Live In Montreux
01. Penetrazione (5:21)
02. Serra S. Querico (8:33)
03. Serra S. Querico II (6:40)
04. Acqua Celeste (6:00)
05. L'orto di Ovidio (5:24)
Roberto Bacchiocchi - electric piano, vocals
Renato Gasparini - guitar
Ovidio Urbani - soprano saxophone, cymbal, vocals
Paolo Colafrancesco - bass, vocals
Mauro Mencaroni - drums, vocals
Recorded live at Mountain Record Studio, Montreaux Jazz Festival on July 7, 1975.
Agora's style usually finds itself somewhere in the middle of the spectrum between jazz and rock; whether someone wants to call them 'jazz fusion' or 'jazz rock' is up for debate, although their tendency towards rock beats has me leaning towards the latter. Although Agora has a guitarist, Renato Gasparini's playing tends to take a back seat outside of his McLaughlin-esque solos. While I would have expected for a band this close-sounding to the Mahavishnu Orchestra to thrust the guitars into the spotlight, there's a clear emphasis on the saxophone of Ovidio Urbani, although listening to the brilliant way he sneaks melody into their group explorations, I don't think I'd prefer them any other way. There is a thick layer of Rhodes piano often plying just beneath the saxophone; although Roberto Bacchiocchi never takes the forefront, his textures demand a lot of attention and give the music a dreamlike atmosphere I haven't often heard in jazz. Even moreso than 2, Live in Montreux showcases the proggy third axis of their sound, along with the jazz and rock elements. "Serra S. Quirico" has moments that seem to draw on the playful twang of Yes. Closer still are Agora's light vocal offerings with the harmonies typical of their compatriots in the Italian progressive rock scene; Premiata Forneria Marconi comes first to mind. It's not surprising given the band was just getting started at this point, but it should be noted that the quality of recording on Live in Montreux isn't the greatest. All of the instruments are audible and clear enough, but the production doesn't capture the sense of immediacy and immersion I'd look for in a live album. Still, considering it's the only potential weakness I can discern from their performance, I'd say Agora are doing just fine.
Part of the reason I'll go to lengths to check out little-known 'gems' or generally overlooked music is that I'm confident that I'll come across bands that will leap out at me, artists I wouldn't otherwise find due to a friend's recommendation. It's been a long time since a jazz fusion band leapt out at me like Agora does, and that's why the brevity of their career feels like such a disappointment. Even without the context of its improved in-studio successor, Live in Montreux suggests plenty of potential and creativity. The last few minutes of this record are about as smooth as jazz fusion gets; I'm really left to wonder how far they might have gone if Agora had stuck together longer. However, the 'unreleased materials' compilation Ichinen came out only recently, and apparently offers some insight into the band's current sound and incarnation. Perhaps that means there's hope we might hear something new and fresh from Agora before too long.