La Coscienza di Zeno – La Coscienza di Zeno

Another outstanding addition to the thriving music scene of the Italian port city of Genoa, La Coscienza di Zeno was founded in  2007 by a group of experienced musicians – bassist Gabriele “Estunno” Guidi Colombi (also a founding member of Il Tempio delle Clessidre), drummer Andrea Orlando and vocalist Alessio Calandriello. Keyboardist and lyricist Stefano Agnini joined the band at the beginning of 2008, while guitarist Davide Serpico (who replaced original guitarist Matteo Malvezzi) and keyboardist Andrea Lotti joined between 2008 and 2009. Agnini left at the end of the recording sessions for La Coscienza di Zeno’s self-titled debut album, which had started in May 2010.

The band takes its distinctive name (meaning “Zeno’s Conscience” in English, and often shortened to CDZ for ease of reference) from one of the masterpieces of Italian literature, the ground-breaking psychological novel published in 1923 by writer and businessman Italo Svevo, and written in the form of an autobiography meant to help the titular Zeno’s attempts to quit smoking through psychoanalysis. Not surprisingly, La Coscienza di Zeno’s debut possesses a definite intellectual appeal – though without the level of pretentiousness that might be expected _ revolving around Stefano Agnini’s highly literate lyrics (loosely inspired by the novel) masterfully interpreted by lead singer Alessio Calandriello’s technically impeccable voice, passionate without being overwrought.

La Coscienza di Zeno is one of those rare albums that, while in keeping with the classic prog tradition of long tracks, rich instrumentation (with special prominence given to the keyboards) and intricate arrangements, achieves the considerable feat of never overstaying its welcome.  As other reviewers have pointed out, the album is not as easy to approach as other comparable efforts, and the first impression might be somewhat deceiving. To be perfectly honest, after my first listen I thought, here is another of the many Italian Genesis-worshipping bands – which, after successive listens, turned out to be a very unfair assessment. Indeed, while the Genesis influence is occasionally hard to miss, the album’s roots lie firmly and deeply in the great Italian prog tradition, with Banco del Mutuo Soccorso a particularly apt reference, mainly on account the presence of two keyboardists and the remarkable balance between vocal and instrumental parts.

Clocking in at slightly under one hour, La Coscienza di Zeno features seven tracks between 6 and 13 minutes. Though the main foundation of the album is symphonic, lush and multilayered, with plenty of seamless instrumental interplay, outstanding solo passages and rivetingly expressive singing, there is also enough variety to keep the interest of the more eclectic-minded listeners, with a wide range of influences cropping up almost unexpectedly, from waltz to folk by way of jazz and even hard rock. The almost wholly instrumental (except for the spoken-word vocals in the middle) opener “Cronovisione” is melodic and intricate at the same time, with echoes of Yes in the airy synth sweeps laced with faintly spiky guitar, and of Banco in the majestic yet dynamic feel imparted by the twin keyboards. “Gatto Lupesco”, hinges on Alessio Calandriello’s amazing vocal range and expressive power, complemented by a musical accompaniment that is melancholy and intense in turns, driven by keyboards and dramatic drumming. The obligatory epic, “Nei Cerchi del Legno” (partly inspired by the iconic tale of Pinocchio, one of the few instances of Italian literature that have had some international resonance) has a rather unusual format, being mostly instrumental, with vocals making an appearance only towards the end. The music, on the other hand, is a triumph of imposing symphonic passages rendered even more lush by the double keyboard setup and string arrangement, almost jazzy inserts offset by gently meditative episodes, and stunning synth-guitar interplay that brings to mind Genesis’ immortal “Firth of Fifth”.

Out of the remaining four tracks, “Il Fattore Precipitante” pursues the classic Italian prog route, with the lavish, airy Genesis-like suggestions sharpened by some heavy riffing and high-powered rhythm work courtesy of Gabriele Guidi Colombi and Andrea Orlando – though Calandriello steals the show here, his vocal tour de force complemented by a superb instrumental tapestry of keyboards, drums and guitar. “Il Basilisco”, on the other hand, signals a sharp change in mood and musical style – a folk-tinged number veined with melancholy and enhanced by the arresting, unmistakably Old-World accordion of guest artist Luca Scherani of Höstsonaten, also showcasing Davide Serpico’s lovely acoustic guitar work. The splendid, exquisitely tense instrumental “Un Insolito Baratto Alchemico” juxtaposes quieter, flute-led sections and stormy keyboard passages spiced by metal-hued riffing, enriched by solemn organ and lilting piano; while closer “Acustica Felina” (the second longest track on the album) reprises the lush symphonic mood of the beginning, rounded up by the deep choral tone of the inevitable Mellotron. Calandriello’s voice tackles the challenging lyrical matter with superb expertise, veering from gentleness to a deep, almost menacing tone; the song is then wrapped up by a magnificent, Hackettian guitar solo.

With refreshing honesty, La Coscienza di Zeno make no bones about paying homage to the progressive rock tradition of the Seventies, both Italian and British – even if the sound quality and production values of their debut album are thoroughly modern, and lend extra depth and dimension to the elegantly complex music. An obvious labour of love, every aspect of the album has been carefully considered in order to offer a complete experience to the discerning listener – with stylish, mostly black-and-white photography and detailed liner notes, including the lyrics (which make worthwhile reading for anyone familiar with the Italian language). Indeed, La Coscienza di Zeno is a must for all lovers of vintage Italian prog, adding the band to the growing list of excellent “traditional but modern” acts that already includes their fellow Genoese Il Tempio delle Clessidre and La Maschera di Cera, as well as the revamped Delirium. Highly recommended to symphonic prog fans and anyone who is not put off by foreign-language vocals, this is another classy package coming from the ever-dependable Italian prog scene.

Tracklist:

1. Cronovisione (7:36)
2. Gatto Lupesco (7:23)
3. Nei Cerchi del Legno (13:09):
- a. Pinocchio (0:00)
- b. V.I.T.R.I.O.L. (2:17)
- c. L’Eterna Spirale del Destino (5:22)
- d. Radici di una Coscienza (8:57)
4. Il Fattore Precipitante (7:00)
5. Il Basilisco (6:19)
6. Un Insolito Baratto Alchemico (7:11)
7. Acustica Felina (9:37)

Line-up:

* Gabriele Guidi Colombi – bass
* Andrea Orlando – drums, percussion
* Alessio Calandriello – vocals
* Davide Serpico – electric and acoustic guitars
* Andrea Lotti – piano, keyboards, acoustic guitar
* Stefano Agnini – piano, keyboards

With:
*Luca Scherani –  accordion (5), flute arrangement (6)
* Joanne Roan – flute (6)
* Rossano Villa – string arrangement (3, 7)
* Lidia Molinari – voice (1, 7)

Links:

http://www.myspace.com/lacoscienzadizeno

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