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Il Giro Strano - La Divina Commedia  CD (album) cover

LA DIVINA COMMEDIA

Il Giro Strano

 

Rock Progressivo Italiano

3.41 | 19 ratings

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Finnforest
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Heavy, adventurous lost RPI gem

Il Giro Strano is one of those lost RPI classics that even many Italian prog fans may not yet have discovered. They were formed in 1971 from two Savonna bands and featured Alessio Feltri, who would go on to more notoriety in the band Corte dei Miracoli. The band was an adventurous jamming powerhouse favoring experimentations of Hammond organ, saxophone, and flute, atop a sizzling rhythm section and passionate vocals. Hard rock/heavy prog improvisations were colored with influences of psych-rock, English symphonic, and jazz. While writers will note influences of bands like VDGG, Yes, Tull, and Floyd, these comparisons are mostly descriptions of certain sections-Giro Strano is clearly an RPI stalwart that should be more rightly compared to bands like Rocky's Filj, Officina Meccanica, and perhaps even Metamorfosi. They even remind me of the Danish jams from the superb Midnight Sun though they might be grittier than that. During their initial two-year run they recorded the material for the Mellow Records "La Divina Commedia" album although the band never achieved a release at the time. They played some of the large Italian prog festivals of the day (the Pop Festival at Villa Pamphili and the first Pop Meeting In Genova) before disbanding in 1973. There would be reunions in the late '70s but these were said to be much more commercial affairs.

The album contains only five tracks but they are long suites ranging from 7-15 minutes in length each. Each track has plenty of time to explore improvisation making this a true progressive fan's treat. Right out of the gate they dive into a driving, tense rhythm that builds and releases while offering the occasional lovely melodic bridge. Those are rare however. "La Divina" is for the "difficult prog" fan with its erratic, experimental saxophone and organ interplays making up the meat of the feast. To this the band adds jarring, sometimes jerky bass and guitar playing which combined with the often tense pace can be off-putting at first listen. I have to admit it took me many plays to develop an appreciation for what they are doing here. The secret weapons they have to win you over are plentiful. The late Mirko Ostinet (who died in 1983) was a powerful vocalist, another notable in a genre filled with great singers. His passion often propels the band to greater heights. Sax man Mariano Maio laid down his flute parts with the same heat turning "Il corridoio nero" into a track that will thrill Tull lovers. Feltri is noted for his Hammond play on this album but there are also some wonderfully strange Farfisa performances adding yet another color. These occasional interludes almost sound like a "Saucerful of Secrets" era space freak-out. The drum playing is jazz-nimble and playful but tight-even a couple solos. "Il Vecchio Oldsea" has some nice "I'm Your Captain" dreamy sequences. The 15-minute and 4-part title track it a true centerpiece with plenty of bombastic keyboards and guitar/sax warring. It is the truly exciting band interplay at work that make Giro Strano worth hunting down, and their rough-around-the-edges sound means they are most suitable for prog fans who enjoy an aggressive show of playing. They are probably less suitable for fans of the formal, high-end Italian bands who crave lots of extravagance, pretty acoustic interludes or peaceful synth/mellotron rides. Giro Strano like to break a sweat and their musical spirit was unbridled.

There is only one caveat which must be addressed and it will be a deal breaker for some. Only half of this album was really finished at the time, the other half are recordings culled from band rehearsals. Thus there is a significant amount of material here with sound quality far below today's standards, even below properly mastered recordings from the 1970s. People who simply cannot deal with sub-par sound will have difficulty approaching this recording. But I cannot stress this enough: if you have even some tolerance for less-than-ideal sound quality, the material here is well worth the effort. As the CD notes express well "the quality of the music captured on these tapes far outweigh their technical flaws." I agree wholeheartedly and as a fan of the more "difficult" branch of Italian prog, I now consider Il Giro Strano to be an indispensable title. The better half now sounds fine to me while the unfinished half just sounds like a hot '70s band that were recorded live in some smoky club. You can imagine the sound I refer to-sure it can be a bit rough but my advice is to snap up this rarity while you have the chance. Mellow took great time and effort to salvage some fine music that might well have been lost to history, such efforts deserve our appreciation and support.

Finnforest | 4/5 |

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