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Stormy Six - L'Apprendista CD (album) cover

L'APPRENDISTA

Stormy Six

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

4.02 | 69 ratings

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Finnforest
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars The best way I can describe this album? It does to folk music what Area does to jazz.

It reinvents with its own rules. It is original, the playing is tight and accomplished, and the songs combine strangeness with some melody. It is a fine album and a must to anyone who wants to hear one of the RIO movement's true originals. Stormy Six came from Milan Italy in the 1960s and released quite a few albums in the 70s. This is the first of theirs I've heard but it likely will not be the last. For a RIO/Avant selection it is reasonably accessible, employing mainly acoustic instruments in songs that are more musical than dissonant. Yes there are odd time signatures, weird chord progressions, strange non-melodic sections, and a few things that may irritate the melodic-rock progster in you, but I think Stormy is approachable enough for anyone to "get" after 3 or 4 spins. This is a quirky album that insists on having fun but is not extreme or harsh enough to scare anyone away. For that reason it might actually be too tame for hard-core RIO fans, but I don't think so. It may be the album to score on both fronts.

Alex Temple from Progweed has a nice paragraph describing the SS sound: "It tends to get compared to Gentle Giant, and while that's not entirely inaccurate, it's also somewhat misleading. What we do get is occasional tinges of Renaissance and Baroque music (the flourishes at the beginning of the title track could be right out of Telemann), and detailed counterpoint, including some wonderful three-part a capella polyphony in L'Orchestra dei Fischiettei. What we don't get is keyboard synths, vocals that sound remotely like Kerry Minnear and Derek Shulman, or anything approaching a rock-out. Picture the instrumental opening of Schooldays or the middle section of Black Cat instead of Experience or Proclamation and you'll start to have a better idea." [Alex Temple, Progweed 2002]

My thoughts on the tracks are as follows: "Buon Lavoroi" starts with xylophone I think, with good bass and violin. It builds adding more sounds until the rather odd vocal chorus that reminds me of cowboys around a fire or something. Very cool violin/bass interplay in this upbeat track. The title track continues the upbeat mood at first with violin though the vocal versus seem a bit sad. Half way through the song stops and what follows is a delightful strings solo, the drums and bass eventually coming back in. The odd vocal returns at the end. "Carmine" starts with acoustic and xylophone lightly conversing, then bass, vocals, and violin gently join. Then comes a jazzy section that proves how great the drums and bass are, I could listen to these guys mix it up all day. Bassoon, violin, and acoustics trade off some flash. "Il Barbiere" sounds like regular violin playing against plucked violin notes and bass to a light drum beat. With the static vocal delivery it creates kind of a hypnotic effect. This stops about half-way through and there is a guitar solo. Then the bass comes in and there is some nice violin jousting. The vocals return as the bass, violin, and drumming just literally dance.breathtaking. "Cuore" features violin, cello and light woodwinds to hand percussion. Vocals and drums come in and there is a bit of piano. The stereo separation is excellent. "Il Labirinto" actually starts like a normal song! A slow beat with excellent bass playing backs a repeating melody that occurs first on electric guitar, then on strings, and then on sax. Very cool how they tie that together. More piano thrown in behind the vocals. There is a wild freak-out sax section and then it comes back to the repeating melodic theme and this track is very nearly symphonic in nature. "Rosso" starts with strange vocals over acoustic and almost psych orchestral arrangements. The song has a very uneasy mood, very unsettling. "L'orchestra Dei Fischietti" has a chaotic opening with some rock blasts intermixed with studio goofing off noises. Soon that stops and an acoustic ushers in the band and the track develops into a somewhat straight folk rocker but with plenty of spice to be sure. Great sax and bass playing. A bit more electric guitar in this track. Late in the song is a Gentle Giant-like vocal section followed by a nice violin finale, and then a punchy guitar goodbye. Holy cow, what a ride!

Another comment on the album from Kai Karmanheimo of GEPR: "L'Apprendista is surprisingly lyrical and accessible. That doesn't mean that it isn't challenging, it is just that the band show their colour in their openly political lyrics (or liner notes at least) and the riotous innovation and hybridization that subtly subverts many of the diverse styles they draw from. The sound is predominantly acoustic and open, with acoustic and clean electric guitars, mandolins, tuned percussion and especially a nimble string quartet and an occasional woodwind supporting the restrained male vocals, which are prominent on every track. The first couple of songs are pretty melodic and straight-forward in the verse-chorus format, yet accentual and rhythmic irregularities, touches of dissonance and sudden interjections, like the contrapuntal string intermezzo on the title track, keep things slightly out of kilter; the mock-stately vocal style on the title track also suggests the influence of contemporaneous agit-prop songs." [Kai Karmanheimo, GEPR]

So why not 5 stars? Well, most of my 5 star albums capture my heart first and stimulate my brain second. Stormy Six definitely stimulates the intellect but I'm not sure my heart is totally captured...yet, at least. But who knows, I've only had the album for one year and it's rumored to be a grower! Highly recommended to anyone who loves adventurous, acoustic flavored music with lots of violin, which wholeheartedly captures the true spirit of what it means to be "progressive." Fans of groups as diverse as Area, Conventum, and yes, Gentle Giant, will all find something to appreciate from this Stormy Six classic. The VM/BTF reissue is an especially tasty gatefold mini-lp sleeve of very high quality, and a booklet with lyrics, photos, and bio.

Finnforest | 4/5 |

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