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Maxophone - Maxophone CD (album) cover




Rock Progressivo Italiano

4.27 | 532 ratings

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5 stars Franco Doesn't Get to Go to Hollywood

It's ironic that the lack of global success enjoyed by RPI has cemented its demarcated status as a genre. Even it's most travelled missionaries PFM pined to retreat to within its borders when international acclaim beckoned circa Photos of Ghosts and their subsequent volte-face into fusion muzak after relocating to the USA still now appears baffling. There is surely just as valid a case for say, South American prog to be given its own sub genre as RPI, after all, both reflect the indigenous music and instrumentation of their traditional cultures plus both have a recognisable flavour unique to that locale. Say what you like about Italians, but they do appear to be incredibly persuasive lobbyists.

It also seems borderline perverse that this album is often criticised for lacking the signature calling cards of the genre i.e. the very dearth of RPI characteristics commented on by previous reviewers would indicate to me that it actually had global potential which makes such misgivings reek of the parochialism of localised aesthetics. (If I like someone, I don't ask for a sliver of their DNA, do you?) Which all begs the rhetorical question: Did RPI really want to be successful on the bigger stage?

Maxophone probably represents one of the most transparently 'international' sounding records to have ever come out of Italy and apart from being the clear leader in a field full of excellent competition (PFM, Banco, Le Orme) also blows Yes, Genesis, Camel, Harmonium and Focus etc clean out of the water. Whether the band could have sustained this level of brilliance on a lengthy career is of course a moot point, but let's not quibble about what didn't happen and instead just celebrate a masterpiece that is on a par with any of symphonic prog and RPI's ageing sacred cows.Those who perish early usually don't get the chance to become the bloated corpses in the swimming pool so just count your blessings and accede to the old adage that 'those whom the gods love die young'.

They rather cheekily quote wholesale and verbatim the brass chorale interlude from the 2nd movement of Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra on the opening track C'e un faese al mundo with the exquisite wind and reeds combining for a sustained oceanic moment of shimmering glacial calm. From such stately grandeur via tongue in cheek swung jazz to visceral rock and astringent classical in under 7 minutes and back home in time for tea. You want jam on it ? The beautiful but still inconsolably desolate piano of the intro carries a whiff of Emerson circa The Endless Enigma (that's a reference point, not a comparison OK?)

When it comes to labels, although everyone and their pet Yak knows what is indicated by 'Symphonic Prog', the appellation suffers the same flaw as that of 'near miss' i.e we really mean 'near hit'. Similarly, there are remarkably few prog bands with even a vestige of formal symphonic writing or instrumentation in their output and together with say, The Enid, Maxophone are also conspicuous by successfully assimilating orchestral sources like trumpet, clarinet, vibraphone, flute and sax to that of prog's standard issue electronic arsenal.

Who needs piercings when like Alberto Ravasini you are born with golden tonsils ? On Elzeviro, this critter's voice is like the sound of rich gravy being poured from a Midas jug. (For those resistant or even allergic to gravy, substitute something erm......runny and yummy right ?)

The musicianship is unimpeachable throughout but as I alluded to earlier, despite their clear virtuosity, all the players are more concerned with creating a whole that is greater than the sum of their individual parts, so no auto-erotic pyrotechnics here, just the aim of an ever changing and evolving accompaniment that is designed to enhance, complement and develop the melodic themes. There are very few stylistic avenues left unexplored on Maxophone and the lads sound entirely at ease with jazz, blues, rock, classical, folk and several points in-between of their own fresh coinage.

Check that disorienting moment in Al Mancato Compleanno di una farfalla when the multi tracked vocal layers lurch unannounced into harmonic territory unknown to this rodent even in the most acerbic and thrillingly jarring works of the classical avant garde. It's a truly spooky episode that illustrates to great effect how dissonance can only achieve its aim if used sparingly and thus preserve its capacity to shock. (Think of Billy Connolly: if you swear all the time the audience gets numb to it until eventually they can't even hear it) The Hammond organ solo that follows is drier and dirtier than a Legionnaire's socks and is one of those passages you just wish could last forever. (ELP's Tarkus is perhaps a reference point in places)

All the redemptive power of music is abundantly here in truckloads, and there are several moments on this wonderful record that reduce your habitually feisty reviewer to girly quaking sobs. Like all great art it has the ability to freeze time for the duration of its presence in our midst and leaves the listener cleansed and healed thereafter. (Yes I know, I'm much better at kicking than cuddling - just ask Mrs L)

For those who don't give an airborne fig what the museum curators plaque says beneath the exhibits, this album is not RPI, Symphonic Prog, extreme/tech polka, progressive skiffle or death calypso. It's just great music.

ExittheLemming | 5/5 |


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