Anni di piombo, anni di paillettes.

Music from a country on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

Archive for December 2008

[music:] Pino Masi, Alla ricerca della madre mediterranea (1978)

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Every revolution needs a soundtrack. Pino Masi, born in Palermo, Sicily, and grown up in Pisa, Tuscany (his father’s hometown), has supplied italian extraparlamentary leftist opposition with protest anthems – mainly acoustic ballads – from late sixties up to mid-seventies such as a local Phil Ochs, becoming a kind of an official songwriter first for Potere Operaio (“workers power”), and then for Lotta Continua (“continuous fight”), two of the biggest and most active communist organizations of those years.

Masi founded in 1966 Canzoniere pisano (“pisan songbook”), a collective of young musicians devoted to developing a new form of political folk song; in 1967 he joined Nuovo canzoniere italiano (“new italian songbook”) – a similar group which gathered singer/songwriters from all over the country, which could be somehow compared to cuban Grupo de Experimentación Sonora – playing with the likes of Giovanna Marini, Giovanna Daffini, Enzo Delre, Ivan Della Mea.

During the hot decade between 1967 and 1977 he worked, among others, with psychiatrist Franco Basaglia, jazz musician Giorgio Gaslini, Nobel prize winner Dario Fo, Julien Beck’s Living Theatre, managing festivals and happenings, co-authoring and writing the score for the documentary 12 dicembre (“december 12th”) by Pier Paolo Pasolini about the 1969 fascist bomb attack in piazza Fontana, Milan (a turning point in italian contemporary history), and releasing a bunch of songs – often instant classics – for the movement, such as La violenza (“the violence”), L’ora del fucile (“the shotgun hour”), La ballata del Pinelli (“the ballad of Pinelli”), never giving up actual militancy.

The peak of this phase came in 1976, with the transitory album Compagno sembra ieri (“comrade, it seems yesterday”) and his legendary nude performance on the main stage at the Parco Lambro alternative music festival in Milan (you can see an excerpt here). But a new level was coming. His friendship with Ornette Coleman and Steve Lacy, met at concerts in Pisa, opened him to the free jazz scene; meanwhile, he had started a personal process of discovering of the mediterranean roots of italian folk, studying south-italian, north-african and middle-eastern musical structures.

Alla ricerca della madre mediterranea (“in search of the mediterranean mother”), released on Cramps in 1978, is the result of these diverse and seemingly incompatible influences: a destructured six-movements free folk simphony echoing Moroccan and Arabian hymnodies, shattered by feverish rythm patterns and broken with experimental inserts, with Masi and his all-star backing band featuring Donald “Rafael” Garrett – formerly bass and wind player with Coltrane, Sun Ra, Pharoah Sanders, Coleman himself – experimental jazz bassist Roberto Della Grotta, and Lucio Fabbri on the violin, grappling with upset traditionals such as Su patriotu sardu a sos feudatarios (a sardinian protest song from the Eighteenth century, on which is based Procurate moderare), and Abballati abballati, an obsessive tarantella from Sicily.

It’s the dark side of the Mediterranean. Music which comes from an unknown time and space between Luciano Cilio, Area, early Claudio Rocchi and avant folksters such as Aktuala, Canzoniere del Lazio or Carnascialia. Full of mistery, rage and joy of life, just as traditional music manages to be in its highest moments.

Here is the tracklist:

01, Un giorno a Tangeri (“one day in Tangier”)
02, Festa al campo profughi (“feast at the refugee camp”)
03, Procurate moderare (“provide to moderate”)
04, Terrasini perché (“Terrasini because”)
05, Abballati abballati (“dance dance”)
06, Marrakech insieme (“Marrakech together”)

Get it: Pino Masi, Alla ricerca della madre mediterranea (1978 )

In 1986 Pino Masi moved to Sicily to work as a painter, helping his friend Mauro Rostagno with his rehab community Saman, until the latter’s murder by the hands of mafia killers in 1988. He acted as a human shield in the first Iraqi war in 1991, then working as a cooperant with UN in children’s defense and recovery. He now lives in the countryside around Pisa with his family. You can happen to meet him in the town’s taverns, where he sometimes pops up to play old songs as a busker.

His current musical project is the “transmediterranean theatrical-musical company” called Tribal Karma Ensemble. He has also played gigs and recorded with the combat folksters Folkabbestia! from Bari.

