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Subtilior - 2012 - "Absence upon a Ground"

(45:01, Altrock/Falling Records)



I-Absence (29:38):
1.  Overt 2:25
2.  Primo Frammento 2:24
3.  Epicicli-I 2:24
4.  Secondo Frammento 2:09
5.  Arioso 2:01
6.  Terzo Frammento 2:12
7.  Un Coeur Mecanique 2:14
8.  Quarto Frammento 1:58
9.  Epicicli-II 2:22
10. Toccata 2:29
11. Helas Avril 2:15
12. Quinto Frammento 2:05
13. Clos 2:41
II-Upon a Ground (15:30):
14. Part-I 5:22
15. Part-II 6:01
16. Part-III 4:01


Michele Epifani – organ (I), el. piano & synthesizer (II)
Stefano Colombi – el. guitar 
Luca Falsetti – drums 
With (1-13):
Antonio Marrone – bass
Cristiano Pomante – mallets
Pierluigi Mencattini – violins
Maurizio Fasoli – grand piano
Valerio Cipollone – clarinets 
& (14-16):
Manuel Trabucco – saxophone 
Carmine Ianieri – saxophone 
Massimo Magri – cello 
Simone Pacelli – bass 

Prolusion. SUBTILIOR is an Italian outfit led by keyboardist and songwriter Michele Epifani (who is also the main mastermind behind another band from the same country, the excellent Areknames). The 16-track “Absence upon a Ground” is its first release. As you can see above, it’s the titles of the two epic compositions presented that form the album’s one. Nominally however, each of them is divided into thirteen and three tracks-parts, respectively.

Analysis. With a diverse sound that reveals some obvious influences here and there, but always weaves them into an original sonic tapestry, this album is a chamber rock/music feast. The first of the epics, Absence (29:38), is quite mosaic in nature, ranging from sort of avant-garde soundscapes to violin and clarinet passages suggesting XX Century’s classical music to grandiose electro-acoustic octets, the creations of RIO, building the density over irregular rhythms, trading off violin, clarinet, guitar, bass, grand piano and organ solos, peppered with either vibes or marimba. The drums are used not only in a rock fashion, but also as percussive accents as in orchestral music, at times in tandem with mallets. As hinted above, however, not all of it would classify as Chamber Rock or neoclassical music either, as some of its parts have, say, a mere avant-garde feeling, such as Quarto Frammento, most of which comes across as a ‘duel’ between bass and marimba, while the piano-laden Helas Avril is emotionally warm in contrast to the rest of the material, which is dramatic-to-dark in mood. Most of the oddly-numbered tracks or, rather, segments of the suite, namely Overt, Epicicli-I, Arioso, Un Coeur Mecanique and Epicicli-II, develop slowly yet effectively, especially when the emphasis is on chamber instruments. While atmospheric or even fragile in appearance, the implying arrangements are touchingly beautiful, additionally standing out for their inventive use of harmony. Art Zoyd comes close to doing this kind of thing, but in a bit less sophisticated manner, due to their (specific, yet somewhat limited) instrumentation. Most of the epic’s evenly-numbered items, such as Primo Frammento, Secondo Frammento, Terzo Frammento and Quinto Frammento, are in turn structurally dense, involving up to all eight of the musicians declared. While listening to these I’m often reminded of the self-titled Univers Zero debut, partly due to the mixture of strings and reeds, though it’s generally clear that Subtilior comes from a Belgian chamber rock tradition. On the other hand, it’s also obvious that both of the groups took their original cues from composers like Bartok, Stravinsky and Schoenberg, albeit as regards the German innovator, the material in hand only occasionally evokes Dodecaphony. As to Toccata and Clos, besides dynamically evolving, typically chamber rock moves, the pieces contain some restrained ones, the latter even revealing the ‘sounds’ of silence in places. I’d prefer that there were more chamber rock and related arrangements on the epic, but nevertheless, it has won my heart as it is. While almost twice as short as its predecessor, Upon a Ground (15:30) is a thing of an epic scope too, more consistent than that in terms of both style and structure. Its three tracks-items, titled simply Part-1, 2 & 3, are all creations of RIO, but sound rather different from the above creations of the same genre. With the rock instruments playing a more-to-much-more significant role in their arrangements than the chamber ones do, they’re structurally closer to mid-‘80s Univers Zero, to put it succinctly.

Conclusion. The guest musicians more than heavily contributed to this album. However, I realize that it’s not so much the incorporation of strings, reeds and mallets as the compositional style that determines its success, showcasing new verges of Epifani’s talents as a songwriter. One of the year’s best chamber rock releases, it will likely take one of the higher positions in my Top-10-2012. To those who are still unacquainted with the musician’s previous work, lovers of vintage symphonic Art-Rock in particular, I highly recommend doing so: by getting at least one of the Areknames CDs.

VM=Vitaly Menshikov: November 6, 2012
The Rating Room

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