ProgBlog

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Five days of progressive rock, dedicated to musicians and friends who have died since the last event, divided between historic and new bands, symphonic prog and jazz rock, the avant-garde and a tribute to an important story. Along with the desire to share music together, the event is only held thanks to the effort of all those who work for free: artists, organisers, hosts and helpers. The Progressivamente Festival is a display of dedication, comradeship and great music

By ProgBlog, Oct 16 2017 04:17PM

This blog has been delayed due to work, family and even more gigs. After returning from Rome I’ve taken in two other gigs, most recently Dweezil Zappa performing 50 years of Frank at the Royal Festival Hall last Tuesday and, within 72 hours of landing back in the UK after the excursion to the Eternal City, Tubular Bells for Two at the Union Chapel, Islington. I found the Zappa show a little disappointing because they didn’t play anything I was really familiar with (read Hot Rats) though I did recognise snatches which I couldn’t name. Most of the material seemed blues-based and a bit formulaic but I do recall parts of Inca Roads which was one of the more complex pieces showcased that evening. I certainly can’t criticise the musicianship and I shouldn’t have been surprised by anything on the set list because the tour is advertised as Dweezil ‘plays whatever the F@%k he wants!


Dweezil Zappa: 50 Years of Frank at the RFH
Dweezil Zappa: 50 Years of Frank at the RFH

The last time I was in the RFH was to see Chick Corea and the Elektric Band on some date lost in the mists of time and it’s a really good venue; the Union Chapel is equally good for different reasons. It may only have a seating capacity of a fifth of that of the RFH but it boasts a beautiful architectural space with a very special atmosphere. The performance by Daniel Holdsworth and Tom Bamford is frenetic and may involve the odd missing effect as they continuously grapple with pedals, leads and an array of instruments and though there were a couple of minor glitches on the night, it was a amazing spectacle carried off quite brilliantly.


Tubular Bells for Two
Tubular Bells for Two

I’ve recently spent far more time than I’m used to in and under churches. I acted as an informal tour guide around 1066 Country on my days off last week and my duties included the ruins of Battle Abbey, founded where Harold was killed by a Norman arrow and later destroyed by Henry VIII during the Dissolution in 1538; the first morning of the Rome adventure was devoted to a three and a half hour mainly archaeological tour of three early churches: San Clemente was founded in the 4th Century but Luca, our tour guide and one of the archaeologists who had worked on the site explained how the original building was contemporary with the Colosseum nearby and had served as the Roman imperial mint, before being converted to a residence with a pagan temple in the basement and then a place of clandestine Christian worship in the first century AD; the second stop was the Basilica di Santi Giovanni e Paolo, another 4th Century church built over houses where roman soldiers John and Paul were martyred during the rule of Emperor Julian and hidden beneath the stairs. Underneath the basilica which was damaged during the Visigoth sack of Rome, damaged by earthquake and sacked again by the Normans, there are a series of decorated rooms (now the Case Romane del Celio museum) which comprise one of the best preserved Roman-era housing complexes. Originally a variety of building types from different periods, including an apartment block for artisans (an insula) and the dwelling of a wealthy individual which was subsequently converted into an early Christian church, the different buildings were combined sometime during the third century AD to form one elegant pagan house where it’s possible to identify the staircase where the bodies of the two soldiers were hidden after their murder; the third stop was a church founded in the sixth century, San Nicola in Carcere, which is interesting because of its former pagan history. There is evidence of utilising the existing temples on either side of the site and other repurposed building material to form the church. These layers of history can be seen by descending a set of stairs from the main body of the church, giving access to the excavation of the temple remains.


Basilica di Santi Giovanni e Paolo
Basilica di Santi Giovanni e Paolo

The archaeological and architectural delights visited over six days were actually secondary to the other purpose of the visit: prog. We arrived in Rome at around lunchtime and between checking in at the NH Leonardo da Vinci and eating supper at the Caffetteria Gracchi (where the televised Champions League game between Qarabağ FK and Roma was being shown), we managed to visit the Excellent Elastic Rock record shop where I bought four classic progressivo Italiano LPs and a Steve Hackett Genesis Revisited CD. Though an important detour, I’d really gone to see the 25th Progressivamente Free Festival at the Jailbreak Club, enticed by a string of excellent progressivo Italiano bands. An evening-only affair over five nights between Wednesday 27th September and Sunday 1st October, I could hardly believe that it was a free event. As is the way with progressive rock in general, the audience, musicians and organisers were friendly and helpful.


