Italy has a longstanding tradition of excellent progressive rock groups who helped to shape the genre, including such stellar symphonic groups as PFM, LeOrme, Banco del Mutuo Soccorso, New Trolls, Maxophone, Celeste, Goblin, and Ossana just to name a few. In recent years that ever expanding list continues to grow with Neo and Classic Symphonic Progressive groups making their mark on the genre. These new groups coupled with re-issues of classic gems from the Italian prog pioneers have furthered the cause of establishing Italy as a bedrock of the symphonic/prog movement. And although most associate the UK and artists like Yes, Genesis, King Crimson, Pink Floyd, Gentle Giant, The Moody Blues, and ELP as the Founding Fathers of Progressive Rock, one must not diminish the contributions of Italian artists. Their melding of British progressive rock sensibilities with age-old traditional Italian music expanded the symphonic prog/rock pallet with an element of exotic operatic texture and ethnic diversity.
Notturno Concertante is the embodiment of those original Italian prog/rock pioneers. With a name derived from a piece by 19th Century composer Carulli, their presentation is grandiose, symphonic, operatic, and a fine example of that convergence of progressive and ethnic music.
But don't get the impression that I'm suggesting the ethnic slant is strictly one of Italian origin - "Ahmed L'Ambulante" the opening track of their 2012 release "Canzoni Allo Specchio" has a distinct middle eastern vibe. The haunting clarinet and violin converge to evoke strong imagery of Morocco, nomadic camel caravans, and vendors in an open air bazaar. And then in direct contrast the following track is a raucous instrumental with a real Celtic flare that may well have been performed by The Chieftains at a Saint Patrick's Day celebration. For the most part the vocals are sung in Italian, with the exception of track 6 "The Price Of Experience" which is a beautiful melodic ballad with a powerful hook.
The disc has a nice blend of 6 vocal and 4 instrumental tracks. Two of the instrumentals, "On Growing Older" and "Ark En Ciel" are introspective acoustic guitar driven tracks augmented by sax and violin, reminiscent of the solo projects of x-Genesis fretmeister Anthony Phillips. While the third "La Milonga Di Milingo" has a jazzy Caribbean allure.
Members of the group include: Giuseppe Relmi (vocals), Raffaele Villanova (guitar, vocals), Lucio Lazzaruolo (keyboards), Carmine Meleccio (violin), Carmine Marra (saxophone, flute, clarinet), Giuseppe D'Alessio (bass guitar), Antonio D'Alessio (bass guitar), Simone Pizza (drums, percussion), and Gabriele (harmonium, accordion).
With instrumentation like violin, clarinet, accordion and harmonium Notturno Concertante have more in common with early Italian pioneers or Canterbury groups like Camel, Caravan, and Van der Graaf General than the neo prog artists IQ, Pendragon, Marillion, or Arena. So don't expect fretboard gymnastics or extensive dueling guitar/synth solos.
What you can expect is solid musicianship, exceptional arrangements, and superb production value; putting "Canzoni Allo Specchio" high on my list of contenders for best albums of 2012.
Reviewed by Joseph Shingler on September 16th, 2012