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(64:22, MoonJune Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Baltasaurus 14:19 2. Flying Trip 7:51 3. Vietato Generalizzare 6:40 4. Mosoq Runa 18:57 5. The Mirror 10:16 6. La Ballata de S’Isposa e Mannorri 6:16 LINEUP: Alberto Bonomi – vintage keyboards, piano; flute Alberto De Grandis – drums, percussion; vocals Silvio Minella – el. guitar Luca Bladassari – bass With: Zoltan Szabo – cello (4, 6) Maria Vicentini – violin, viola (4, 6) “Andhira” Trio – female vocals (6)
Prolusion. Titled “4th”, this release is the third studio recording by Italy’s DFA, following “Duty Free Area” (1999, whose title represents the band’s name-abbreviation in its unfolded appearance) and “Lavori in Corso” from 1996. The ensemble also has one live album, “Work in Progress” (2001), which in turn bears the same title as their debut effort does, just in English translation.
Analysis. If I find that there is nothing to write home about in the band’s manipulations with words etc, then their passion for changing style – along with their achievements in that field, of course – positively amazes me. Whether you’re well familiar with their work, as I am, or not, I must tell you that this album differs more strongly from any of its predecessors than those differ from each other, bringing a lot of novelties to what at first seemed to be their at-once-established style, and yet later moved towards a more modern sound. Very briefly and roughly alike as it might be, I would describe the debut DFA release as Yes-meets-Gentle Giant, while its follow-up as a crossover between Ozric Tentacles and Gong. “4th” has a noticeably less distinct symphonic feeling overall, and is almost free of spacey landscapes (only the epic Baltasaurus revealing those, within one of its – many – segments). All in all, I think this creation appeals to a somewhat greater degree to fans of old-school, in-all-senses-vintage, Jazz-Fusion than to those who got accustomed to perceiving DFA as a band whose jams are only semi-improvisational in nature. Forming the first half of this six-track CD, the all-instrumental Baltasaurus, Flying Trip and Vietato Generalizzare are especially representative in this respect. Besides the aforementioned digression from its predominant style, the disc opener also has a number of quasi-symphonic interludes, but for the most part the suite appears as a set of typically jazz-rock jams which are not too dissimilar to those in early Brand X or classic Return To Forever, particularly in intensity, which in turn is what the next track, Flying Trip, is filled with almost throughout. Well, this stuff belongs actually to the European school of the genre and it is probably only because Alberto Bonomi much more often plays electric piano than, for instance, organ, that I’m reminded at times of the classic Chick Corea ensemble as well. It’s clear to me that, say, the band’s native spirit hovers over the music too, but I must admit I’m rather poorly acquainted with the Italian branch of Jazz-Fusion, hence my relative narrow-mindedness as regards the reference points cited. Full of wonderful flute trills (still courtesy of signor Bonomi), Vietato Generalizzare follows Flying Trip in a softer, more laidback manner, and may evoke Arti E Mestieri or even Camel at their jazziest, though by and large it is a highly original composition, as are both the previously examined ones. However, the next two pieces, the instrumental Mosoq Runa and the song The Mirror, both contain some easily detectable traces of influences, at times sounding like Genesis and Brand X are jamming together, particularly the vocal track (because the drummer Alberto De Grandis’ singing is patterned after Phil Collins’, who was a full-time member of both these English bands all over the second half of the ‘70s), though on the other hand it stands out for some highly innovative arrangements, those having oriental melodies as their basis. More typically of DFA, the symphonic and jazzy textures are well balanced on these two, the corresponding passages being so well intermixed between themselves that it’s really unclear to me what has been arranged here and what improvised. Well, these are mere details, while as musical creations both the compositions are as consistently mesmerizing as all the preceding ones. The disc finishes with La Ballata de S’Isposa e Mannorri, a beautiful, and yet surprisingly accessible folk rock piece, abundant in vocals – think two women and one man singing together in an overtly uplifting, carnival-like, manner.
Conclusion. I think I somewhat failed in describing this recording, as I see I’ve missed some of its important aspects, having focused on many of its secondary details instead. Nevertheless, let me assure you that this, latest, offering from DFA is one of the most honest as well as interesting creations I’ve heard in months and is definitely one of 2008’s best prog rock releases in general. That being said, “4th” is one of the hottest candidates to top my personal Top-20 chart of the year: to be updated in a month or so.
VM=Vitaly Menshikov: December 7, 2008
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