Elastic Rock - a very good record store
Elastic Rock - a very good record store

I was experimenting with public transport times and arrived early for the first show featuring La Bocca della Verità and Ingranaggi della Valle so I had time to grab a beer, chat to Ingranaggi della Valle keyboard player Mattia Liberati (who promised something special in their set after I’d compared the band to the Mahavishnu Orchestra), buy their debut IdV CD In Hoc Signo (2013) and the LBDV CD Avenoth (2016) from the joint merchandise stand, and claim one of the tables set out in front of the stage. The other seat at my table was taken by Vincenzo Praturlon who, despite protestations that his English was poor, was quite happy to engage in conversation about prog in general and RPI in particular. A veteran of previous Progressivamente festivals held at the Planet Live Club and Veruno’s 2 Days of Prog + 1, Vincenzo would later inform me that the ‘something special’ were a couple of tributes to the Mahavishnu Orchestra and Frank Zappa – I’d had to leave early, after only one song from Ingranaggi della Valle, to ensure that I caught the Metro all the way back to the hotel because my journey required a change of lines at Termini and the network begins to close down at 11.30pm on Sundays through to Thursdays.

The evening was introduced by Guido Bellachioma, the director of Prog Italia magazine, co-director at Italian hi-fi magazine Suono and art director at the Planet Live Club, who reminded us of what constituted prog and paid tribute to the artists, international and Italian who had died over the last year, before calling La Bocca della Verità to the stage. They didn’t disappoint, playing a good selection from the Avenoth suite which though at times sounded neo-prog or even modern, it had a very strong footing in the Italian symphonic prog tradition and ticked all the right boxes for me.


La Bocca della Verità
La Bocca della Verità

Thursday began with the underground tour of the churches and as we needed to get up early to get to the first site it proved sensible to have left early the night before. It wouldn’t be unfair to label Ingranaggi della Valle as a prog/jazz rock outfit and that evening’s performance continued the jazz rock theme with Accordo dei Contrari. They played a brand of tight-knit riff-based fusion interspersed with more abstract sections and, despite the abundance of electric piano and some great moog creating some memorable tones, I found some of the material quite challenging and not a particularly easy listen. I’d worked out that I could leave the club later and still use public transport to get back to Lepanto but having been on the go constantly from very early on Wednesday morning, I decided to give Slivovitz a miss and caught the same time metro train as I did on Wednesday.


The hospitality of the city went a little too far on Friday, attempting to make us feel more at home with industrial action on the Metro. This turned out to be only minor disruption because we simply meandered slowly from the hotel to Termini on foot and by the time we’d had a coffee (the Chef Express opposite platform 20 does a very good espresso) and a bite to eat, the strike had finished and we were able to visit Ostia Antica. This rather interesting diversion meant that we ate fairly late and I got to Jailbreak a couple of minutes before the first band, Flea on the Etna was due on stage. The club was busier than on the two previous nights and I couldn’t find an empty table, so I sat on one of the stools along the raised platform used by the groups to access the stage which provided a decent view of the proceedings. Flea on the Etna played a short set of good, straightforward jazz-rock with a hint of a Mediterranean influence. With original bassist Elio Volpini on guitar, two of the three tracks were from their self-titled album Etna (1975).


Flea on the Etna
Flea on the Etna

Consorzio Acqua Potabile (CAP) was next on the bill and I recognised most of the music from their set, a collection of lively, 70’s inspired prog and, like when I saw them in Genova in 2014, they were joined onstage by Alvaro Fella. When Jumbo ended the evening they were augmented by CAP members drummer Maurizio Mussolin and guitarist Massimo Gorlezza and they played a short set which included Suite per il Sig. K from DNA (1972). Fella’s voice has been reported as an ‘acquired taste’ but it remains strong and somehow very much fits the music of Jumbo and perhaps surprisingly well with CAP. I had the benefit of being able to enjoy the whole evening of music because the metro runs until 01.30 in the morning on Fridays and Saturdays.


CAP with Alvaro Fella
CAP with Alvaro Fella

The club was absolutely crowded on Saturday. I saw Vincenzo at the bar and he advised me to find somewhere to watch the performances as soon as possible before it became impossible to move, so I took up a standing position at the top of the steps leading to the stage access platform where I’d managed to get a stool on Friday. Standing next to me was the cousin of Semiramis bassist Ivo Mileto, come to lend support. She couldn’t tell me which group he played for but said she did like their music (Mileto replaced original bassist Marcello Reddavide.) Though Saturday evening began with ‘Italia 70’, a roundup some the best RPI committed to record, with guest appearances from Jenny Sorrenti and Gianni Nocenzi and including PFM’s Chocolate Kings and encore of E’ Festa, Banco’s 750,000 Anni fa l'Amore... and R.I.P. Jenny Sorrenti sang brother Alan’s Vorrei Incontrarti from Aria (1972.)


