Various Artists — Zarathustra's Revenge
(Mellow MMP328 ABCD, 1997, 4CD)
by Mike McLatchey, Published 1998-07-01
I was really looking forward to this one, and when I laid my eyes on the cover, a collage of artwork from various Italian rock albums, the first thing I though was, "Cool, Semiramis covers!" You can imagine my chagrin when amongst four CDs of material, no Semiramis cover was listed. Damn. Well, you can't have everything you want. What you do get is a mixed bunch of tributes ranging from seven PFM covers (at least two medleys) to tributes of bands I would classify as being more straight rock or psych, like Equipe 84 or I Nomadi. The following is a rundown of the set's tracks. Admittedly, this is rather anally thorough, but I do what I'm told! (And I must say, if anything, this set was very fun.)
Compact Disc Numero Uno opens with a differently arranged cover of Celeste's "Principe di un Giorno" by Finnish group Sea Reach & Friends. Here we have Minimoog replacing flute and even an electric guitar solo, making this one of the nicer jobs on the set. Never been much of a Le Orme fan, and even though I generally like A Piedi Nudi, their heavier version of "Era Inverno" didn't do much for me. Zauber's straight version of PFM's "Impressioni di Settembre" is about what you'd expect, although the monophonic synth tones on the solos are dreadful sounding. There are a couple of Osanna covers on the set, although no one tried anything from Palepoli, which is a shame. Mary Newsletter's version of "In un Vecchio Cieco" is pretty good though, they even got the great vocals close (so close, I checked the line-up for guests). Hostsonaten, one of the Finisterre-related ensembles here, do Alan Sorrenti's "Vorrei Incontrarti" from his best album, and do an admirable job, acoustic and gentle. First big winner is Fonya's medley of "River of Life / Celebration / Paper Charms," an utterly clever idea. It's amazing what this guy can do by himself and how human he makes all the programming sound (and to able to do a passable job aping the classic analog synths of PFM is praise enough). Nostalgia's version of Alusa Fallax's "Ciò Che Nasce con Me" is made much weaker by the vocals being not up to par and the much slower pace. Avarta, a group I have not heard, do a cool job of Mauro Pagani's "Europa Minor." It's definitely the closest anyone gets to Area on this set — another gold star here. Luna Inconstante give a whirl at Flea's "Sono un Pesce." I remember the original being much better, the slower pace of this version lessens the intensity of the song. Prowlers try the Trip's "Ultima Ora e Oda a J. Hendrix." Never cared for the Trip too much and felt the same way about the cover, 11 minutes of tedious Nice-like classical rock. Finisterre close the first CD with "Alta Loma Five till Nine" and as you might guess, do a great job, being one of the finest of Italy's newer symphonic rock groups. Winners: Fonya, Avarta, and Finisterre.
Disc 2 holds the first Banco cover, "R.I.P.," a brave attempt no doubt, but falling far short of the original — maybe a difference in the passion level. Nova Mala Strana shouldn't have bothered trying Area's "Luglio, Agosto, Settembre (Nero)," the technical level of Area being probably beyond 90 percent of the groups here, and the slow tedious pace makes this quite embarrassing. There are a couple of surprises on Trama's version of Locanda delle Fate's "Profumo di Colla Bianca" (a great choice), really odd arrangements and delivery (like the Area track this also has female vocals), yet the weak drums take away a little from a promising experiment. Marco Masoni's Franco Battiato medley ("Areknames / Fenomenologia / Plancton / Tao / Meccanica") is a well thought out idea and by far the most progressive piece on the set; it sure sounds out-of-place in the midst of all the symphonic rock pieces. Astral Weeks do an interesting choice, Le Stelle di Mario Schifano's "Molto Lontano (a Color)," and do a nice spacy job with it. Aton's do "Canzone per un Amica" by I Nomadi, a pop track and an odd choice, the song is updated with modern equipment, at least a professional outing. Endlich Allein cover the obscure Alberto Fortis track "Il Duomo di Notte" and am not sure how this holds up to the original, a track with overdubbed electric and acoustic guitars. Interface, only the third non-Italian group so far, cover Cervello's "Canto del Capro," and, like the other Japanese contributions on this set, the language differences are too vast for the vocalist. Nice Mellotron here though (surprisingly rare on this set for this type of music). Another great idea is Iconae's version of Jacula's "U.F.D.E.M" from their classic Tardo Pede in Magiam Versus. Not the song I would have picked from it, but is passingly executed. Altera's Quella Vecchia Locanda song "Prologo" has a much different feel than the original. It is programmed and far too synthetic feeling, yet I appreciate the experimenting with the structure. Haven't heard from Mad Crayon in a while (well at least I haven't), so it was nice to hear them do a Pierrot Lunaire track, "Sotto i Ponti" — no versions of Gudrun material unfortunately. Admirable, beautiful, yet not quite compelling. Massimo Mazzeo finishes the second disc with a beautiful Celeste-like acoustic guitar solo, "Vecchie Notti Distese sulla Spuma del Mare" from Portici's self-titled album — yeah, I missed that one too. Winner: Marco Masoni.
(Take a breather here, go get a beer or something.)
