Arbeit Macht Frei
01. Luglio, Agosto, Settembre (Nero) (4:27)
02. Arbeit Macht Frei (7:56)
03. Consapevolezza (6:06)
04. Le Labbra Del Tempo (6:00)
05. 240 Chilometri Da Smirne (5:10)
06. L'Abbattimento Dello Zeppelin (6:45)
- Demetrio Stratos / vocals, organ, still drums
- Patrick Djivas / bass
- Patrizio Fariselli / pianos
- Gianpaolo Tofani / guitars, VCS-3
- Giulio Capiozzo / drums, percussion
- Victor Edouard ('Eddie') Busnello / sax, bass clarinet, flutes
Undoubtedly one of the more adventurous, AREA were also a very important band on the seventies Italian prog scene, their first three albums in particular come highly recommended and essential listening to anyone discovering the RPI genre.
The band formed in 1972 stabilizing with a line-up of superb musicians for their debut album featuring ex I RIBELLI vocalist Demetrio Stratos, ex I CALIFFI guitarist Paulo Tofani, bassist Patrick Djivas (later to join PFM), drummer Giulio Capiozzo, keyboardist Patrizio Fariselli and on sax, flute and clarinet Victor Busnello. "Arbeit Macht Frei" (work will make your free) was released on Cramps records in 1973 and is a very accomplished debut by anyone's standards featuring an exciting blend jazz, rock and prog with Arabian and Greek (Stratos was Greek) influences along with a touch of the Avant. The bands lyrics show a politically left wing stance and Stratos was already displaying his inventive vocal style, using it as an instrument much of the time rather than in the traditional sense, something he would develop to further extremes on future albums (including solo work).
By 1974, when their second album "Caution Radiation Area" was released, Djivas had jumped ship for PFM being replaced by Ares Tavolazzi and Busnello also left but was not replaced. It's a harder listen than the debut leaning more towards the avant with a heavier emphasis on free jazz, once again the musicianship is exemplary and features some incredibly powerful moments. In comparison "Crac!" released in 1975 whilst still displaying the same inventive mix of styles was more accessible and is an ideal early port of call to the uninitiated. That year also saw the release of their first live album "Are(A)zione".
Two further studio albums followed where the band continued to expand their musical palette, "Maledetti" released in 1976 where the band used a host of other musicians to help out and "1978 Gli Dei Se Ne Vanno, Gli Arrabbiati Restano". By this point Tofani had left the band. It would also prove to be the last album to feature Stratos who sadly died of cancer in 1979 at the age of only 35.
The three remaining musicians attempted to continue bringing in some outside help in the brass department for the all instrumental album "Tic & Tac". Clearly Stratos was a talent too big to replace. Drummer Capiozzo continued in the eighties with a band called AREA II, but was the only original member, leaning more towards the pure jazz elements. He was reunited with Fariselli for one more AREA album, "Chernobyl 7991" released in 1996.
Whilst certainly not typical of the RPI genre AREA nevertheless remain an outstanding example of the inventive Italian prog scene. Not for the faint-hearted but for those looking for something more adventurous will find AREA a highly rewarding listening experience.
With more energy than Mahavishnu Orchestra and more edge than most of the RPI scene, Area's "Arbeit Macht Frei" is a must-listen - one that puts less accomplished groups back into perspective.
Note that this album is not exclusively for fusion-heads - this reviewer certainly isn't one of them - as it rarely slips into jazz variation downtime, preferring to steadily apply pressure to the listener's ears. When jazz is the focus, this reviewer is reminded of bands such as Soft Machine or Herbie Hancock's Mwandishi and features similar instrumentation; however, instead of extending into the jazz note horizon, "Arbeit Macht Frei" features several moments where strong rock grooves emerge from the funk - the beauty of it all is that this always occurs just before the sax versus electric piano motif would become taxing on the patience.
Let's not skip over Mr. Stratos' voice - it'd be a reviewer's crime to do so, thereby skipping a perfect chance to use the word "bleating" with a positive connotation! For the man is a vocal contortionist with style and with fierce power of delivery - think Banco's Di Giacomo with less of a theatrical edge but more passion, coupled with a little fringe Patton activity (it'd be interesting to know whether Mike Patton is indeed a fan of Area.)
A few notes about the individual tracks without lapsing into analysis; "Settiembre" is partially built around a dancing, ethnic melody line, perhaps inspired by the traditional music of greece; the title track starts experimentally but locks into a jazz-rock groove without compare; "Consapevolazza" is smooth and pensive and features a sax part that to this reviewer's mind mimics Mr. Stratos' singular vocal style; "Le Labbra del Tempo" changes things up with an intro that has a similar furious "everyone play the theme in unison!" feel as KC's legendary "21st Century Schizoid Man"; "240 Chilometri da Smirne" is your alloted semi-improv jazz expedition to put you in the mood for "L'Abbattimento delio Zeppelin", which is a dark and stormy fusion skree featuring the versatile voice of Mr. Stratos in the role of instrumentation - if there are lyrics to be beheld during this song, they are whispered, ranted and piped out, falsetto. It's an urgent, desperate and avant-garde way to end an album but this is no mistake, as from here Area just get more and more peculiar.
If you like what I've described then I urge you to listen to "Arbeit Macht Frei" for yourself as it shouldn't disappoint - the musicians involved have taste and class and are performing world-worthy compositions with glee and at times, a terrible ferocity.