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[television:] “Frigidaire”, “La parola e l’immagine” (1980)

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An unfortunately short and incomplete clip excerpt from “La parola e l’immagine”, a weekly tv program about comic art by Bruno Modugno broadcasted between 1979 and 1980, showing Filippo Scozzari coming out of a fridge and speaking about “Frigidaire”, “a luxury magazine for the great élite masses”. On the wooden stairs you can see Andrea Pazienza (with the red shirt), director Vincenzo Sparagna (above Pazienza, with the curly hair, the moustaches and the glasses) and, on top, Tanino Liberatore. On the fridge door, the cover for “Frigidaire” first issue, by Stefano Tamburini; the comic shown at about two-third of the video is a page from “La dalia azzurra” (“the blue dahlia”) by Scozzari, from a Raymond Chandler’s script.

[music:] Monofonicorchestra/Naif orchestra, Invito a cena/Invito a letto (1982)

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I already had a couple of chances to mention the magazine “Frigidaire” before. To put it plain and simple, in its golden years – circa 1980-1986 – “Frigidaire” has violently pushed italian culture forward by kicks and shoves, forcily dragging graphic arts, journalism, arts and arts criticism, comics, music, popular imagery into the postmodern age. Founded in 1980 by agit-prop professional Vincenzo Sparagna together with people from the “Cannibale” crew – Andrea Pazienza, Stefano Tamburini, Filippo Scozzari, Tanino Liberatore and Massimo Mattioli – it has survived  the sudden and premature death of its art director and author of the successful comics character Ranxerox (Tamburini, in 1986) and its most gifted visual artist and comics rockstar (Pazienza, in 1988), and a heavy turnover of contributors, being published until 1998.

Issue number 14, January 1982, came with two new year gifts: a pin-up 1982 calendar drawn by Andrea Pazienza and a 7″, 33rpm split EP with no sleeve. The a side, Invito a cena con Monofonicorchestra (“invitation to dinner with Monofonicorchestra)” – the one with the bloody razor – featured kinda no wave-muzak for weird cocktail parties where the barman took trieline instead of gin; the b side, Invito a letto con Naif orchestra (“invitation to bed with Naif orchestra”) – the one with the nude, bald woman with the glasses – had more of an imaginary soundtrack to an avantgarde porn movie, like, say, having sex with an answering machine. Incidentally, one of the most iconing records from italian new wave.

Monofonicorchestra (sometimes also spelled as Monofonic orchestra) was basically a moniker for Maurizio Marsico, an electronic performer, piano player and dj friendly involved with the “Frigidaire” guys. He contributed to the record with a series of short instrumental tracks named after the dishes of a full course dinner. If you ever happened to listen to his Friend’s portraits, released in 1981 by Italian Records, you will recognise the same familiar cartoon soundtrack-like style, with juxtaposed blocks of music, and the distinctive use of classic and contemporary minimal piano patterns – such as in “Secondo e contorno”, which runs after the melody from “Eleanor Rigby” in an endless spiral.

Naif orchestra was the pop outfit for Bigazzi brothers (Arlo and Giampiero) from Florence. They had founded the independent label Materiali Sonori – through which this EP was released – in 1977, to put out the first record of their avant-folk band Canzoniere del Valdarno. In the eighties, the label became a kind of an italian home for the likes of Tuxedomoon, Controlled Bleeding, Roger Eno, Embryo, The Durutti Column, Minimal Compact, Jon Hassell and many others, and hosted italian acts such as Militia, Neon, Giovanotti Mondani Meccanici, Arturo Stalteri (formerly of Pierrot Lunaire), Alexander Robotnick. As for Naif orchestra, what they contribute here are four mutant-wave-electro-disco tracks with sampled woman moans and funny explicit lyrics – except the last one, written with Marsico.  They also succeded in entering the history of italo-disco with their classic “Check-out five” (1984) before going on indefinite hiatus.

Here is the tracklist:

Invito a cena con Monofonicorchestra
01, Aperitivo (“aperitif”)
02, Antipasto (“appetizer”)
03, Primo (“first course”)
04, Secondo e contorno (“main course and sides”)
05, Formaggio (“cheese”)
06, Frutta e frutta esotica (“fruit and exotic fruit”)
07, Dessert

Invito a letto con Naif orchestra
08, Dis-moi tout, mon amour
09, Duro (“hard”)
10, It’s your ass that’s on the line
11, Extending guest

Get it: Monofonicorchestra/Naif orchestra, Invito a cena/Invito a letto (1982)

Maurizio Marsico continues to perform and record music, most of the times together with his long-time friend Andrea Tich; anyway, he makes his living by directing an important monthly magazine about tv serials, “Series”. Arlo and Giampiero Bigazzi are still in the music business, you can check out Materiali Sonori’s site to learn about their work and browse the label’s catalogue.