CD3 opens with Le Orme's much renowned "Felona e Serona" ably performed by Algebra. But, a certain curiosity looms as keys / bass / drums trio Mouse take on the masterpiece "Zarathustra" by Museo Rosenbach, a clipped instrumental version no less. A fun oddity and a ballsy choice — not quite like taking on Area, but with a musical chasm between original and cover. Another Le Orme track, "Sguardo verso il Cielo" by Audio is next, quickly forgotten as Americans (from Kirkland, Washington) Strange New Toys tackle "Snip-Snap" by Goblin next. I like Goblin, I like this track, I like Strange New Toys' version. Ah, The Ancient Veil, I still reel after Eris Pluvia's "Rings of Earthly Light" from years ago, and I like their Le Orme contribution "Gioco di Bimba" here, Serri and Romano (if I haven't mentioned it, he's on two other tracks on this set, Hostsonaten and Avarta) are always classy. Myros, Oscar Giordanino to be precise, really surprised me with his cover of I Nomadi's "Mille e una Sera," entirely programmed, but with really lush synths and nice solo tones. And yes, I seem to remember seeing this floating around on tape, the Italian Rock Session Band, a Japanese supergroup, made out of Outer Limits members with madman Motoi Sakuraba on keys, do two tracks here live from 1987 (over 10 years old, can you believe it?). First up, a highly synthesized version of the New Trolls "Concerto Grosso n. 2 - 1 tempo vivace" and followed by, oh yes, "Primo Incontro" of Il Balletto di Bronzo's Ys. You love the opening, but I'm sorry, Tomoki Ueno can not cut the vocals here. Cool they did it, though. Didn't think I'd like Gerard's "La Conquista della Posizione Eretta," (Banco) but Toshio Egawa got chops that’s for sure, and this is one of the three best tracks on the collection, ripping from the opening with incredible keys. Prog's favorite lady-trio up next and the Ys tradition continues with a typically shredding version of "Epilogo." None of the weird vocals that made Ys perfect, yet somehow Ars Nova do a brilliant job. Overall, the Japanese contributions are quite strong, with sincere attempts to match the atmospheres. Over the Pacific and across the continent to East Coasters Scott McGill / Finneus Gauge. Another good choice (this and disc 4 are definitely the strongest half of the set), Il Baricentro's "Sconcerto," an Italian fusion song with nice keys. Winners: Myros, Gerard, Ars Nova, Scott McGill / Finneus Gauge.
Lodovico Ellena does Claudio Rocchi's "Volo Magico N 1" solo to open the last CD, and although not retaining the depth of the original, it is a passable version. Blondie Fox performs "Neva Calda" from Il Balleto di Bronzo's debut album and really do a nice job of it. It's funny how much it sounds like early Led Zeppelin in Italian. I like it. Notturno Concertante's Acqua Fragile track "Coffee Song" wasn't very good to begin with, and I like it less here. TMA's "Il Mercato degil Dei" by Franco Battiato is gorgeous, deep resonating synth back drops, fuzz guitar, piano, and dreamy clock-like percussion make this the most ambient track on the set. Very nice. Another PFM tribute is up next with Beggar's Farm covering "Dove...Quando..." It says a lot for PFM's music that the majority of their tributes on this set are so good. Always a beautiful song, the band stays nice and close. Another Il Baricentro track, "Alua" is taken on by 3Vel, making this the only modern latin-jazz track on the set. Very professional and oddly out of place! Lots of PFM on this disc, Page is next up with a medley of "Mr 9 till 5 / Four Holes in the Ground / Grazie Davvero," an interesting medley with lots of the best parts sounding really good. Phil Beane tries PFM's "Via Lumiere" and another American solo artist doing all the keys himself. Again a really nice cover, there’s some great guitar work here. Eftus with master of ceremonies Ciro Perrino do a great version of "Favole Antiche," a classic of Italian progressive, with a nice loose extended vibraphone improvisation. Dream Toys cover Equipe 84's "Nel Cuore nell'Anima," a song from Italy's sparse psychedelic pop area, one I can't compare to the original. Mind Flower try their hand at Locanda delle Fate's "Non Chuidere a Chiave le Stelle," what I considered the worst song on the Forse... album. Mind Flower's tribute is adequately rendered. Sequenza Principale, dual keys (Mini- and Poly-moog too!) cover Perigeo's "Genealogia," and like the Baricentro tributes, this triggers my jazz-rock tastes. Who is Sequenza Principale? This is one of the better technical groups on the set; I'd love to hear more. Fantastic cover. Franco Maria Serena, one of the few solo vocalists in Italian progressive today, do "E' un Giorno Caldo, Triste e Fiacco," a track from Le Nuvole di Paglia. Don't know the original, but vocals, harp, and double-bass make this one of the more unique tracks on the set. Serena has some Alberto Piras similarities. H20, another one of the more professional sounding groups here, do "C'e un Paese al Mondo" by Maxophone, and it's an elegant and beautiful version as well, great guitar and keys. It's definitely one of the most convincing versions here, and one of the two tracks that I liked better than the original. The closer "There Will Be Time" by Osanna, is performed by Moongarden, who I think should have borrowed the vocalists from Mary Newsletter as this is a mediocre attempt — well I didn't much care for the original either... A good closer though in feel. Winners: TMA, Phil Beane, Sequenza Principale, H20.
In summary, this 49-contribution set ranges from the completely ridiculous to the deftly executed. On one hand, as an entirety, it seems holey in quality — a culled down 2CD set would have been a near-masterpiece. But it serves a different purpose, its damn fun, the poorer covers being equally as fun as the good ones, and there are tons of surprises. I certainly would have liked to see more contributions by more of progressive music's more prominent groups, Deus ex Machina, DFA, Nuova Era, Ezra Winston, and others that I consider to be the cream of the 90s Italian scene are absent (some for obvious reasons). Italian fans will probably get their money's worth on a once through, it lends itself well to a culled down 90 minute tape compilations. Bravo, Mellow, your best tribute CD yet!
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