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TRACK LIST: 1. Andywalker 3.25 2. Circlecircus 2.18 3. Mindjoke 2.44 4. Moonchurch 1.56 5. Crosstown Traffic 2.27 6. De-Toxic Hatefull 2.47 7. In the Seventh Year 2.53 8. Insanology 3.14 9. Bluechild 2.48 10. Mindjoke Vocal Chords Version 2.39 11. Insanology Vocal Chords Version 2.26 12. Io 2.10 SOLO PILOT: Boris Savoldelli – vocals With: Marc Ribot – guitars (3, 8)
Prolusion. “Insanology” is the debut album of vocal performer Boris SAVOLDELLI, who is also a member of avant-garde ensemble SADO. Hailing from the Northern Italian town of Modena, since his early childhood years Savoldelli has been fascinated by the possibilities offered by the human voice, which led him first to training as an opera singer, then to exploration of more experimental techniques, such as the ones used by Area’s Demetrio Stratos, or ethnic forms like Siberian overtone chanting. In the past few years he has been engaged in a number of diverse projects; earlier in 2009 he released the album “Protoplasmic” in collaboration with jazz guitarist/composer Elliott Sharp. The lyrics on “Insanology” were written by Savoldelli’s friend and long-time collaborator, singer-songwriter Alessandro Ducoli.
Analysis. “Insanology” is certainly not your average prog album – very far from that. However, it is also a very progressive offering, one of those discs that come as an unexpected surprise to the jaded listener, weary of hearing yet another band imitating either the classic acts of the Seventies, or any of the modern pretenders to their throne. Following in the footsteps of vocal innovators such as Bobby McFerrin or the late, great Demetrio Stratos, in 2007 Boris Savoldelli recorded a debut solo album solely based on his impressive vocal abilities, proving once again that the human voice can be as effective an instrument as anything man-made. Though “Insanology” is very short for today’s standards (at under 30 minutes, little more than an EP) it is quite dense in its own peculiar way. Although the initial reaction of the average prog fan might very well be a giant question mark (or even something more colourful), those more used to listening to jazz in all its manifestations will recognize some familiar stylings. In fact, even if rock music has produced a sizable number of fine vocalists, it has never been noted for actual research in new forms of singing – something, instead, that is more of a prerogative of jazz, or of the vast, diverse galaxy known as world music. Savoldelli only needs his extraordinary voice (and the help of loops) to carry off the album, with the exception of two tracks to which veteran jazz guitarist Marc Ribot lends his acoustic guitar. The average song length is around 2 minutes, with only two items exceeding the 3-minute mark – quite surprising in a world where over-60-minute albums (even self-released ones) seem to be the rule. However, as mentioned above, the album is uncommonly dense, and nowhere as immediate as a superficial listen would suggest. Savoldelli’s skill at creating varied atmospheres in each of the songs, compressed as they are by their limited running time, is to be admired. This is a highly technical effort, but in a very different way from the flashy offerings of so many conventional progressive rock bands. Savoldelli’s voice, far from being just a beautiful but soulless instrument, is full of warmth and humour - basically high-pitched, yet very well-modulated, never jarring or grating. While the Stratos comparisons are inevitable, Savoldelli comes across as somewhat more restrained. He also sounds as someone who is actually enjoying what he is doing, and not just going through the motions in order to wow his audience with his impressive technique. The album’s lyrics mingle Italian and English, and follow the humorous, somewhat nonsensical strain typical of Canterbury or RIO/Avant bands. As a whole, the album exudes an optimistic mood that is a welcome change from the tons of bands or artists that go the existentialist route, and take themselves and their music far too seriously. Opener Andywalker already sounds like a statement of intent, with Savoldelli’s incredible vocal weaves interspersed by funny, cartoonish sounds. The following song, Circlecircus, shares the same upbeat quality, and includes a sort of rap section; while Mindjoke has a strong Latin flavour, bolstered by Marc Ribot’s stylish, laid-back guitar and Savoldelli’s harmonious singing. The title-track, which also features Ribot’s contribution, is in a very similar vein. A sudden change in atmosphere occurs with the touching Moonchurch, in which – as the title implies – Savoldelli reproduces a whole choir of angelic voices. In sharp contrast, the very intense, exhilarating vocal performance and rhythmic feel of Jimi Hendrix cover Crosstown Traffic take the listener into decidedly rock territory. The upbeat, vintage-style melody of De-Toxic Hatefull may be somewhat reminiscent of Yes’ vocal harmonies, while the bluesy torch song In the Seventh Year sees Savoldelli’s voice sounding deeper than usual, wistful and passionate. The delicate Bluechild also features a very sensitive interpretation by the artist, who almost whispers the words at the beginning, and then turns more assertive, almost in a gospel vein. At the close of the album we find two vocal-only versions of Mindjoke and Insanology, and a real delight for Gentle Giant fans – Io, possibly the most experimental item on display, is sharply reminiscent of the song Knots from the “Octopus” album. Without any doubt, “Insanology” is a stunning debut album, a disc brimming with ideas and freshness that should appeal to everyone with even a passing interest in authentically progressive music. Definitely more accessible than Savoldelli’s recordings with Elliott Sharp and SADO, it is a must for fans of distinctive vocal performances. In spite of its upbeat, uplifting nature, however, it should not be forgotten that there are years of serious study and research behind it.
Conclusion. Those who are keen on exploring new avenues in music, and are intrigued by the creative possibilities offered by the human voice, will find “Insanology” very much to their taste. Obviously, lovers of conventionally arranged progressive rock might find this album boring, or simply a tad one-dimensional. However, as baffling as this disc might be for those used to a more traditional approach to music (especially as regards the presence of actual instruments), I would recommend everyone to give “Insanology” a try. They might be in for a very pleasant surprise.
RB=Raffaella Berry: January 7, 2010
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