If you got interested in “Frigidaire” you can’t miss the newly published luxurious book about its history, stuffed up with images and full comics (in italian). You can also visit the imaginary republic of Frigolandia.

[television:] Lucio Dalla, “Non stop” (1977)

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Just a taste of what italian television could look like back in the late seventies, when format and script writers and directors at RAI (the national broadcasting service) were encouraged to experiment and innovate to meet the taste of viewers grown up in the sixties and the seventies, who couldn’t stand no more its traditionalist and stiff attitude.

“Non stop – Ballata senza manovratore” (“non stop – ballad without manoeuvrer”, referring to the absence of a presenter) was a joyfully chaotic medley of stand-up comedians, live music, dance broadcasted between late 1977 and early 1979, hosting the debut appearances of stars-to-be such as the Academy Award nominee Massimo Troisi (R.I.P.), Carlo Verdone, Francesco Nuti, Jerry Calà. If you want to know more about this cult broadcast you can read its Wikipedia page (in italian).

In the video here above you can enjoy an astonishing live performance by Lucio Dalla singing “Com’è profondo il mare” from his 1977 same-titled album. The pop nightmare scenography, the still standing masked guys and the non-sense choreography set for a subtly frightening mood, which fits perfectly with the song. An extraordinary piece of music which turns into a great piece of tv.

Written by alteralter

December 9, 2008 at 8:14 pm

[music:] Lucio Dalla, Il giorno aveva cinque teste (1973)

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It’s amazing to see how fans of italian music from the sixties and the seventies seem to know everything about forgotten, obscure beat or prog acts, and keep posting their lost albums all around the blogosphere, while they totally disregard the work of one of our greatest musical geniuses, which stays up there with Franco Battiato and Lucio Battisti.

Lucio Dalla, born in Bologna in 1943, began as a clarinet player in jazz band, at the end of the fifties. In 1963, while playing in the backing band for the popstar Edoardo Vianello, he met Gino Paoli, who picked him up and helped him kicking off a solo career.

After some 7″, in 1966 he released his first album, 1999: a collection of beat-psych tracks, which also contained an italian version of James Brown’s It’s a man’s, man’s, man’s world, whose lyrics were written by Sergio Bardotti and Luigi Tenco.

His first real masterpiece came in 1970 with Terra di Gaibola (“Gaibola’s land”), but it’s with his participation in the following year’s Sanremo festival with 4/3/1943 –  he came third – that a mass audience noticed him. The song became almost immediately a standard (among many others, Chico Buarque recorded it as “Minha história” in his 1974 Construçao), and was then included in the interlocutory LP Storie di casa mia (“stories from home”, 1971).

And then came 1973. Lucio Dalla had recently begun to hang out at the bookshop in Bologna where Roberto Roversi, the owner and one of the most important italian poets of the past century, used to gather with his fellow writers Pier Paolo Pasolini, Francesco Leonetti, Franco Fortini. Dalla and Roversi decided to start writing together, infusing civil poetry into a yet unheard popular song form which encompassed pop, rythm’n’blues, progressive rock, jazz, folk, musique concréte, contemporary classic elements. The first output of this dreamy collaboration was Il giorno aveva cinque teste (“the day had five heads”).

Never had high and engaged culture managed to deal such effectively with pop music, not giving up profundity and its experimental attitude; never had pop music attempted to such extent to bring to light the very roots of power, rage, pain, spirit, love, joy, without losing its entertaining qualities. Try listen to “L’auto targata “TO”, “La bambina” or “La canzone d’Orlando”, and when you’ll feel that shiver down your back, you’ll get it. Obviously the lyrics are crucial here; anyway you’ll also find some examples of  Dalla’s legendary scat singing and “fake english”, namely in “Pezzo zero”.

Here is the tracklist:

01, L’auto targata “TO” (“the car tagged “TO”)
02, Alla fermata del tram (“at the tram stop”)
03, È lì (“it’s there”)
04, Passato, presente (“past, present”)
05, L’operaio Gerolamo (“working man Gerolamo”)
06, Il coyote (“the coyote”)
07, Grippaggio (“seizing”)
08, La bambina (l’inverno è neve, l’estate è sole) (“the baby girl (winter is snow, summer is sun)”)
09, Pezzo zero (“track zero”, also released as the b-side of a 7″ featuring “Anna bell’Anna” in 1974)
10, La canzone d’Orlando (“the song of Orlando”)

Get it: Lucio Dalla, Il giorno aveva cinque teste (1973)

After two other milestone releases such as Anidride solforosa (“sulphuric dioxide”, 1975) and Automobili (“cars”, 1976), Dalla and Roversi parted their ways. Lucio has been writing himself the lyrics to his songs since then, beginning with the incredible Come è profondo il mare (“how deep is the sea”, 1977), perhaps the most important record in the history of italian pop-rock.

