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Balletto di Bronzo, Il - Sirio 2222 (70) - 5/10
Completely different from Ys. Psychedelia with only few progressive tendencies.

Balletto di Bronzo, Il - Ys (72) - 10/10
First of all, those who only appreciate harmonious and melodious music should not even consider buying this record. All the way through, Ys is pervaded by a sinister and hellish atmosphere. The music is hideous and beautiful at the same time, much like for example Red-era King Crimson and Anekdoten. There is quite a lot of repetition to be heard, but never without a number of subtle details swirling about in the background. Some parts recall the long guitar "solo" from King Crimson's "Starless". However, Il Balletto di Bronzo's sound is darker, denser and often speedier. An example of this is the track "Epilogo", which by some is claimed to be a boring part of the record - wrongly. After a powerful - and wonderful - intro, a simple bass line is repeated for several minutes with all kinds of subtle sounds in the background. Disharmonious piano, guitar and mellotron sounds ponder about, before it all plunges into a magnificent climax. This contains the same bass line, but the sound is now absolutely drenched by what may and may not be improvisation. In the end, the track is finished off by the same theme with which it started. Fabulous, and it is only one of six tracks (including a bonus track). Open-minded fans of complex progressive rock should get this album, no matter the cost or effort.

Banco del Mutuo Soccorso - Beginning Banco Story, a.k.a. Live (70) - 7/10
I have no idea if this record was released in the 70's, but according to the sparse information on the booklet, it was recorded on a live setting in Modena on the 27th of December, 1970. It contains extended versions of three classics from their self-titled studio album: "R. I. P." (11:00), "Il Giardino del Mago" (23:01) and "Metamorfosi" (27:30). Do notice, however, that the sound quality is horrible, but thankfully, it is not so bad that it is impossible to enjoy the record - in my opinion. Be aware, however, that some people might disagree with me on this. Disregarding the sound quality, the record contains absolutely wonderful music, better than anything I have heard from 1970. At times it is improvisational and dreamy, and at times it is so energetic that you will not be able to sit for days after hearing it. Actually hearing this live must have been a personality-altering experience. And I have not mentioned the best part yet: It contains a previously unreleased track, "Polifonia", clocking in at 12 minutes - and it holds the same quality as the rest of the tracks. This makes Beginning Banco Story essential to everyone who has already bought Banco's studio albums and wants more - and who doesn't? It is a shame and a pity that the sound quality is so bad, preventing this from being a four- or even five-star record. As far as I know, this is the same release as the Live 1970 record.

Banco del Mutuo Soccorso - s/t (72) - 10/10
Their debut. The most dominant instrument of this band is keyboards. Inspiration from folk music can often be heard, but is seldom predominant. The record starts out with a "spoken" poem accompanied by dreamy keyboards. Then follows "R.I.P.", which includes the operatic and dramatic vocals of Francesco di Giacomo. Awesome. After a strange, two-minute "pause track" comes "Metamorphosi". This mostly instrumental piece shows Italian progressive at its very best; all the time changing both in rhythm and mood. Brilliant. The next track, the 21-minute "Il Giardino del Mago", is also extremely well-made, but maybe they dwell for a little too long at some themes. The album is finished off by "Traccia", a medieval-sounding track which lasts a few minutes - without creating too many thrills, though. Still, overall this album is a five-star effort. One of the best records ever to have been released.

Banco del Mutuo Soccorso - Darwin! (72) - 10/10
This is a concept album about evolution, and the first track is called; surprise, surprise; "L'Evoluzione". It is at times extremely dense, dramatic and intense, and always changing. The next track, "Conquista della Posizione Eretta" continues in the same vein, save that it is even more sinister. After all this intensity comes the jazzy, calm and less complex "Danza dei Grandi Rettili" to give the listener a possibility to catch his breath. The next track, "Cento Mani e Cento Occhi", is perhaps even more dramatic than the first two tracks. Then comes what could be a love song, "750 000 Anni Fa... l'Amore", which is relaxed and beautiful, but in my opinion a little too close to the "ballad" genre. The last two tracks can blow anyone away. Overall, the use of synthesisers and operatic vocals plus the magnificent composition skills of Vittorio Nocenzi makes this a classic. This is the best record of what might be the best band of all times.

