La Coscienza di Zeno – Sensitività

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After the positive reception of their 2011 self-titled debut album, La Coscienza di Zeno’s sophomore effort, Sensitività, brings quite a few relevant changes to the Genoese band’s status. Keyboardist/lyricist Stefano Agnini, who had left the band prior to the first album’s release, is back in the fold, flanked by second keyboardist Luca Scherani of Höstsonaten fame (who had guested on the debut). The band have also joined the growing Fading Records roster – that subsection of AltrOck Productions dedicated to artists that reinterpret classic progressive rock in a fresh, contemporary key.

Sensitività, released in the early summer of 2013, and premiered at the AltrOck/Fading Festival, shares some features with the band’s previous effort, but is also in some ways rather different. While the number of tracks (seven altogether) has remained unchanged, and the album’s running time is only slightly shorter, La Coscienza di Zeno have decided to dispense with instrumental tracks, so that each of the songs provides a showcase for  Alessio Calandriello’s magnificent vocals, perfectly complemented by Stefano Agnini’s highly literate lyrics – a cut above the average of most prog bands. Alessio’s astounding pipes and crystal-clear enunciation anchor the words to the music, making his performance a delight even for those who do not understand a word of Italian. The eminently musical quality of the language itself does the rest, keeping the listener spellbound. Indeed, Calandriello truly shines when singing in his native language: as great as he is on Not A Good Sign’s debut album, English does not sound like a natural fit for his voice.

With two keyboardists – following in the footsteps of Banco del Mutuo Soccorso (one of the biggest influences on the band’s sound) – La Coscienza di Zeno’s sound is lush and melodic, but without any concessions to saccharine sweetness. The unmistakable (and occasionally a bit overpowering) whistle of the synthesizer is offset by gorgeously beautiful piano, while the ever-present mellotron confers the music a well-rounded, orchestral quality. Davide Serpico’s guitar is a discreet but indispensable complement to the keyboards, at times injecting some well-needed edge and beefing up the dazzling work of Gabriele Guidi Colombi and Andrea Orlando’s rhythm section. The latter’s drumming is the real driving force behind the album – in turns dramatic, powerful and understated according to need.

Each of the seven songs on the album – mostly between 6 and 12 minutes in length – can be seen as a vignette, illustrated by the stunning photography that accompanies each set of lyrics. With the exception of the short, subdued ballad “Tenue”, which aptly conveys its title (“faint, subtle”) through Scherani’s piano and Calandriello’s somber vocals, the remaining six tracks are packed with twists and turns, combining exquisite, almost catchy melodies with dazzling instrumental prowess that, however, never feels contrived or done just for its own sake. The elegant, classically-inspired piano intro to “La Città di Dite” lulls the listener into a false sense of security before moog and vocals suddenly barge in, intense and theatrical in the best classic RPI tradition – alternating majestic, riff-laden passages with gentler ones, all dominated by Calandriello’s impassioned but dignified vocals. In the title-track – one of two “epic” tracks over 10 minutes – the accordion adds a nostalgic, folksy tinge, while jazzy overtones lurk behind the powerfully melodic vocals and exhilarating keyboard runs.

“Chiusa 1915” – told from the point of view of Russian prisoners working in the construction of the railway line in north-eastern Italy during World War I – is suitably wistful, though the military tone of the drums and synth at the beginning hint at the subject matter; while “Tensegrità” (a term taken from Carlos Castaneda’s work about shamanic rites) hovers between restraint and buoyancy, with a distinct Italian feel conveyed by Calandriello’s intense vocal interpretation and the lush keyboard layers. The duo of songs that close the album blend different influences in a richly arranged tapestry. The dramatic, waltz-like “Pauvre Misère” sees Orlandi’s drums and Scherani’s piano in the starring role, merging hints of vintage Genesis and ELP with its uniquely Italian flavour; while “La Temperanza” – introduced by a splendid piano-led intro accented by flute and strings – boasts of a dense texture in which every instrument (including Calandriello’s voice) gets its chance to shine, all the while contributing to the fabric of the composition, creating a haunting Old-World atmosphere with the stately pace of a traditional waltz.

Lavishly packaged in Paolo Ske Botta’s sophisticated artwork (carefully composed, sepia-tinted still-life photographs that will delight lovers of everything vintage), while sounding thoroughly modern thanks to Udi Koomran’s priceless mastering work, Sensitività is also firmly rooted in the great Italian prog tradition of the Seventies. Although, as I previously hinted, at times the synth sounds may be a bit too reminiscent of neo-prog modes, the Italian flair for exquisite melodies and dramatic yet remarkably un-cheesy atmospheres shines through the album, and makes it essential listening for any self-respecting RPI fan. A supremely classy work, Sensitività is a grower, and even fans of more left-field fare may find a lot to appreciate in it. The band have also announced the intention of publishing English translations of the lyrics, so that non-Italian speakers will also be able to share in the experience of connecting the words to the music.

Tracklist:

1. La Città di Dite (6:46)
2. Sensitività (12:22)
3. Tenue (3:31)
4. Chiusa 1915 (7:04)
5. Tensegrità (7:18)
6. Pauvre Misère (7:49)
7. La Temperanza (10:38)

Line-up:

* Stefano Agnini – solina, synthorchestra, analog synths
* Alessio Calandriello- vocals
* Gabriele Guidi Colombi -  bass
* Andrea Orlando – drums, percussion
* Davide Serpico – acoustic, electric and classical guitar
* Luca Scherani – piano, analog synths, mellotron, accordion, bouzouki

With:
* Joanne Roan – flute
* Sylvia Trabucco – violin
* Melissa Del Lucchese – cello
* Rossano Villa – mellotron

Links:

http://www.allmusic.com/artist/la-coscienza-di-zeno-mn0003137199

https://www.facebook.com/pages/La-Coscienza-di-Zeno-CDZ/145847225475623

http://www.altrock.it

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