Jenny Sorrenti with Italia '70
Jenny Sorrenti with Italia '70

Before Saturday night was rounded off with Semiramis, Guido Bellachioma chatted with Gianni Nocenzi about BMS and their debut album which was just being re-released on 180g vinyl as part of a DeAgostini publishing deal along with 59 other important Prog Rock Italiano albums in monthly installments. Then Semiramis performed a poignant rendition of their Frazz album dedicated to the memory of keyboard player Maurizio Zarrillo who died on the 7th July this year. Each track was presaged with a short narration, accompanied by a projection of the song title, the music itself was extended and I thought that the whole live presentation felt more coherent than simply listening to the album. By coincidence I’d received a message from Massimo Gasperini from Black Widow Records that afternoon, and he informed me his BWR partner Pino Pintabona would be attending to sell the Semiramis Frazz Live DVD recorded at La Claque in Genova in April this year. I said ‘ciao’ to Pino and bought the DVD.


Semiramis
Semiramis

Jailbreak was also pretty full when I got there on the Sunday and I just had time to get a beer and buy the 2015 La Coscienza di Zeno album La Notte Anche di Giorno on limited edition vinyl plus the Biglietto per l’Inferno LP Vivi. Lotta. Pensa (2015) from the merchandise desk before taking up a standing position by the steps leading from the table area to the bar. Biglietto per l’Inferno began the evening and I have to admit being quite taken aback - I had expected heavy prog but didn’t imagine an octet playing prog-folk. It was strange but when I’d adjusted to the shock it was still good. Two original members remain, Giuseppe Cossa on keyboards and accordion and drummer Mauro Gnecchi, and they have reworked old material, including 1974’s L’Amico Suicida to fit in with the concept of their latest release.


Biglietto per l'Inferno
Biglietto per l'Inferno

Sadly, it being Sunday, the metro service reverted back to ending early and I missed the chance to see La Coscienza di Zeno, though I have seen them before. I have to say that putting on five nights of high quality music, gratis, covering a range of prog and mixing established names with more recent acts, was an amazing feat. Congratulations and thanks have to go to Guido Bellachioma, to all the artists and to the Jailbreak Club for hosting the event at short notice and it was a nice touch to dedicate the event to members of the prog world who are no longer with us. I’d personally like to thank everyone who made my stay an unforgettable experience, agreeing to chat to me in English and sharing wonderful progressivo Italiano. Hope to see you next year!













By ProgBlog, Sep 25 2017 09:51PM

The 25th Progressivamente Free Festival is being held in Rome this week, featuring performances by classic and more recent instances of progressivo Italiano. The gigs, which run from Wednesday 27th September to Sunday 1st October at the JailBreak Club start at 21.30 in the evening and showcase only two bands per night, apart from on Friday when there are three bands and the performances commence half an hour earlier. I first heard about the festival in early July, when the shows were advertised as being held at the Planet Live Club, and planned a week long Roman holiday...



I’ve been to Rome a couple of times before, in August 1980 by InterRail as a student and eleven years ago on a break between annual visits to Venice with the family. My memories of that first visit include my first ever espresso in a bar somewhere along the Corso Vittorio Emanuele II (Bar Tassoni?); being denied admission to St Peter’s because I was wearing shorts and having to run back to the pensione on the Piazza di San Pantaleo to put on a pair of jeans; the hypocrisy of nuns selling religious tat outside St Peter’s; the watermelon stalls at the Circus Maximus; the lack of care afforded to the ruins, with rogue vegetation everywhere; and the feeling that two days was insufficient to take everything in. The family visit in 2006 was a ten night stay in the heat of July, based at the Hotel Novecento in the Lateran area, very handy for the Colosseum and close to the Manzoni metro station. Susan and Daryl hadn’t been to the Eternal City before so we went over some familiar ground for me. This time we braved the queues and visit both the Sistine Chapel and the Pantheon and we also used one of our days to visit Pompeii, retracing another trip from 1980. Daryl and I even ventured out one evening to a outdoor screening of Wallace and Gromit and the curse of the Were Rabbit at the Vittorio Emmanuel International film festival which was, if possible, even more funny in Italian.


