Review Summary: A spellbinding early experiment in electronic progressive music from one of Italy’s most enduring songwriters.
Such is the reputation of singer-songwriter Franco Battiato in his home country of Italy that he is commonly referred to as ‘Il Maestro’, or ‘The Master’. Throughout a long and distinguished career the Sicilian composer has embraced many art forms including film making and painting but the core of his considerable success has generally been his heavily philosophical and lyrical style of pop music. However, back in the early ‘70s Battiato developed a fascination with electronic music and explored this through a trilogy of experimental albums which leant heavily upon the tenets of the flourishing Italian prog movement of the time. This record, the third of Battiato’s ‘prog’ trilogy, is a transitional affair whereupon he abandoned traditional forms and instrumentation and started to embrace his hankering for the avant garde which he would explore to further excess on subsequent outings.
The musical themes here are often slow to develop and quite transient in nature, with Battiato preferring to carefully build textures and mood in preference to hitting the listener with bold melodies. Opener ‘Sequenze e Frequenze’ sets the scene with haunting voices set to atonal flurrying woodwind sounds which give way to some fruity VC3 synth textures. Battiato’s strident vocals lead the piece on into a slowly building hypnotic rhythm set to an almost dance music flavoured thud. As the piece progresses mbira rhythms seep into the mix and tinkle above the mournful synth passages which build to a juddering Pink Floyd style rhythm. This piece of music has a celestial quality that acts as an antidote to some of the more jarring experiments in tonality but when Battiato embraces melody as the vessel for his expression the results are often quite beautiful. A case in point is ‘Aria Di Rivoluzione’ which exhibits a sweet yearning essence built on a sonic tapestry of meandering cello, synth and saxophone. ‘Da Oriente A Occidente’ also features some beautiful melodies which reduce elements of ‘Sequenze e Frequenze’ into chamber sized dimensions and act as a basis for some mesmeric Arabic style improvisations.
This album is in essence a selection of progressive tonal sketches tinged with elements of 20th century classical music. The result is an album which may well not even appeal to those who already hold a love for traditional ‘70s progressive music due to its predominantly abstract nature. But if you give it a chance to reveal its subtle charms and let the psychedelic flavoured rhythms seep into your consciousness the music can become totally compelling.