: Final Wars (2004). Patrick Moraz was another of the 70s keyboard greats to provide music for films, beginning with Les Vieilles Lunes (1969), before he’d formed a rock band.

Shortly after I first heard Tangerine Dream I thought that their compositions would be suited to film music, not realising that they had provided soundtracks for films and TV shows that were later to be released via their own fan project, Tangerine Tree. They have now produced over 50 scores but not all of them have been officially released. The first that I was aware of was William Friedkin’s Hollywood action-adventure film Sorcerer (1977).

Vangelis is another prolific film score composer. Blade Runner has just been re-released (as The Final Cut) and it’s this score, along with Chariots of Fire (1981) that I find most memorable. Chariots of Fire features my friend Mark Franchetti as an extra in some running scenes, having to run slowly to let the stars of the film Ian Charleson and Ben Cross beat him. I turned down the chance to be an extra; I refused to get my hair cut...

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