The Colosseum 1980 (top) and 2006 (bottom)


I really like the city; I know it’s dirty and graffiti-riddled and unbearably hot in summer but the history of the place trumps the traffic, the tourists and the smoking and though there’s a rush on the streets, the pace of life slows when you sit in a bar or a restaurant. This second visit coincided with the early stages of my (ongoing) passion for progressivo Italiano. 2005’s Venice trip was the first where I’d deliberately looked for classic Italian prog on CD to add to some original vinyl from the 70s - PFM’s The World Became the World (1974), Cook (1974) and Jet Lag (1977) - which yielded Caronte by The Trip (1971); Contrappunti by Le Orme (1974); Donna Plautilla by Banco del Mutuo Soccorso (1989); Concerto Grosso nos. 1 and 2 by New Trolls (compilation released 1989); and an early live album by PFM when they included cover versions of UK progressive rock tracks in their repertoire, The Beginning 1971-1972 Italian Tour (released in 1996).

In 2006 I only managed to buy CDs in one shop, the Feltrinelli store in the Galleria Alberto Sordi which also had a café where we grabbed a bite to eat, but we did visit a slightly smaller branch on Corso Vittorio Emanuele II where I bought Jonathan Coe’s progressive rock-related tale of adolescence The Rotters’ Club in the English Language section. My diary doesn’t say what music I invested in but I’m pretty sure that I picked up PFM’s second album Per un Amico (1972), the Italian version of Cook, called Live in the USA (1974) and a compilation of early Le Orme, Gioco di Bimba e Altri Successi (released 1998). I think this was the trip where I also bought Io Sono Nato Libero by Banco del Mutuo Soccorso (1973).


The evening performances mean that Susan and I can see more of Rome and environs. We didn’t manage to get to Ostia Antica on our last visit because the train we were due to catch was crowded, worse than a rush hour commute on the Southern network in the UK; a few years later I discovered from a visiting (Roman) surgeon that there was a store called Elastic Rock and when he took a weekend break at home, he brought me back Principe di un Giorno (1976) by Celeste and Zarathustra (1973) by Museo Rosenbach; I’ve subsequently discovered there’s another excellent-looking record store called Millerrecords which I hope to get to wander round.


On Wednesday we’re being treated to La Bocca della Verità, who began their career in Rome in 2001 performing cover versions of UK and Italian prog – their name, which means the Mouth of Truth, comes from a Roman tourist attraction, a marble drain cover which may date back to before the 4th Century BC, imprinted with the image of a man’s face and with openings for eyes, nostrils and mouth. It is mounted on the wall of the portico of the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin (in the Aventine district) and is reputed to be a medieval lie-detector, where the mouth closes on the hand of liars. The six-piece began to drop borrowed material from their repertoire in 2004 to concentrate on original material, releasing their first album Avenoth in 2016, a heavy symphonic prog suite lasting nearly 78 minutes. Later on Wednesday is another local band Ingranaggi della Valle who released their second album Warm Spaced Blue on Black Widow in October last year. I saw them in Genoa in 2014 performing material from their 2013 debut In Hoc Signo which appeared to be inspired by the Mahavishnu Orchestra as much as any 70’s prog. What I’ve heard of their latest music is, if anything, more complex and more jazzy. The jazz rock continues on Thursday with Accordo dei Contrari (from Bologna) and Slivovitz (from Naples.)


Tourist attraction La Bocca della Verità


Originating in Sicily but working from Rome, Flea on the Honey releasing a self-titled album in 1971, then became Flea for their second album Topi o Uomini (1972) which was more progressive than the first, then after a break during which time bass player Elio Volpini formed L’Uovo di Colombo, they re-formed as Etna for one eponymous album in 1975 where the style had shifted to a Mediterranean-influenced jazz-rock. They appear on Friday as Flea on the Etna. Consorzio Acqua Potabile also take to the stage on Friday. Hailing from near Novara in Piedmont, they are another group I saw perform in Genoa during the 2014 Riviera Prog Festival and I’ve subsequently collected some of their material: the four CD, fortieth anniversary set Il Teatro delle Ombre (2014) and Il Bianco Regno di Dooah (2003). Though they toured a rock opera called Gerbrand in the 70s they didn’t make any studio recordings until 1993 with the excellent 70s-inspired ...Nei Gorghi del Tempo (which appears as a 20th anniversary edition on Il Teatro delle Ombre. Their Genoa appearance was made more special by the collaboration with Jumbo’s Alvaro Fella; C.A.P and Fella released an album last year on Black Widow, Coraggio e Mistero; Jumbo will be performing after C.A.P.



Saturday evening begins with Jenny and Alan Sorrenti and Gianni Nocenzi for what has been billed as ‘Italia 70’. I suspect there will be other artists but whether they’ll be performing Saint Just songs, Alan Sorrenti’s solo material (Aria from 1972 is considered an RPI classic) or B.M.S is pure speculation. Rounding off Saturday night is Semiramis. I bought their one and only album Dedicato a Frazz (1973) in 2009, paying £20 for a second-hand CD, an exceptional album that I’d like to own on vinyl.


