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Eetu Pellonpaa
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars "La Terra" brings us some non-symphonic progressive greetings from Italy. In Aktuala's music many different styles blend as an unique ethnic batik, which should please the ears of the fans of world music and improvisational hypnotics.

The records begins with "Mina", an accordion associating first with western music, but this first impression is soon blurred with the tablas bringing Indian feeling to the sound. As the track opens, freely soloing tenor instruments start floating around, forming a Middle-East like patterns. The ecstatic rhythm pauses for awhile, until it is brought back by pounding dark voices. "Mud" begins with a haunting Islamic theme, which is accompanied by a hypnotic acoustic string instrument and the tablas. The dance of this trio morphs later as faster guitar driven passage, and the flute is changed to a jazzy saxophone, which brings some European influences along to this ethnic mix. Later a strong sound of a bow instrument is introduced, caressing the pulsing rhythm intensively in euphoric manner. Third impression "Sar" rises like a spider climbing up by it's web, which is weaved by help of high pitched harp strings, and soon the music begins to swirl around peacefully, allowing the baritone strings, tablas and flutes to start their geometrical movements, leading to a furious acoustic run.

The last title song is the longest one of the four, lasting a bit over ten minutes, as the three previous had duration between six to eight minutes. The beginning of "La Terra" is a large peaceful space created by an Indian like monotonous drone, some casual touches of metallic percussive and bird-like shrieks. Guitars begin to carve out concrete shapes from this hazy mist, and later a flute and a harp are joined. Tempo starts to grow slowly, reaching the climax after about five minutes, leaving relaxing guitar patterns to linger in the air. Another variation of this run follows soon, lead by the pulse of a mouth harp, then fading into the silence.

Along with few other uses of in and out fadings done during the mixing of this album, it is hard for me to find anything else to criticize on this fabulous album. And these solutions are not as irritating in this kind of slow and ethereal music, as they can be when used in rock music. This record can be recommended to be listened whilst burning incenses, charming snakes and among other activites of mystic piety.

Report this review (#84063)
Posted Tuesday, July 18, 2006 | Review Permalink
Sean Trane
Prog Folk
4 stars Aktuala's second album is a bit the logical successor of their debut, but to this writer, it holds a bit better. With a superb artwork and a much-changed line-up (including guest star- percussionist Trilok Gurtu), Maioli's group is now septet.

Personally I find this album more credible and entertaining than their debut, but also more personal (and this is of course primordial for me), because Cavallanti's wind instruments are freer than previously. This is particularly true for Mud (the second and last of side A) with an interesting cello and the side B opener Sar with a harp and again the cello and superb Gurtu tabla drums. The closing and longest title track is more of the same, but does not reach the intensity of the previous tracks.

Their next and last will be still extremely ethnic oriented but this time even more towards Arabian influences (it will be partly recorded in Morocco and a sitar player), and is of the same quality, but hardly more essential than their first two. Still wondering what exactly this type of album brought (except a massive dreamscape to potential living-room hippies of course), but this a much more focused album.

Report this review (#116533)
Posted Wednesday, March 28, 2007 | Review Permalink
3 stars Aktuala's second album is one I find a bit more compelling than their rather unfocused debut. Props have to be given to new member Trilok Gurtu, who had joined the band after a couple of members did some side-project work with him and invited him in. His mastery of a diverse range of percussion instruments adds flavour to the band's meandering world music explorations, which seem to display a better understanding of the musical forms they visited on the previous album. On the whole, the album seems less superficial than the debut, and as such I think it might be worth a listen for those especially interested in "world music", but I still wouldn't make it a high priority.
Report this review (#513539)
Posted Saturday, September 3, 2011 | Review Permalink
Retired Admin
4 stars Acoustic rhythms galore

When you've past that invisible line that separates the big bands of the Italian 1970s scene and the lesser known - then crossing over into the unknown, you quickly come to realise just how broad the sonic spectrum was. I've said this time and again, and will keep on doing so until people have tattooed this fact onto their eye membranes. Keep on digging good people - you're almost guaranteed to find something to your liking.

Aktuala are what I'd call indefinable. Their style, or whatever one wishes to call it, is soaked through in all kinds of acoustic sprinklings - stretching far across the world to implement strange endemic folk musics into their sound. Indian, Italian, Celtic, African, Middle-Eastern you name 'em - it's in here somewhere. What then unfolds is a somersaulting rhythmic concoction of droning mantraing surfaces that slowly but comfortably plays around with all of the aforementioned influences to create something entirely unique and riveting.

Krautfolk is the best moniker I can come up with. The band itself is rightly placed in folk here on PA, but when you first start diving into this thing, you'll find a sound that twitches and bobs like a slippery tap- dancing eel. The reeds for example are mostly conveyors of a somewhat breezy natured fusion, that, whether expressed through an oboe or saxophone, permits a wonderful jazzy touch to the sound. Not that this album in any way shape or form approaches jazz rock territories - for that it is far too acoustic and folk sage-rated. It's hard pinpointing what makes this venture so unique and special sounding, but I guess it's down to all of the different ingredients, and some highly capable musicians that democratically are able to play all of these exotic instruments, and implement them into a sonic framework that resides far away from their normal playing grounds. Again, a word like unique doesn't even begin to do this band justice.