Banco del Mutuo Soccorso - Io Sono Nato Libero (73) - 9/10
A bit more explorative than their first two, s/t and Darwin!. Another wonderful album by Banco, but only the first two have given me major addiction problems.

Banco del Mutuo Soccorso - Garofano Rosso (76) - 7/10
Instrumental film music. Great at times, but too uninspired too often.

Banco del Mutuo Soccorso - Come in un'Ultima Cena (76) - 7/10
Less commercial than Canto..., but is in my opinion not as interesting.

Banco del Mutuo Soccorso - Di Terra (78) - 8.5/10
Completely different from their other work. Closer to neo-classical music than to rock. Full orchestra. Very good.

Banco del Mutuo Soccorso - Canto di Primavera (79) - 7/10
Simpler and more song-oriented than their other stuff, but good anyway. Quiet and relaxed most of the time.

Barbieri, Gato - Latino America (73)
Again, this is not necessarily prog-rock, but more what I would call "symphonic jazz". Still, as all the jazz records I review here, it should be interesting also for fans of the former genre. This is the 2CD reissue of two 70s LPs called Chapter 1: Latin America and Chapter Two: Hasta Siempre, but there is lots of unreleased material here, including full versions of some tracks that were shortened on the original releases. Gato Barbieri is a saxophonist who can be compared to Van Der Graaf Generator's David Jaxon. He plays with an enormous flair, energy & passion, and could in fact be my all-time favourite instrumentalist. Latino America's personnel is different from track to track. The musicians come from all over Latin America, and much of the point here is the traditional/native flavour of the music. At the most, 11 people are playing at a time, making up an impossibly dense and inspired rhythm section, while flutes, harp, acoustic guitar and other, strange, instruments, doing whatever they feel like. They sound like a musical equivalent to birds singing in the rain-forest or something in that direction. Despite the seemingly random nature of their playing, they never move into typical cacophonic "free-jazz", but rather sound soothing, and make the music a lot more intriguing than if they hadn't been there. Gato Barbieri's saxophone playing is very melodic, either it is relaxed or completely mad with energy. A standard Fender electric bass is used on most tracks, which should make it easier for rock fans to enjoy this. I find the quality of the record quite uneven. But the complexity, groove and energy of this melodic ordered mess make at least 35 minutes of the record sublimely beautiful and totally essential listening: "India" is quite uniform and relaxed, "La China..." is more symphonically built up, and explodes into some of the most groovy, dense and intricate music I've ever heard, while still having gorgeous sax melodies. There is some very effective chanting by Barbieri here which I guess can put some people off, but it sounds like the correct thing to do to me. "Juana Azurduy" is more of the same - again, absolutely incredibly beautiful stuff. Then, there are 90 more minutes of music... The 12-minute "Encuentros" found on both CDs and the more sinister and free-jazzed "Para Nosotros" follow the same pattern as the ones mentioned, without reaching the same heights - still, good to great. Tracks like "Mate" and the tango-inspired "Nunca Mas" are no more than mediocre plus. The alternate versions of "La China..." and "Nunca Mas" are excellent. The rest of the album isn't more than OK, and all the average material makes it difficult to listen attentively through the whole of the records. I don't feel like giving this record a rating because of the uneven quality, but the best 35 minutes of it are essential listening. Progressive music for sunny days.

Biglietto per l'Inferno - s/t (74) - 9.5/10
This is an Italian band which will keep any serious music lover nailed to the stereo from the first second of the record. The atmosphere is dark, heavy and claustrophobic, with distorted guitars, distorted keyboards and (deliberately?) bad sound quality. The Italian vocals are good. Flute is used with good effect, which gives them quite a Jethro Tull'ish feel. However, Tull could never have made an album this intense and with such an emotional range. Like most Italian prog, the music is often changing, and the balance between gentle and intense parts is perfect. The keyboard sounds are very mighty, somewhat like Banco's masterpiece "Conquista Della Posizione Eretta" from Darwin! with some distortion added. This is any prog-rock lover's ticket to heaven!

