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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, Feb 22 2015 10:54PM

Yesterday evening I rushed from Selhurst Park (Crystal Palace v Arsenal) to the Barbican to watch a screening of Dario Argento’s horror masterpiece Profondo Rosso (Deep Red) on the occasion of its fortieth anniversary, with a live score performed by the band. I first saw Goblin last year at the Electric Ballroom in Camden, where clips from Argento’s films were played behind the band on a cramped stage. On that occasion, I overheard complaints that the music wasn’t synched with the films (I’m guessing they were horror fans, not aficionados of Italian prog); they did it properly this time in the main hall of the Barbican – a good sized stage, great acoustics, comfy seating with unrestricted views wherever you sit, and a big screen. I bought my ticket just a few days before the show and somehow managed to get a prime seat, just off-centre and around mid stalls, not too far in front of the mixing desk. I actually ended up with two tickets; my payment was declined for no apparent reason and when I navigated back to restart the process, I somehow ended up reserving the seat next to the one I’d originally chosen. When the purchase confirmation came through I’d booked two seats, M42 and M43 and, not wanting to pay double for the one seat I required, I contacted the box office by ‘phone. They told me that somehow I’d booked two tickets and only paid for one, so much for complaining!

I hadn’t know quite how performing the live score would work but Claudio Simonetti revealed in an interview that there were times, the longest of which lasted about 20 minutes, when the band wasn’t required to play. During these pauses, they all sat quite still at their instruments: Simonetti at his keyboards; Titta Tani at his drums and percussion (including gong and timpani); Bruno Previtali with his guitars; and Federico Amorosi with his sunburst-finish Rickenbacker bass. I used to watch Hammer Horror films in the 1970s but I’d hardly call myself fanatical about the genre and I didn’t really know very much about the Argento films; the stills from the film set out in my 2012 reissue of Profondo Rosso soundtrack CD (bought second-hand when I was in Genova last year) didn’t really add to my understanding of the plot. The Barbican screening was dubbed into English and though I like my foreign films in their original language, with subtitles, that probably wouldn’t have worked as I shifted focus from Goblin to film and back again. Starring David Hemmings as jazz pianist Marcus Daly who befriends a psychic medium who gets murdered (he lives in the same apartment block), the film follows Daly’s investigation into a series of subsequent, related murders and culminates in a confrontation with the mysterious murderer, the mother of his alcoholic friend Carlo, in which he gets injured with a blow from a meat cleaver but manages to cause the gruesome demise of the murderer when her necklace gets caught in the grille of an old-fashioned lift. Daly calls the lift which subsequently pulls on the necklace and beheads her. This final scene, together with an earlier scene depicting the death of Carlo, provoked an outburst of laughter from the audience. It’s hard to believe that the performance was restricted to those over 18; the horror is dated and doesn’t hold much shock value. In fact, there’s a psychedelic vibe to the film; the blood looks like red paint, the narrative jumps inexplicably and the setting, presumably Turin where much of the filming took place, included some modernist architecture that reminded me of the Barbican because of the mix of residential and leisure facilities. Suspense was created by hiding the identity of the murderer and by the use of a child’s lullaby, played on a tape recorder by the murderer before she commits a crime. I’d never rated David Hemmings as much of an actor and none of the others appearing in the production were much good either but the film was critically acclaimed and became an international success. That’s not to suggest I didn’t enjoy the film, because I did. The soundtrack, originally put together in ten days after Simonetti’s band Cherry Five were asked to step in following a disagreement between director Argento and original composer Giorgio Gaslini, fits the idiom incredibly well. This may come as a bit of a surprise when you consider that Cherry Five were influenced by King Crimson and Genesis and played extended compositions on the jazzy side of prog, but perhaps not when you find out that tracks on the under-rated eponymous Cherry Five album include Country Grave-Yard [sic] and The Swan is a Murderer. In keeping with the nature of the material they were providing music for they changed their name to Goblin and the success of the Profondo Rosso film was replicated by the soundtrack which has sold over a million copies.

The live score stuck fairly faithfully to the original. Whereas the original recording utilised church organ and harpsichord, Simonetti reproduced the analogue sounds with great precision and his Moog playing was absolutely brilliant; however, this was a band performance and whereas at the Electric Ballroom I found the sound indistinct and the guitar somewhat lost, the sound at the Barbican was balanced and clear, including the guitar harmonics and trebly bass. I think that Mad Puppet bears more than a passing resemblance to the section on Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells that leads up to Vivian Stanshall recounting the instruments used in the production; is it coincidence that part of Tubular Bells was used in horror film The Exorcist? A fair amount of the material is quite jazzy and at other times a Keith Emerson influence is evident that reminds me of ELP’s interpretation of Ginastera’s Toccata.

The performance was split with a twenty minute intermission but following the closing credit sequence the band remained on stage and played some more of their soundtrack material, Demoni, Zombi, Suspiria, Tenebre and Phenomena. This was all very well received by the audience and I even liked the version of Tenebre where I found the vocoder parts less grating than when I’d heard it last year. Suspiria, from 1977, is regarded as being the real Goblin sound where it became impossible to hear their original prog influences in the music.

It wasn’t five years since I’d last seen Goblin and it was another very enjoyable gig made even more special because of the 40 year celebrations since the release of Profondo Rosso. I almost forgot that I’d just seen Crystal Palace narrowly beaten by Arsenal...

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