Sorrenti siblings
Sorrenti siblings


Semiramis - Dedicato a Frazz
Semiramis - Dedicato a Frazz

There’s a mixture of the recent and original progressivo Italiano on Sunday, commencing with La Coscienza di Zeno, an excellent band with two keyboard players formed in Genoa who I’ve seen a couple of times before, in Soignies and in their home city. They perform classic-sounding RPI and both Luca Scherani and Stefano Agnini appear in Fabio Zuffanti projects. The free festival is closed with a performance by Biglietto per l’Inferno whose self-titled album from 1974 is awarded 5 stars in every publication on progressivo Italiano. I do like the album but I don’t rate it as highly as the Italian journalists because it’s quite heavy and lacks subtlety; the keyboard work is excellent and the flute is very expressive, which is good, but I think it’s more rock with a progressive edge than true progressive. Still, I’m very much looking forward to see them.



Biglietto per l'Inferno
Biglietto per l'Inferno

This is the first chance I’ll have had to see all but three of the acts and I can’t help being amazed by the spirit of the musicians and the organisers who manage to stage these festivals, not just in Rome but all over Italy, with an amazing frequency. I would have liked to have gone to Veruno for the 2 days of Prog + 1 at the beginning of September but for the time being I’ll just get ready to enjoy 11 bands on my Roman Holiday.










By ProgBlog, Jun 14 2015 09:43PM

Two recent family trips, on the face of it quite different, to Milan and Brighton featured common ground: the search for record stores. Regular readers will know this is something of a ProgBlog obsession but planned breaks, of whatever length, require a balanced approach to cater for all the requirements of the members of the party. This means that apart from some shared interests such as architecture and exploring historic and cultural influences, I have to drag family around record shops and, on the flip side, have to suffer antique shops and flea markets and boutiques selling trinkets though flea markets do in fact offer the possibility of finding suitable recorded music, either CDs or, more frequently original vinyl.

From arriving in London with a single Boots vinyl-coated record box in October 1978 I began to accumulate what I considered to be a worthy collection of essential progressive rock.

Though I’ve never lost interest in my records, the ubiquitous nature of the CD format and its less demanding storage requirements meant that I undertook a massive format conversion beginning in the early 90s when prog bands began to resurface with new releases and record companies worked out that they could make easy money from new format re-issues. The last new releases I ever bought as LPs included Pink Floyd’s The Final Cut, 90125 by Yes, Three of a Perfect Pair by King Crimson and probably last of all, A Momentary Lapse of Reason or Big Generator, none of which I would regard as classic prog apart from A Momentary Lapse; the 1981-84 incarnation of Crimson certainly wasn’t straightforward progressive rock. Peter Gabriel’s So was a leaving present from the NBTC in 1986. I did of course continue to buy second-hand vinyl during the genre’s lean years, when Croydon’s 101 Records was actually located at 101 George Street and picking up a somewhat battered Yessongs from a boot fair in Thornton Heath and a copy, even more battered, of Tempest’s eponymous first album from the Crystal Palace Antiques Market which is a warren-like flea market, just off Westow Hill. Much more recently I picked up a pristine copy of Anthony Phillip’s The Geese and the Ghost in a flea market in Lewes.

Stupidly, I also ditched some prized records as I replaced them with seductive bright, shiny compact discs. Out went Bedside Manners are Extra, In the Court of the Crimson King, Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Starless and Bible Black, Atom Heart Mother, Meddle, Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here plus some not-so-loved material like England by Amazing Blondel, itself picked up second hand from somewhere. The value wasn’t really in the music itself because I’d invested in other versions, ‘definitive’ or 20th or 30th anniversary editions with extensive additional sleeve notes but without surface noise, it was the (mostly) gatefold sleeve packaging that facilitated a comprehensive sonic and visual experience. The main beneficiary of this clear-out was Beanos of Croydon who I believed would give me a fair price for my well cared for offerings. I find it funny discovering dog-eared copies of In the Court selling for £40 in some of the shops I now frequent.

On reflection, the whole listening experience of CDs was far poorer than listening to a 12 inch piece of vinyl on a record deck: the care taken when removing the LP from the inner jacket; lowering the stylus onto the run-in grooves; sitting in an armchair with legs draped over one of the arms... This behaviour made up the soundtrack of my youth and I afforded it time and effort. When the CD format came along I was in a relationship and had full-time employment so I didn’t have the same amount of time to dedicate to the process of listening to music; on a sociological-political level those two times were also very different and I think the compact disc stands as a symbol of burgeoning consumerism, when time was wasted if it wasn’t being used to generate money.

