Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Yügen - Labirinto d'Acqua (Italy 2006) [AvantProg] @VBR224

This is a brilliant debut album from an Italian band which revolves around guitarist/composer Francesco Zago's and producer Marcello Marinone's singular vision of a fusion of chamber music, symphonic prog and RIO/Avant prog. The name of the band is Japanese; it has no easy translation, but an approximation would be an awareness of the universe that triggers feelings too deep for words (according to the book The Meaning of Tingo). The sleeve contains quotations from Erik Satie (2 of whose compositions are included), Wittgenstein, Umberto Fiori, Liebniz and Jorge Luis Borges, among others. This is a band that is ambitious in scale and scope, and it is to the credit of all concerned that the music more than lives up to the ideals which inform it.

The album starts with a lovely, rippling piano piece by Satie before the first composition proper arrives in the shape of Catacresi. This sets the tone for what is to follow; woodwinds and tuned percussion that recall the austere modernism of Univers Zero and Art Zoyd, washes of keyboards that recall Gentle Giant and Genesis and guitar that touches base with Zappa, Frith and Fripp, the whole sounding totally fresh and contemporary. Rather like some of Univers Zero's recent albums, the 14 musicians involved play in different permutations on different pieces, which makes for a highly varied sonic palette but which also means that it doesn't always feel like the work of a band in the traditional sense of the word. The standard of writing, arranging and playing is astonishingly high throughout, and credit must be given to Udi Koorman for his mixing skills. A particular highlight is Corale Metallurgico, a percussion driven piece featuring Dave Kermann of 5UUs fame, with the manic twists and turns of Zappa's 'serious' music and a truly fabulous percussion arrangement. Later on, Quando La Morte Mi Colse Nel Sonno opens and closes with a synthesiser line that PFM would have been proud to use on one of their early albums, although they would probably not have included the ghostly shakuhachi part which leads into the rather darker middle section of the piece, and the mellotron quartet Skellotron is a wonderful fragment that could be explored further on subsequent recordings.
RIO/Avant prog sometimes distances itself from 70s symphonic prog, although the two genres share some common roots and emerged from the same scene. Yugen draw successfully on both styles in a similar manner to Japanese bands like Koenjihyakkei and Bondage Fruit. This album isn't quite a 5 star masterpiece but it comes close - there will be high expectations for their next recording. Recommended to anybody with a taste for the adventurous, and especially to those who usually find avant prog heavy going. Splendid stuff. (Syzygy - ProGGnosis)01 - Sévére Réprimande02 - Catacresi03 - Omelette Norvegese04 - Corale Metallurgico05 - Danse Cuirassée (Periode Grecque)06 - Brachiologia07 - La Mosca Stregata08 - Quando La Morte Mi Colse Nel Sonno09 - Skellotron 00310 - Le Rovine Circolari11 - Anastomosi12 - Danze Corazzate13 - Labirinto D'acqua14 - Incubi Concentrici

Paolo Botta
: E-Piano, Mellotron, Organ, Moog

Stephan Brunner
: Bass

Maurizio Fasoli
: Piano

Dave Kerman
: Drums on Track 4

Tommaso Leddi
: Mandolin, Lute

Massimo Mazza
: Vibraphone, Marimba, Glockenspiel

Elia Mariani
: Violin

Guiseppe A. Olivini
: Cembalo, Percussion, Shakuhachi, Theremin

Peter Schmid
: Bassclarinet, Tubax, Subcontrabass Sax, Bass Flute, Taragot

Mattia Signo
: Drums

Marco Sorge
: Clarinet

Markus Stauss
: Sax

Francesco Zago
: Guitars, Keyboards

Diego Donadio
: Drum Arrangements
Udi Koomran: Sounds, Processing, Mix


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