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Alan Sorrenti - Aria CD (album) cover

ARIA

Alan Sorrenti

 

Rock Progressivo Italiano

3.89 | 81 ratings

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Raff
Prog Reviewer
4 stars Released in 1972, the golden year of the original prog movement, Aria is probably the least 'Italian' of the classic RPI albums - and that in spite of Alan Sorrenti's Neapolitan background. However, Alan was born in Wales, his mother's country of origin, therefore his Mediterranean roots find themselves entangled with the equally old, fascinating Celtic tradition. Because of that, his debut album is one of the most intriguing, distinctive offerings to come out of Italy, and possibly everywhere else, both on account of the music - a heady, mesmerizing blend of various ethnic influences - and his unique voice. His singing style, often compared to folk legend Tim Buckley, is definitely over-the-top, but not in the way RPI singers are generally known to be. Actually, the best comparisons on the Italian scene would be his sister Jenny (of Saint Just fame), and possibly Battiato, at least as regards the Eastern flavour of many of his vocal performances.

As is the case of many other albums of that time, the A-side of the original edition of Aria is taken up by the eponymous, almost 20-minute-long suite, while the B-side is comprised of three shorter tracks. The album is primarily acoustic, though both of the iconic keyboard instruments of the era, the Hammond organ and the mellotron, are featured. The best-known of Sorrenti's collaborators is gifted, Naples-born drummer and percussionist Antonio (Tony) Esposito, who would go on to become a famous session man and solo artist, and would also perform on Aria's follow-up, Come un vecchio incensiere all'alba di un villaggio deserto, as well as on Perigeo's La Valle dei Templi.

Aria, the song, is an intoxicating slice of music dominated by Jean-Luc Ponty's magical violin, a perfect foil for Sorrenti's soaring voice, an instrument in itself. World-music influences are thick on the ground - Celtic, Spanish (there is a sequence featuring flamenco-style guitar and castanets), Indian, Middle Eastern, and more. The music somehow reflects the eerie beauty of the blue-toned cover, one of the most striking yet tasteful to come out of the original prog era: it is at the same time dark and uplifting, mystical and experimental, soothing and demanding. Undoubtedly, Alan's voice is very much of an acquired taste, and some listeners may find it irritating after a while. Here, it is still relatively restrained, while he went decidedly overboard on Incensiere, some parts of which are really a bit hard to take.

After such an exhilarating listening experience, the exquisite, romantic ballad Vorrei incontrarti provides a kind of respite. The song was released as a single, and often played on the radio. I remember singing along to the strumming of some friend, during weekend trips to the country. As simple a song as it is, Alan's vocals and guitarist Vittorio Nazzaro's delicate playing take it to a higher level, together with the presence of that ultimately romantic instrument, the accordion. The last two songs, La mia mente and Un fiume tranquillo, are longer and more complex, partly reprising the atmospheres of the title-track (though somewhat less successfully), with stunning instrumental performances (check Tony Esposito's fantastic drumming on Un fiume tranquillo) and vocal flights of fancy.

Aria was one of the albums I encountered right at the time of its release, as a 12-year-old girl who was then getting into more 'serious' music. It left a lasting imprint, and I was happy to 'find' it again when my beloved husband (a huge fan of RPI in spite of his American origins) came into my life. Alan Sorrenti's music intrigued me right from the word 'go', and I was utterly devastated by his sudden U-turn in the mid-Seventies, when he became a very successful pop-disco artist. Talk about a waste of talent... Those later albums would make even Genesis' pop output sound like Close to the Edge.

Even if Sorrenti eventually decided to turn away from progressive music, his first three albums are a must for everyone interested in Italian prog, and Aria is something every prog fan should listen to at least once. It does have its flaws, though, and this is why I would rather not give it the highest rating, and go for 4 stars with the addition of a virtual half-one. However, even without the full 5 stars, it is a mesmerizing piece of music, and an authentically progressive one. Very highly recommended.

Raff | 4/5 |

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