Finding record stores in other countries, and Milan and Bergamo were no exception, is not always straightforward. Google will provide a list with addresses but the information is not always up-to-date and the restrictive internet provision of some UK mobile service providers means you can’t always use your phone to get you to the door. Last year in Pisa, one of the shops listed had changed its name and was primarily an urban stylist, with records found in a back room behind the main retail space with its shoes, shirts and trousers; in Bergamo a couple of weeks ago, the record store had moved within the previous month and, as it was almost closing time when I turned up at the old address, I had no time to locate the new premises. However, Rossetti records and books wasn’t too difficult to find and I managed to get hold of some obscure progressivo Italiano including the self-titled release by Dedalus (which strays into jazz-rock territory); the experimental Il Giorno Sottile by Fabio Zuffanti project Quadraphonic; and symphonic prog Il Bianco Regno Di Dooah by Consorzio Acqua Potabile. This last example was me sticking to the idea of buying releases by local musicians.

The Lanes in Brighton may be inhabited by local hipsters and tourists but that’s hardly surprising when you find out what’s on offer. In Shoreditch-by-sea the cafés and boutiques are right-on and trendy and full of very nice things to eat or to kit out your Kemptown renovation (Brighton Architectural Reclamation.) There’s an incredible incidence of musical instrument shops; I bought a second-hand vintage style Flange pedal from Brighton Guitars (44 Sydney Street) after trying it out with the help of singer-songwriter (and very helpful sales person) Jack Pout. We chatted a bit about prog (he quite admired Long Distance Runaround) and suggested I listen to the band If.

There are a number of flea markets (I picked up The Steve Howe Album and Imaginary Voyage by Jean-Luc Ponty for £5 each in the North Laine Antique and Flea Market, 5 Upper Gardner Street) and some epic second-hand record stores where I really could have spent more time. Across the Tracks (110 Gloucester Road) has a dedicated prog section and some records I’ve not seen for a long, long time but I just came away with Spyglass Guest by Greenslade. The labyrinthine Wax Factor (24 Trafalgar Street) also sells books and there’s even a diner-style café in a back room. The selection here is immense but its arrangement, though logical, means you have to surf through the mundane to find the gems. I picked up Steve Hillage’s L on CD and Six Pieces by The Enid on vinyl.

The Brighton trip was a semi-retirement day off. Though our house needs a lot of decorating and some renovation, retirement should provide the impetus and finances to get it sorted, to be followed by an upgrade of the hi-fi and, with a bit of luck, more time to listen to vinyl.



By ProgBlog, Feb 1 2015 11:42PM

The lack of availability of Jumbo (progressivo Italiano) albums forced me to buy a download of DNA, the first of their two classic albums. I’d seen vocalist-guitarist-songwriter Alvaro Fella performing with Consorzio Acqua Potabile at the Riviera Prog festival in Genova last year and despite my decision to miss the CAP set when I went off in search of food, the loose organisation meant that I actually caught a fair amount of their performance. Fella, now confined to a wheelchair, had been signing copies of Jumbo CDs all day and when I went to see if I could buy one, either DNA or Vietato al minora di 18 anni? (Prohibited to minors under 18?) from one of the many diverse CD and record stalls, there were none available. Recent trips to Tuscany and the Veneto also failed to turn up copies.

DNA represents fairly basic RPI but it’s still quite enjoyable. There’s not a great deal of variation in the keyboard with only organ and piano but, like quite a lot of progressivo Italiano, there’s a hefty dose of Ian Anderson inspired flute plus some melodic early-Crimson like flute. Fella’s vocals might be something of an acquired taste – he has a distinctive theatrical style that has hints of Alex Harvey or Roger Chapman from Family. DNA was Jumbo’s first foray into a progressive sound but there’s still a weighty reminder of their past influences, including far too much harmonica for my liking. However, Ed Ora Corri (And now you have to run) which is the second part of the 3-part composition that makes up side one of the original vinyl LP (Suite per il Sig K., a track that reflects a Kafka-like existence) is quite spacey and seems to have been at least partially inspired by Pink Floyd.

Considering the widespread employment of the instrument in Italian prog, flute isn’t really very prevalent in classic UK prog. Tull, perhaps because of their longevity are one of the bands that immediately spring to mind when you think of prog and flute though Ian Anderson’s instrumental contributions are almost exclusively flute and acoustic guitar; his guitar parts not really providing much other than rhythm or chords for backing other instruments, including his flute. Most other prog flute is provided by band members who have a different, primary role: Thijs van Leer plays keyboards; Andy Latimer plays guitar; Peter Gabriel is a vocalist.

