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(50:06, Drycastle Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Progressive Magdeburg 8:22 2. Toccata Neogotica-1 11:25 3. Neogothic Pedal Solo 5:03 4. Herr Jann 6:33 5. Deep Red 4:22 6. Profondo Gotico 4:07 7. Toccata Neogotica-7 10:14 LINEUP: Paolo Lazzeri – pipe organ Maurizio Bozzi – bass Roberto Bichi – drums
Prolusion. THREE MONKS is an Italian trio based in Arezzo, assembled by veteran keyboardist Paolo Lazzeri, a musician active in the early ‘70s prog scene, making his return with this new band. Bassist Bozzi is another player who started his musical career when art rock was in fashion the first time around, while the slightly younger drummer Bichi takes his turn in being the third monk in the monastery. "Neogothic Progressive Toccatas" is the initial effort by these cloister-inspired musicians, and was released on bassist Bozzio's own label Drycastle Records in 2010.
Analysis. A toccata, according to Wikipedia, is "is a virtuoso piece of music typically for a keyboard or plucked string instrument, featuring fast-moving, lightly fingered or otherwise virtuosi passages or sections with or without imitative or fugal interludes, generally emphasizing the dexterity of the performer's fingers". In this case the keyboard used for these rapid and rather challenging pieces as far as performance goes is the pipe organ, an instrument I gather most people will associate with weddings, funerals and churches. And as the title of this CD indicates, the Gothic revival, which initially started off as an architectural movement in the 1740s, is a profound influence for this specific record – a movement that defines what many think of as Gothic today to a much greater extent than the original one from the 12th century. What this adds up to is an album filled with massive organ-dominated creations, very much unlike what I gather most would expect when hearing or reading the artist's and album's names. Surging, dark and dramatic organ textures are served up aplenty, of the kind that makes you think of Hammer horror movies, scenes of Dracula's castle in a thunderstorm with music emanating from the topmost tower, a mad scientist relaxing with a musical interlude prior to pushing the button marked Destroy the World. Music fits to serve as the soundtrack for The Hound of the Baskervilles, to name a well-known literary example from the neo-gothic movement. On top of the mostly slow and surging organ textures the nature of the toccata plays out. The lighter notes swirl on top of the brooding layers, their impact of a somewhat more subservient nature, adding subtle details to these arrangements. The bass and drums set the general pace, with the former also given a few spots for some pace-filled explorations of its own. The typical composition features elongated excursions with all instruments, with one or more inserts where the organ is given a solo spot used to convey themes of a less dramatic nature. The use of and experimentation with recurring themes are frequent and effective, maintaining a compositional and musical red thread. The only slight flaw is that these compositions might just sound a bit too similar over an album's length worth of material. But while the width and scope of this production may be somewhat limited, it is a joyful and intriguing experience nonetheless. And for anyone with the notion that the pipe organ is a dull instrument to be used for psalms and a limited repertoire of classical music only (such people do actually exist) this CD will most likely be a revelation.
Conclusion. If you like the organ and love the pipe organ, or vice versa, Three Monks have crafted a CD you have to investigate. If not for any other reason than for its rather unique nature; to my knowledge, the number of progressive rock albums with a pipe organ as the main instrument makes for a very limited selection. In this case bass, drums and the pipe organ combine neatly to create majestic, dramatic and dark musical landscapes of an impressive nature, with a vast array of subtle and finer details to discover as one becomes more familiar with this creation.
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