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(134:26 2CD, Moonjune Records)
Prolusion. DFA is definitely one of the strongest progressive rock bands to come out of Italy after the genre's heyday. This double CD set, "Kaleidoscope", brings together their two studio albums, "Lavori in Corso" ("Work in Progress", 1996) and "Duty Free Area" (1999), both having been digitally remastered, plus three bonus tracks recorded live in 2003.
"Lavori in Corso"
TRACK LIST: 1. Work Machine 7:15 2. Collage 7:11 3. Pantera 8:48 4. La Sua Anima 4:03 5. Trip on Metro 6:38 6. Space Ace Man 9:53 7. La Via 16:22 8. Work Machine Live 6:52 (b/t) LINEUP: Alberto Bonomi - keyboards; flute; b/v Silvio Minella - el. & ac. guitars Luca Baldassari - electric bass Alberto Grandis - drums; lead vocals
Analysis. "Lavori in Corso" is a creation of Symphonic Progressive whose sound is so distinctly 'classic' that it is very easy to imagine it was recorded thirty, and not ten years ago as is in reality, kudos going above all to Alberto Bonomi for giving preference to vintage keyboards, particularly to Hammond organ. The album is just under one hour in length, embracing seven tracks (four songs and three instrumentals), all of which seem to be in an almost constant state of development, rarely returning to previously heard themes. Even the instrumental La Sua Anima, where there are only acoustic guitar, flute and synthesizer in the arrangement and which is generally quite transparent, reveals no obvious musical tautologies. Located just there where it should be, right in the middle of the album, it comes across as an island of calmness surrounded by the turbulent waters of a stormy ocean. Yes, the other six compositions are all for the most part both highly intense and intricate, with plenty of pace and mood changes, and although their numerous thematic sections are all logically connected with each other and flow together, well, exclusively sensibly, the transitions are always both unexpected and unpredictable enough to keep the listeners' attention, the most demanding prog heads included. I'm not sure if there is a point in searching for direct comparisons in this particular case, but at least as regards its complexity and style (or rather, genre characteristic), I'd set the rest of the material between Yes's "Relayer" and Genesis's "Selling England by the Pound", though with some significant reservations which are to be quoted now. The opening song Work Machine and the instrumental Trip on Metro each contain a couple of sections with eccentric, queerly twisting meters in their basis, which can bring to mind Gentle Giant or even those of King Crimson's most freakish moves that are just two steps away from RIO. The songs, Collage and Pantera, both positively rock in places, as also does the instrumental Space Ace Man, but while on the first two the band from time to time treads the path of organ-driven Hard Rock (like Deep Purple at their most progressive in a way, though I fear this remark might seem to be blasphemous), the latter is much closer to Space Rock / Fusion / Metal (whose darkness and singularity reminds me slightly of Runaway Totem), thus as if proving it no accident that it got the title it did. The largely instrumental 16-minute epic, La Via, concludes the album, bringing out some glowing, if not frenetic symphonic art-rock movements during its first half, while later on the intensity slackens up down to a pastoral, slow-paced, yet still progressively saturated theme in the finale.
"Duty Free Area"
TRACK LIST: 1. Escher 10:51 2. Caleidoscopio 9:38 3. Esperanto 8:13 4. Ascedente Scorpione 4:33 5. Ragno 11:29 6. Malia 5:28 7. Space Ace Man Live 8:46 (b/t) 8. Collage Live 6:15 (b/t)
Analysis. It took three years for DFA to bring out their sophomore outing whose title, "Duty Free Area", is nothing other than the band's acronym in its unfolded form. "Duty Free Area" has a much more jazz-oriented approach than its predecessor, though it would definitely be more exact to say this release finds DFA being near-completely focused on the style they've laid on Space Ace Man - yeah that very sole Space Fusion-related composition from "Lavori in Corso". Unlike the group's first effort, there are few organ and no mellotron patterns to be found here, and yet the sound here has a rather strong vintage feeling too, this time around due to the prevalence of the analog, Wurlitzer-like piano in the arrangement. Three of the album's six tracks, Caleidoscopio, Esperanto and Malia, feature a lyrical content, but there are too few vocals on each of the first two to regard them as songs, the latter being, say, merely largely instrumental. Already the first piece, Escher, signifies that DFA are back with a lot of alterations to their sound, although it does so in a less successful way than most of the subsequent ones. With the swirling, yet cyclical solo that Alberto Bonomi generates from his synthesizer, which runs almost all through the track, it is difficult to avoid comparisons to Ozric Tentacles, though the names of Hawkwind, The Alan Parsons Project and Tangerine Dream may also crop up in this respect. Only occasionally do DFA venture on eclectic jams here, and it is at times only Alberto Grandis's both lively and complex drumming that seems to keep the piece from falling into the category of electronically symphonic Space Rock. Curiously, another piece that doesn't completely blend with the disc's prevailing picture, Malia, takes the opposite place in its track list. Here the music, while being filled with a light, yet distinctive fusion sense, is both slow and mellow throughout, the drummer's singing (in duet with a guest female vocalist, by the way) having a slight flavor of jazz as well. That said, the core material is much more challenging, and I'd even say that not a single note is wasted anywhere on the four middle tracks, Caleidoscopio, Esperanto, Ascedente Scorpione and Ragno, all of which are really outstanding, with a lot of breathtaking shifts in direction, and ensemble jams as well. No one would reproach DFA for being derivative, but nonetheless I don't think it will be a crime if I note that the band's sound here isn't too far from such major-league space fusion acts as Steve Hillage (circa "Fish Rising") and Carpe Diem ("Cueille le Jour"), but especially Gong ("You"), with some hints of Yes, Return To Forever and Porcupine Tree, though the latter connection manifests itself only within the Prog-Metal-like moves, which can occasionally be found on each of those four compositions. The playing is superb, with plenty of meaty leads on the part of both keyboardist Alberto Bonomi and guitarist Silvio Minella. The rhythm section shines with great precision, though the battery's commander, Alberto Grandis, and bassist Luca Baldassari each from time to time contribute some genuine solos to the common stock. As to the three makeweights that the package is supplemented with, they are some of the very best live recordings that I've heard this year.
Conclusion. Those who are exclusively into symphonic Art-Rock might think that DFA took a sizeable step back with their second studio recording, but most of the omnivorous (rather open-minded) prog-heads will definitely find it to be overall on a par with its precursor, if not a leap forwards. In all, "Kaleidoscope" is a must have for anybody whose horizon isn't caged within any single progressive rock genre, though I believe that should be clear from the review itself.
VM: October 5 & 6, 2007
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