I’ve seen Focus a few times in recent years and once in the 70s on the Mother Focus tour. Though van Leer is probably most easily recognised for his yodelling on Hocus Pocus, it’s his organ and flute work that helps to define the Focus sound (Jan Akkerman’s guitar is obviously key but that has been accurately replicated by Niels van der Steenhoven and, more recently, by Menno Gootjes.) Van Leer plays both instruments at the same time! The Camel track Supertwister from 1974’s Mirage is allegedly named after Dutch band Supersister. I can believe this tale because the two groups toured together and the Camel song does sound rather like a Supersister composition, where flute was provided by Sacha van Geest. Latimer plays a fair amount of flute on early Camel albums (from Mirage to Rain Dances) but the incorporation of ex-Crimson and current Crimson woodwind-player Mel Collins into the band, certainly for live performances, reduced Latimer’s flute playing role and when Collins ceased working with the band, which turned more commercial around the 80s, the flute all but disappeared. Peter Gabriel’s flute is predominantly used in pastoral-sounding passages; it’s delicate and sometimes seems to border on the faltering but comes to the fore in Firth of Fifth. It’s odd to think that the instrument works perfectly well on the grittier, urban-like Lamb Lies Down and solo album Peter Gabriel 1.

Ray Thomas of the Moody Blues was one of the only examples of a dedicated flautist within a band (who also undertook some lead vocal duties) and there were groups, like King Crimson, where multi-instrumentalists played saxophone, flute and keyboards. Dick Heckstall-Smith of Colosseum was a sax player who dabbled in a bit of flute but the best example of a classic British prog band where sax and flute alternate as lead instruments is Van der Graaf Generator. David Jackson stands apart in this respect; he’s a soloist on both instruments, heavily informed by Roland Kirk. The Jackson sax is undeniably an integral part of the VdGG sound, partly through his innovative use of effects, but his flute is also sublime, floating in the calm before the inevitable full-on VdGG maelstrom.

Jimmy Hastings deserves a special mention. He was the go-to flautist for a wide variety of Canterbury bands, most notably Caravan (where brother Pye plays guitar) but he also contributed to material as diverse as Bryan Ferry’s solo work and Chris Squire’s Fish out of Water. It’s the Canterbury connections that run the deepest, adding to the jazz feel of the genre and making important contributions to Hatfield and the North and National Health albums. Canterbury alumni Gong have also utilised sax/flute, originally played by Didier Malherbe and more recently by Theo Travis. Travis has recorded with Robert Fripp and is currently part of Steven Wilson’s (solo material) band.

The idea of the ‘guest’ flautist in a band spreads to Steve Hackett who has utilised the talents of both his brother John and, more recently, Rob Townsend. Flute is required for covering some of the early Genesis material but Hackett’s solo work, from Voyage of the Acolyte (1975) to Momentum (1988) with the exceptions of Highly Strung (1983) and Till We Have Faces (1984) all feature flute.

The overblowing that characterises a great deal of Jethro Tull flute was adopted by many nascent RPI bands who were shifting from Beat music to a blues-inflected progressive rock and this contrasts with the more melodic approach exemplified by the Ian McDonald-era King Crimson that influenced PFM. Flute is integral to the symphonic prog sound and for those bands without a flautist, there was always the flute setting on a Mellotron – a great sound but quite distinct from the woodwind instrument itself! It may be that the musical heritage of Italy means that a flautist is likely to be involved in a progressivo Italiano act; there certainly seem to be more groups with flute than without, unlike the 70s scene in the UK. I’m personally in favour of a broad sonic palette and I believe that flute provides an appropriate melodic medium. I intend to learn to play the instrument in my impending retirement.



By ProgBlog, Jan 1 2015 08:13PM

It would be easy to do a prog retrospective of 2014; the festivals and other concerts, the important albums, other milestones... but I’m not going to because although I don’t mind looking at lists and comparing the thoughts of journalists (and their manipulation of source data, should they have asked for public opinion) with mine, I still regard it as lazy and relatively meritless.