Biglietto per l'Inferno - Il Tempo della Semina (74) - 8/10
This follow-up to their classic first album was not released until lately since the band split right after recording it. The first four tracks, which total 20 minutes, are in my opinion great, with energy and atmosphere almost on level with their first album. Unfortunately, the great synthesizer sounds are not dominating the sound as much, and only occasionally emerging in the background. The atmosphere is a little lighter, and the compositions are in my opinion not as original as on the self-titled album. Even if the music still is very dark, it is closer to the standard progressive rock in the vein of Genesis than their first release. The last two tracks, enduring for a total of 16 minutes, are major let-downs. Both have some enjoyable dark parts, but they are in total quite happy and more commercial than their other stuff, and are stained by vocal parts which annoy me a LOT. The vocalist is good on the other tracks, but unbearable on these two. The better of the two, the 9 minute "La canzone del padre" starts out quite progressively, but after a while, it turns into some absolutely useless repetetive vocal part which reminds me of soul! Overall, this album is very good at its best and bad at its worst. Recommended to everyone who wants more of this great band than just their self-titled album - but be prepared for some annoyingly tedious parts too.

Bley, Carla - Escalator Over the Hill (71) - 9/10
Carla Bley was at this time impossible to categorise. Her roots were apparently in jazz, but the music on this record is equally far away from jazz as it is from prog-rock. Escalator Over the Hill was originally a 3LP, which later has been released on 2 CDs. There is a horde of musicians playing here, and the six LP sides all sound quite different. The result comes out in the vicinity of free-jazz, musicals (particularly because of the vocal style), prog, Indian music, big-band music - completely different from everything else I've heard. There is a concept, but I haven't found out if there's any point in trying to figure out what it's about. The album starts out with "Hotel overture", a completely mindblowing piece. If you've heard the opening of Bley's Tropic Appetites, you know what to expect, but this is even rawer and more intense. From a melancholic opening, the music moves ahead to a cacophony of wind instruments upon a galloping rhythm, which moves into an incredibly powerful saxophone solo by Gato Barbieri which is worth the price of the album by itself. A sublime opening track. Then comes LP side 2, which to me sounds more like filler. Large parts of the Hotel overture are played once again here for some reason. Then comes side 3, which moves into a totally different direction. It's fast-paced, rhythmically powered by John McLauglin's electric guitar and some vocals. This is the second-best side, truly excellent and unique stuff. Also worth noticing is the last LP side - again, totally unique music. This record should definitely appeal to progressive rock fans who want something different. One needs to be open-minded enough to enjoy this despite the multitude of influences, some of which aren't necessarily regarded highly by prog fans, such as the musical-like vocals. Be aware, however, that with music as demanding and intense as this, it was not a good idea to put together six LP sides of music on only two CDs. The CDs might not hold your attention for the 60 minutes they last. For this reason, try finding this masterpiece on LP.

Bloque - El Hijo del Alba (78) - 6/10
This band is from Spain, and vocals are in Spanish. The thick layers of synth alongside electric guitars and quite flat, uninspired drums recall the neo-progressive genre. In addition, the album consists of quite short songs, often with traditional refrain structure. Obvious influences from Yes and Genesis can be heard, as well as AOR and heavy metal cliches. Violins are used occasionaly, giving the music a nice, symphonic touch. Some parts of this should be enjoyable for the neo-progressive crowd, but other parts, like the title track, are pop probably intended for radio-play. Not a bad record by all means, but there are thousands of albums out there that you should get before this.

