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The very first album I ever bought by an Italian progressive rock group was ‘Chocolate Kings’ by P.F.M., and to be honest I knew very little about them at the time but was impressed that they were on ELP’s own label. It was the first album to feature new singer Bernardo Lanzetti and the complex music, which also contained violin and woodwind, just blew me away. The band’s performance on 1st May 1976, at Nottingham University, was recorded for posterity and as it was the ‘Chocolate Kings’ tour I must confess I am in my element. These guys were/are masters of their instruments, and the complex layers they intertwine shows just why they were accepted outside the Italian market, and indeed by this time they had toured Japan, were returning from their fourth tour of the USA, and ‘Chocolate Kings’ had reached gold status. They do get lumped into the RPI (Rock Progressive Italiano) sub-genre just because they play progressive rock and are Italian, but to my ears they are quite different with a much greater use of jazz and interplay between instruments as opposed to heavy layers of keyboards which seems to be a signature of many. With Mauro Pagani moving between flute and violin, often within the same song, he provides extra emphasis and dynamics while Lanzetti has always been a star, as anyone who knows his work with the likes of Acqua Fragile or Mangala Vallis (among others) will attest to. His Roger Chapman style vocals may not be to everyone’s taste, but it allowed the band to expand their market more than they could otherwise. Okay, so it is 1976, which means that there are long solos, some which work more than other, but this double CD set really does capture a band at probably the pinnacle of their career (fans may not always agree on their best album, but for me it is ‘Chocolate Kings’ followed by ‘Jet Lag’). There is an interesting essay from Mark Powell to introduce the band to anyone who may not have previously come across them, and overall this is yet another great release from Esoteric who continue to show just how old albums should be treated.
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