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Altrock Chamber Orchestra - 2012 - "Sonata Islands Goes RIO"

(48:47, Altrock Records)



1.  Snake Eating Its Tail 1:42
2.  Norrgarden Nyvla 3:04
3.  Hands of the Juggler 4:44
4.  Rethinking Plague 3:49
5.  Presage 10:22
6.  Land Arf 6:19
7.  Brachilogia-7 3:08
8.  Distillando 4:11
9.  Crossroads 4:37
10. Luoghi che Aspettano 6:44


Emilio Galante – flute, piccolo
Valerio Cipollone – clarinets
Andrea Pecolo – violin
Bianca Fervidi – cello
Massimo Giuntoli – piano (6)

Prolusion. ALTROCK CHAMBER QUARTET was formed about a year ago within the precincts of Italy’s Altrock Records, the home label for a few dozen international progressive rock bands and artists, most of whom are adherents of RIO (an abbreviation of Rock-In-Opposition, for sure). The title of the debut outing, “Sonata Islands Goes RIO”, reflects the new author’s design of its founder Emilio Galante, a modern Italian composer and flautist, who is also the main man of the avant-jazz ensemble Sonata Islands. I have no idea whether violinist Andrea Pecolo and cellist Bianca Fervidi are members of the said group too (otherwise, why does the album bear the title it does?), but the quartet’s remaining participant, clarinetist Valerio Cipollone, is from Yugen, one of the best groups on the contemporary chamber rock scene.

Analysis. The first five of the ten tracks here, Snake Eating Its Tail, Norrgarden Nyvla, Hands of the Juggler, Presage and Rethinking Plague, are interpretations of the eponymous RIO pieces (sans the latter, whose original title is ‘Love’) by Henry Cow (the former three), Univers Zero and Thinking Plague respectively, most of them re-arranged by Giovanni Venosta expressly for the quartet. None of them are strict interpretations, though, differing from the original pieces due to the absence of any rock instruments, as well as vocals in the latter case. The other five tracks, Land Arf, Brachilogia, Crossroads, Luoghi che Aspettano and Distillando, are new creations, all written by different musicians, Galante included. Four of these aren’t mono-stylistic, showing that those who wrote them, modern Italian composers, were faithful to their classical roots when approaching to the genre. Overall however, the album is built perfectly, sounding like a concept creation, despite the difference between its tracks-items, so I’ll examine those according to their stylistic and compositional characteristics, regardless of whether they’re new creations or not. The disc opener Snake Eating Its Tail is full of unison leads, as a result of which it comes across to a greater degree as an early zeuhlish creation than as an RIO one – unlike Rethinking Plague, which is just imbued with the spirit of the latter genre, as also is Brachilogia-7 (which is no wonder, though, since it’s penned by Francesco Zago of Yugen). The intersection of three European compositionally-performing schools, namely classical, neoclassical and avant-garde academic music, is very well embodied on Distillando and Crossroads. The arrangements are ever-changing, but are always totally cohesive, although of course, some of the harmonic constructions might seem to be very unusual for many, especially for the uninitiated. Speaking of neoclassical music and related constructions, it is the work of Igor Feodorovitch Stravinsky that most often comes to mind, meaning before the composer Dodecaphonized, which he did in the second half of the last century. Involving the technique of rhythmic ostinato, Land Arf, Hands of the Juggler and Presage all additionally reveal dissonant repetitive patterns that instantly evoke those in RIO, the latter piece particularly rich in them. Luoghi che Aspettanos so as well, but infrequently, appearing as a fine example of the musical expressionism that is typical of neoclassical as well as avant-garde academic music – unlike orthodox one, whose elements are absent here. Overlooking the six tracks that are poly-genre in nature, it also needs to be mentioned that each of the styles deployed is distinctly distinguishable, playing its own role in their overall development. All in all, it turns out that all of them are built in the manner of a mini-suite, which imparts the whole thing with an uncommon breadth and variety. The sudden changes of textures create a remarkably energetic atmosphere, even when the arrangements aren’t intense, etc. Yes, the music doesn’t contain a rock component, but it’s really interesting to explore the combination (or, maybe, confrontation) of the genres that is offered here – so graphically, I must add. Finally, Norrgarden Nyvla alternates passages of orthodox, symphonic classical music with moves inspired by RIO, the second most accessible track here. The variations on the three Henry Cow pieces are all emotionally pretty light, whilst otherwise the music ranges from romantic to dramatic to, at times, overtly dark in mood, such as on the interpretation of Presage, which often repeats the scores of the original, then obviously lacking of Daniel Denis’s distinctive drumming. Here are three more details, though: Luoghi che Aspettano has a tango feel to it in places; Hands of the Juggler reveals some Eastern music-evoking motifs within its last section, and Land Arf has a series of piano-driven moves, courtesy of Massimo Giuntoli, its author.

Conclusion. The compositional complexity of these pieces along with their specific delivery might confuse many progressive rock fans, ordinary ones in particular. However, if you like Chamber Rock and take risks, then it’s quite possible that you’ll discover this album for yourself. As for lovers of academic music, folks, be sure to check it out from the label, as it’s close to perfection on all levels.

VM=Vitaly Menshikov: December 1, 2012
The Rating Room

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