Brainstorm - Tales of the Future (98) - 6/10
60 minutes of Australian music "dedicated to all people who feel obliged to space", to quote the CD booklet. And most of this Australian band's record contains space-rock, though the degree of spaciness varies somewhat throughout the record. There are vocals on all the 11 tracks, but instrumental parts do appear every now and then. The lyrics seem to be about Life, the Universe (in particular) and Everything, with a sci-fi twist to them. The instruments are 2 guitars, bass guitar, drums and keyboards, and getting an interesting sound with this line-up usually depends a lot on the keyboardist. And yes, it is Steve Bechervaise's keyboard sounds that sometimes grab the mind and send it off into outer space (of course, helped by the other instruments). I'm not really sure what keyboards he uses, but they remind me a little of the classic 70's keyboards. I also like the bass playing, though it's not really outstanding in any way compared to other prog bands. Unfortunately, Brainstorm sometimes seem a little too connected to the rock paradigm: Much of the music is in 4/4, and the guitar playing is slightly short on creativity sometimes. The record starts with the 9 minutes long "Cyborg" - maybe not the best choice for a starting track, since I seem to lose interest after the initial five minutes, which sound like a "spaced-up" version of Dire Straits, in 4/4. There are just not enough interesting things happening. The remaining four minutes are more varied and reminding me of Yes, but unfortunately a little uninspired. The record continues with "Evolution" (6 minutes), which, despite some great bass and good keyboard playing, also fails to please my brain as much as it should. "Not Saying Anything" (3 minutes) is a standard rock song in 4/4. But then, after 18 mediocre minutes, comes 18 minutes of space-rock that I really like. "Brideshead", 9 minutes long, starts with a vocal part followed by a guitar solo, all the time with excellent bass playing in the background, and then suddenly changes completely when the keyboards enter the stage after five minutes. The last three and a half minute of the track is a complete take-off into space where the band shows off all its potential. Why isn't the rest of the record like this?! I'd rate it 10/10; it's like going for a sight-seeing in the Andromeda galaxy. "In Violent Hours" (5 minutes) and "Spaceport" (4 minutes) continue in the same style, the latter even includes some flamenco guitars. Very good stuff indeed, but every time the vocals appear the band seems to put its brakes on a bit. The next track is "Still I see", which has a guitar riff going for nine minutes without enough interesting things happening alongside it. Then comes two boring fast-paced rock songs, before the OK space-rock song "Walks in Anonymity" and the finale "Egress" (5 minutes), which again has some very nice "spacey" keyboard playing. All in all, it is very difficult to listen through all the 60 minutes without being put off by some of the less interesting parts, so as a whole, the record does not really work that well. However, the highlights could make it worth getting, and at least if you like space-rock!
Brainstorm's homepage is

Buon Vecchio Charlie - Buon Vecchio Charlie (71) - 8/10
This Italian record dates from 1971, which means that it's one of the very first in the seemingly endless line of outstanding releases from Italy. The music here is surprisingly similar to PFM's, with its gentle melodies and folky/classical flavour. A couple of things also remind me of The Nice (or ELP). Firstly, they occasionally use organ in the same way. Secondly, two of the three tracks develop from short melodies stolen from classical works (and twisted); Grieg's "In The Hall of the Mountain King" and Mussorgsky's "Night on Bare Mountain". However, it's not in the derivative, half-predictable path Ekseption, Nice and ELP followed, and the classical "riffs" are only used sparsely. The shorter, third track of the original album is in a pleasant, more romantic style, not different from PFM at their best, and stunningly beautiful! The vocalist sings in a fashion that would have been over-the-top cozy if he wasn't so skillful. Essential listening in my opinion! In addition to Nice-ish organ and PFM-ish flute and acoustic guitar, there is also some aggressive saxophone playing emerging sometimes, I would guess it's inspired by Van Der Graaf Generator's David Jaxon. Unfortunately, the sound of the saxophone (soprano, I think) isn't particularly rich, but the playing in itself is great. There is also a bonus track here which, as you would expect, is not in any way on par with the others. It's close to being cheesy, but again, the vocalist's skill saves the day, and it comes out at least listenable. The rest of the record only has a few mediocre passages. In my opinion, though not quite up there with the mindblowing top Italian releases, this record is underrated and needed by any serious collector of prog!