Monday, February 16, 2015

Libra - 1975 - Musica e Parole

Musica e Parole

01. Nato Oggi : a) il tempo e un buon amico (6:16)
02. Nato Oggi : b) forse e furia (9:54)
03. Beyond the Fence (6:32)
04. Musica & Parole (4:44)
05. Pegno d'Amore (8:02)
06. Inquinamento (13:43)

- Inquina Sandro Centofanti / keyboards
- Nicola Di Staso / guitars
- Federico D'Andrea / guitar, voice
- David Walter / drums
- Dino Cappa / bass

Libra is another unusual story in a genre filled with such stories. Most bizarre is that they must be the only Italian Prog group to have had a 10-album deal with American label Motown Records. They never did complete that contract and from a prog perspective it is this debut that would be most important. Formed in Rome in 1973 with musicians from Logan Dwight, Reale Accademia, and Buon Vecchio Charlie they had some line-up shuffles before recording this album in the autumn of 1974 in Milan. A very busy 1975 followed. Early in the year the debut album was released followed by a spring tour with Banco. The band rehearsed all summer and toured America in Oct-Dec with the likes of Frank Zappa, Tubes, Chicago and Steppenwolf. They went back to Italy in December and that line-up crumbled but a second and more commercial album would follow in 1976. That album didn't do much and a third soundtrack album was released before the band completely ceased. Libra's aspirations of success as a band never were fully realized but guitarist Nicola Di Staso remembers those days fondly, telling Augusto Croce "I have many fond memories of that time, because it was so authentic!! We wanted to conquer the world, at least the musical one, there was so much positive energy in the air, and it seemed to us in Libra that we had touched the sky with a finger, being able to play in the USA!"

You can hear Libra often draw upon the collective experience of the Italian progressive bands of the early '70s but by late '74 they perhaps realized things were going in a more commercial direction. Rather than making one of those crazy avant-garde albums that made the scene great in '72 and '73 Libra is taking only a part of that sound and rolling it into a rock album approach. You can hear the influence of American and British mid '70s rock here along with some lesser strains of space rock and folk in places. One of the bands I hear visited subtly on the Libra album are The Rolling Stones. While no one sings quite like Sir Mick, you can hear it in the pop sensibilities, in the background female vocals (a la Gimme Shelter) and in the playing. There is a live track on this album that has such a bar room feel that I'd swear I'm listening to The Ronnie Wood Band. Some moments toy with symphonic glories but more often than not it will veer towards fusion or a spacey rock jam. These guys play very well and the fusion flavored sections remind me of the Journey debut I just heard, where Neal Schon is wailing over a driving rhythm section and keys. Libra is to my taste a tale of two sides: Side one is of patchy quality that I would rate about 2-3 stars, but side two is a 4 star beauty. The 16-minute two-part opener "Nato Oggi" will add brisk acoustic guitars and melodic harmonies in and around these jams creating a decent, if somewhat unfocused mini epic. It is both the success and downfall of Libra's debut; there are nice moments and good variety of sound, but it sometimes feels a bit unfocused, a bit all over the place. The next track is the "live" (some claim it is but audience applause overdubbed) funky jam that brings a Stones side project or Dr. John piano bar jam to mind. The second side of the album changes gears again starting with the short title track, a sentimental, soulful Italian pop-song that tacks on the female backing vocals to an LA session jam ending-it could have been a Steely Dan outtake from "Can't Buy A Thrill." I love Dino Cappa's animated, funky bass popping through here and there--like some Little Feat or Doobie Brother's jam. The last two long tracks total almost 22 minutes and changes back to a hybrid slurry of funky fusion and occasional space-rock dalliance. There are some really worthwhile moments here with "Pegno D'Amore" really cookin' while the closer "Inquinamento" features spacey textures, strange bubbling sounds, peaceful mellotrons backing laid back guitar leads that ebb and flow in intensity. I'm almost reminded of the French spacers Carpe Diem on this track and that is surely a good thing. Love this one. It builds beautifully but with restraint and some uplifting melodies as a bonus. The second half of the track has great layered instrumentals where each member can be clearly heard and the delicacies of what they're playing superb.

If these thoughts seemed to lack coherence I jokingly blame it on Libra who keep you off balance with this hard-to-label, playful garden of '70s sounds. It really does have the "positive energy" Di Staso speaks of above. My initial reaction to the album was luke-warm at best but of course Libra has won me over and I end up enjoying this more with each play. This album will not satisfy those looking for classically structured keyboard symphonic prog but it may very much please fans of '70s style jazzy rock altered with a playful variety of influences and love for spirited jamming. Our own site Bio describes them as a "unique, personal take on jazz rock, funky grooves, classical instrumental, psychedelic-prog rock and electronic weirdness." The album is such that I think every person who hears it may have a slightly different take on its overall personality, which when you think about it not such a bad thing. I will understand those who find it a mess as much as those who find it a treasure. A definite "decide for yourself" piece of work but one that very much deserves to be rescued from oblivion and heard by prog fans. The 2003 reissue is a high-quality gatefold mini with thick cardboard and glossy finish, the inside reproducing the album's photos and lyrics. There is however no secondary CD booklet or bio. Highlights: Side 2 without question-I don't see how the last two long tracks would fail to please any progger.

I only have this album, if any of our visitors has the other two albums... please share a copy with us!

1 comment: