Although Agora‘s 2 might imply a predecessor, this was actually their first studio output. Agora‘s first album was Live at Montreux; even if they hadn’t released anything yet, Agora had earned respect enough to have played the prestigious jazz festival. That should hopefully say something about the band’s quality as performers. Try to imagine what the Mahavishnu Orchestra may have sounded like if John McLaughlin had favoured the keys over the electric guitar, and you should have a pretty good idea what these Italian fusioneers sound like. Barring a compilation called Ichinen they released earlier this year, 2 is to date the only ‘true’ full-length Agora have ever put out. It’s a real shame too, because this is one of the strongest ‘surprise finds’ I’ve found in fusion for quite some time.
Jazz fusion (and prog fusion in particular) has the tendency to go one of two ways. It’s either stark and challenging in its intent or smooth and relaxing; artists that can find a strong balance between the two (IE: Miles Davis circa “In a Silent Way” or Mahavishnu Orchestra) tend to have the greatest effect on me as a listener. Agora never seems to stray needlessly, but the music often feels driven more by exploration than composition. The saxophone and Rhodes piano are given the most range here, with the thoughtfully melodic leads of the former generally paving the way on most of the songs here. Somewhat surprisingly, the band I may be most reminded of listening to Agora isVan der Graaf Generator; even if Van der Graaf Generator only ever flirted with the jazz world, there are plenty of similarities in the way Agora have given their music a dark tone in spite of the typically ‘bright’ instruments that have been used to portray it.
Even during the album’s most laid-back passages, Agora offer plenty to keep the attentive listener occupied. The approach to composition has clearly been designed with the intent of giving the instrumentation room to breathe and explore, but the way the music will always fall back on thick, band-oriented harmonies keeps the album feeling focused. Other reviews of 2 I’ve read tend to state that Agora have written something ambient or ‘background-ish’ here. In a way, most jazz music has a potential to be considered that way. As is the case with many creatively successful bands of their type, there’s both atmosphere and detail on 2 to satisfy the ambient and attentive listeners alike. Although I suppose the point’s invalidated with Ichinen to some extent, I’m really disappointedAgora never put out more records. It’s not often a ‘new’ jazz band impresses me like this; if you’re any bit into theMahavishnu Orchestra, the jazzier end of Van der Graaf Generator or the classic sound of prog-fusion in general, check out this album and see what you think of it.
1. Punto Rosso (5:29)
2. Pyramid di Domani (6:06)
3. Tall El Zaatar (8:29)
4. La Bottega di Duilio (5:56)
5. Simbiosi (Vasi Comunicanti)(5:33)
6. Cavalcota Solare (8:42)
* Roberto Bacchiocchi – keyboards, vocals
* Ovidio Urbani – saxophone
* Renato Gasparini – guitar, vocals
* Lucio Cesari – bass, percussion
* Mauro Mencaroni – drums, vocals
* Nino Russo – saxophone, percussion