On the face of it, compared to my birthday and previous Christmases, this Christmas was relatively prog-free. I did get Consorzio Acqua Potabile’s 40th anniversary edition of Il Teatro delle Ombre (The Shadow Theatre), a very nicely presented 4CD set that includes a 20th anniversary edition of ...Nei Gorghi del Tempo (In the Whirlpool of Time.) The music dates back to the 70s and I suppose it slots into a style that most closely resembles Banco del Mutuo Soccorso with the twin keyboards, though CAP are slightly less adventurous. There are multiple layers of instruments and strong vocals but I think the modern production may have taken something away from the compositions, despite the inclusion of vintage keyboards. The CD of live material, apart from the Banco-like titled Traccia Tre from 1979, ranges from the late 90s to 2011. I’d love to hear the music as it was presented in the early 70s. I also got Paper Charms, the complete BBC recordings of PFM. This 2CD+1 DVD set forms a kind of companion piece to the re-mastered, expanded Cook and captures the band at the height of their global fame. CD1, with introductions from Pete Drummond in clipped BBC tones, closely follows the track selection from the original Cook which had been released not too long before the appearance at the BBC Paris Theatre, London. The playing is exemplary and the mix is well balanced, though Drummond comes across as rather loud. There’s a fair degree of difference between the Cook version of Alta Loma 5 ‘till 9 [sic] and those on Paper Charms but the other material is similar. During one announcement, Drummond suggests that Four Holes in the Ground contains the influence of Greek music because it was the first song written by the band after half-French, half-Greek Patrick Djivas had joined the band from Area and I believe that he’s correct, even though Djivas does not get a song writing credit. The PFM box set, from my brother Richard, was accompanied by a Pink Floyd – The Wall pen which writes really neatly. My brother Andrew also got me some prog: Finneus Gauge’s One Inch of the Fall and (Bruford Levin Upper Extremities) BLUE Nights. The former had been on my wish list for a while because I’d read that the style was on the progressive side of jazz rock. I’m not a great fan of US prog (I own Day for Night by Spock’s Beard, Journey of the Dunadan by Glass Hammer and The Weirding by Astra and I’m not over impressed. I’ve also got Hot Rats which is excellent but I’m not sure that Zappa should be pigeonholed as prog. It may surprise you to find out that I’m also toying with the idea of trying out a Fireballet album.) I hadn’t picked up on the Echolyn – Finneus Gauge connection because I’ve not listened to any Echolyn but I think One Inch of the Fall is the best US prog album that I own. Laura Martin has a great, distinctive voice and the musicianship can’t be faulted. What makes it better than the other American prog is the uniform high quality of the writing; there really is no filler here and, though you can detect some Canterbury influences, it doesn’t sound like anyone else. This Canterbury influence is best exemplified by Scott McGill’s guitar work which, at times, is reminiscent of Allan Holdsworth. There’s a slight bias towards guitar (as opposed to keyboards) but that’s not a criticism. BLUE Nights, a live documentary of the Bruford Levin analogue of a King Crimson projecKt, takes the material from their studio album, which I like very much, and extends it into Crimson improvisational territory. The Chris Botti trumpet, along with Bruford’s precision drumming, puts the band in a modern jazz setting which is pulled towards progressive rock territory by David Torn’s guitar loops and effects. It’s clear that there’s a musical chemistry between the band members; they had previously appeared together on Torn’s Cloud About Mercury which covers roughly the same ground.

My main Christmas present wasn’t prog-related but it was conceptual. The now ritual pre-Christmas trip to Venice isn’t just about Rock Progressivo Italiano, it’s also about coffee. I’ve imported beans from Torrefazione Cannaregio in the past (www.torrefazionecannaergio.it) and stopping in the small shop for a morning espresso (€0.90) is an essential part of the Venetian itinerary. So, with the understanding that good coffee plays an increasingly important part of my life, Susan bought me a DeLonghi espresso machine and Daryl has provided a voucher for barista lessons. Awesome.

The one issue I have with BLUE Nights is that Tony Levin recounts in his BLUE Road Diary from the Japan Tour, April 5th: “There seem to be Starbucks in various parts of Tokyo, so decent espresso isn’t far away anywhere here.” I suppose that Starbucks tax avoidance might not have been such an issue in 1998 but it’s stretching a point to call their espresso decent! I attended the International Histocompatibility Workshop Conference in Seattle in May 2002 where the coffee was provided at no charge by Starbucks. Better coffee could be obtained outside the Washington State Convention Center [sic] at the Seattle Coffee Company (Seattle’s Best Coffee) which has apparently subsequently been subsumed by the mighty Starbucks. Having read Levin’s BLUE road diary, it’s interesting that the booklet that accompanies King Crimson's "57 Minutes Of Improvised Music" ThraKaTTaK CD contains a diagram for the ‘Crim Valet’, a portable espresso machine in a flight case with storage for cups, glasses and wine. This suggests that Levin is serious about his coffee and indeed, he used to have a page on his Papabear website called ‘Tony’s Coffee Corner’. The Crim Valet, aka Café Crim, did make it out on the road during a Crimson European tour around 1999 – 2000. Tony’s Coffee Corner also reveals that Levin owned a Gaggia which was sampled for inclusion on the track Espresso and the Bed of Nails from his World Diary album. Tony, whatever were you thinking? Starbucks, decent espresso?



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