I'll bet that La Terra would be the perfect fit for those old school music teachers that lived through the 60s - stubbornly trying to infuse that little bit of umph and joy into the current generation of gaming coma patients. You know the types of elderly frivolous men that still wear floral shirts and a big curly beard. They'll put this on in front of the class - hugely inspired and amazed by all the different folk instruments being played:

"Wow, come on people - don't you know that's an Arabian oboe duet-ting with a naj, a maranzano and a tamboura? - Let me get my magic carpet, real quick now, y'hear?!!!"

I'd be over the moon to have someone play this album for me. This is first and foremost a trailblazing record that shows what you can do with percussion instruments. The tracks here may all be carried by slowly strummed guitar patterns and the odd reed section, but what really pushes things forth - lights up the music like a big bonfire that cracks and writhes, is those drums. Xylophones, African, Arabian, Asian drums along with all sorts of strange vibrating echoing percussion features that will have your tongue twisting in no time trying to pronounce their names.

From the opening lethargic yet colourful rhythms to the ending cataclysmic, almost symphonic, stints of the closer, this album's got everything a grown person could ever want out of a mystical sounding percussion lead adventure in music, and I didn't even mention how good the jew-harp of the last cut sounds.... 4.5 stars.

Report this review (#805239)
Posted Thursday, August 16, 2012 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Aktuala were an Italian band that operated between 1973 and 1976, initially led by husband and wife duo Walter and Laura Maioli, both collectors of ancient and ethnic instruments, but including additional musicians who together recorded three sublime `world music' albums in their short period active. 1974's `La Terra' saw Laura depart, but Walter had gathered together many of the same musicians from the debut again as well as new contributors, and, much like their self-titled debut, it's a fully instrumental mix of acoustic raga-rock/prog folk with strong elements of jazz, psychedelic and Krautrock-like sounds, just given a more fully developed focus throughout the four improvisations on offer.

Eight minute opener `Mina' is instantly spirited and lively, as hazy harmonica, frantic acoustic guitar strums, darting sax and exotic percussion weave joyfully together, only slowing down momentarily for the briefest of meditative thoughtful breaks in the middle before finally rising in rapturous glory. `Mud' initially reminds of the early Deuter albums, faraway psych flute wisps flitting about over a gentle rumbling of tabla and thrumming acoustic guitars laced with a dusty mystery, before morphing into a wild outburst of horns and sax jazziness and culminating in a searing bow crescendo that reminds of the dirty violin peppered throughout the early Amon Duul discs. Side B's `Sar' opens as a dreamy wash of swirling harp and twirling flute before carefully building into a breathless experimental Popul Vuh-esque energetic ethnic acoustic drone with ripples of spiralling ringing percussion. The title track `La Terra', the longest piece here at over ten minutes, concocts a lethargic sunny air of groaning sitar and a tinkling of chimes that gradually lurches to life with clipping tabla, floating sax drifts, unwinding harp and world-weary chants twisting into overwhelming mantra-like themes.

The recent GDR CD reissue from 2013 adds a bonus track in the form of `Dagli Etruschi a Picasso', taken from a 2003 solo album by flautist Walter Maioli. It would probably be better if these unrelated pieces weren't added on simply to pad out the shorter original running time of these sort of albums, but thankfully it's a lovely droning Etruscan flute piece that perfectly compliments the vintage material and doesn't sound out of place at all. The CD comes with a lavish Italian language booklet that includes rare photos, as well as highlighting poster art of the Villa Pamphili festival that ran between the 20-24th September 1974, where Aktuala got to perform alongside other many notable Italian acts such as Banco del Mutuo Soccorso, Murple, Il Volo, Biglietto per L'Inferno, Ibis, Jumbo, Semiramis, Perigeo, Samadhi, Sensations' Fix and others - some fine company right there!

`La Terra' is usually considered Aktuala's defining musical statement, and it's not hard to see why considering how it has a stronger sense of direction and purpose. Perhaps the debut has slightly stronger psychedelic passages, a few more delicious hints of danger and longer sparse moments without as many instruments playing in unison, but this follow-up still manages occasional welcome unhinged bursts and maintains the evocative spiritual and meditative traits of the first work. Fans of bands such as Embryo, the Third Ear Band and Oregon will be excited by much of what this group does, so too those that love the early albums of Agitation Free and Deuter. Listeners of world music, ethnic-flavoured psychedelic sounds and even the more meditative moments of Krautrock should absolutely explore this obscure little Italian collective, whose small but precious and eclectic discography are well overdue for some renewed exposure.

Four stars

Report this review (#1683775)
Posted Monday, January 23, 2017 | Review Permalink

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