He has released more than thirty albums to date, selling millions copies and achieving a worldwide success with songs such as Caruso, Ayrton, Canzone (“song”).

It would possibly take an entire blog to tell all the lives of Lucio Dalla – for instance, he has been a nominee for the best actor award in the 1967 Venice Film Festival for his role in I sovversivi, by the Taviani brothers, and has been experimenting with opera and film and tv scores. Pay a visit to his official website Pressing Line (in italian) to know more about his recent projects.

[edit: I have just noticed (via Martini & Jopparelli) that a song by Lucio Dalla, “Ulisse coperto di sale” (“Ulysses covered in salt”, from Anidride solforosa) has been recently sampled by the mighty Timbaland for his “Indian Carpet”. Read the whole story.]

Written by alteralter

December 6, 2008 at 4:36 pm

[music:] Enzo Carella, Sfinge (1981)

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One out of many. An average long-haired, moustached kid playing guitar, hitchhiking through Europe, going to rock festivals. Enzo Carella was in the Isle of Wight in 1970, at his hero Jimi Hendrix last gig. And in London, when Jimi died in his bed. What do you see when you turn out the light? I can’t tell you, but i know it could be mine.

I already mentioned Pasquale Panella in the previous post. Carella met him somewhere in Rome in the mid-seventies, while planning his personal way out of the post-prog swamp, fancying of an italian etnopop yet to come. The two teamed up in a songwriting plot to gently upset the scene.

1976. Enzo Carella releases his first single, “Fosse vero” (“should it be true”), followed some months later by the album Vocazione (“vocation”, 1977). Suddenly, a dazzling pop vision which looked like nothing before – and perhaps since – in Italy. Brightness, night, lightness, riddle, dance, rest, sex, suicide. Gold offered with simplicity and aloofness, just as everyone could do that. Only Lucio Battisti had likewise managed to sound so easy and complicated at the same time, joining britpop, soul, funky, latin influences, italian melodic tradition, often using opaque lyrics (by his songwriting partner Mogol) to challenge the listeners. Desperately seeking for a term of comparison, people sticked to this parallel and labelled Carella as a funny clone, justified by some superficial similarities such as the same thin, rough voice. Fact is, the ghost of Battisti has been haunting him since then – but who was influencing who, if in the end Lucio picked up Pasquale Panella to write the words to his songs from Don Giovanni (1986) on?

Enzo Carella was maybe looking for a spell that could disperse this shadow during the two years of silence that followed the release of a successful second album, Barbara e altri Carella (“Barbara and others Carella”, 1979), and a second place at the 1979 Sanremo festival. The same press sheet for his full-length comeback Sfinge (“sphinx”), finally out in 1981, reported him as “dealing with magic”.

Actually, esotericism and erotism seem to be the two strenghts which join forces in this masterpiece, surprisingly produced by a veteran from the prog scene, former Osanna wind player Elio D’Anna (who also played sax and flute on the record). D’Anna basically supplied a pleasant yet uncomfortable mediterranean setting where the songs lay in the half-light, at midday (“Mare sopra e sotto”, “Sfinge”), or under the moonlight (“Che notte (qui con te)”, “Contatto”). It’s the power of opposites. Pop music as an acrobatics number gone bad.

Here is the tracklist:

01, Stai molto attenta (“be very careful”)
02, Sì, si può (“yes, you can”)
03, Sex show
04, Mare sopra e sotto (“sea above and below”)
05, Sfinge (“sphinx”, also release as a 7″ b/w “Sì, si può”))
06, Che notte (qui con te) (“what a night (here with you)”)
07, Contatto (“contact”)
08, Lei no (“not her”)
09, Rilfessione finale (“final reflection”)

Get it here: Enzo Carella, Sfinge (1981)

After Sfinge, Enzo Carella went on hiatus until 1992, when the semi-anthologic Carella de Carellis came out. Since then, he has released two other albums, Se non cantassi sarei nessuno (1995, an imaginary musical based on the Odissey), and Ahoh yè nanà (2007), both written with his long-time confederate Pasquale Panella.

You can also visit his MySpace (in italian) for updates and some amazing pics.

Written by alteralter

December 3, 2008 at 9:56 pm