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Area iTunes Tracks

Area


Formed in 1972 and based in Milan, Italy, AREA was an unusual entity in the annals of progressive music history; a genuinely multi-cultural, international assemblage of musicians with players from Greece: Demetrio Stratos (ex-I RIBELLI) on vocals, organ and percussion; Hungarian Johnny Lambizi on guitar; bass player Patrick Djivas from France; saxophonist Victor Busnello from Belgium, in addition to native Italians Paolo Tofani on guitar and synth (ex-SAMURAI, I CALIFFI and NOI TRE) – who replaced Lambizi early on; Leandro Gaetano was replaced by Patrizio Fariselli on keyboards and Giulio Capiozzo on drums, percussion.
AREA’s first LP, ARBEIT MACHT FREI (1973) {*9}, was a successful conglomeration of influences from jazz and folk to rock; its appeal perhaps residing in a refractory determination to defy categorisation. On opener ‘Luglio, Agosto, Settembre (Nero)’ a heady sequence of spoken word led to a whirlwind Eastern dance section and Stratos’s exquisite voice, one of the very best in rock. Nothing was entirely expected and the title track was percussion led; the music verging on a mélange though always re-centering on hooks such as the repetitive bass line and saxophone flourishes here and there. Nor were guitar riffs neglected, and the group’s mastery of structured complexity; revealed on ‘Consapevolezza’, which had coagulating rhythms similar to GENTLE GIANT, a group who surely must’ve been on AREA’s radar, even if they did not use vocal multi-part harmonies. Stratos used his voice as an instrument; speaking, trilling, yodelling, warbling, chanting, displaying his remarkable range and diversity. The saxophonist brought to mind musicians like Ian Carr (of NUCLEUS), though there was an animus about the music that defied explanation. Like compatriots P.F.M. and BANCO, Stratos’s vocal (sung in Italian) was passionate, extraordinary, and grounded the music, while the sheer protean creativity of the group holds sway.
AREA’s second LP, CAUTION RADIATION AREA (1974) {*9}, had Busnello and Djivas’ replacement, bassist Ares Tavolazzi appear for the first time; he took an even bigger step in a free jazz/jazz rock fusion direction. The intricate call and response of the start of ‘Cometa Rossa’ stopped abruptly to make way for an impassioned vocal passage as the music faded into the background, before rising again in Middle Eastern folk mode with all the sonic adventurousness of WEATHER REPORT’s first album and cerebral fusion of MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA. The album flowed as one tidal wave of music and thereon in Tofani’s guitar acumen was brilliant as he occupied the space created by longer expanses of music with echoed that of the exemplary jazz-rock fusion groups like BRUFORD, BRAND X and ISOTOPE. ALLAN HOLDSWORTH, in particular, seemed a big influence on style, and close attention must be paid to the amazing work by the rhythm section. The accompanying electric and acoustic piano, organ and synth were also masterful. Demetrio’s vocalisations and whisperings added a touch of unorthodox genius, as do his percussion and instrumental interludes and, at times the music touched on experimental, modern classical music, with sax approximating a cello sound in its depth and wandering into a David Jackson-style, as perfected on VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR’s #1 Italian album, “Pawn Hearts”. The bass player’s contribution was enormous, especially when he employed a double bass providing a hook on which to hang the endlessly inventive expressionism of penultimate piece ‘MIRage? Mirage!’. The tortured reed sound of ‘Lobotomia’, presumably played on synthesizer, mimicked a child’s sarcastic riposte (“na, na, nanana”) and tangled electronics complete an album that was difficult enough to conceive of as a suite of music, let alone execute it with such omniscience.
On third album, CRAC (1975) {*8}, the eastern influences were present early on in the guitar and synth interchanges (as on ‘Caution Radiation Area’), and the rhythm section carried the music in its usual exemplary fashion; the bass not at all relegated to a subliminal role as it all too often is. A wild guitar synth break reassuringly maintained the risk-taking approach of the group, and confirmed the direction of travel. This gave way to jazz scat machinations involving vocals, guitar and synth; the bass riff introducing some splendid sax parps in a swinging groovy jazz invocation with sardonic lyrical and musical humour. ‘Megalapoli’ bore similarities to the style of YES on their “Relayer” album; the electric piano solo and “lead” bass redolent of MORAZ and Squire, with the quirky addition of synthesized instruments sounding like screechy violins. ‘Nervi Scoperti’ featured some bass guitar harmonics, solid drumming, amazing guitar/guitar synth rhythms, unconventional but brilliantly executed piano reminiscent of the style of Cecil Taylor; a veritable smorgasbord of inventive jazz rock fusion and possibly their most accomplished piece to date; certainly one of their most complex retaining a listenable melodic base. The final two numbers seemed a little out of place; the penultimate an improvised storm of music that lacked the impact of the rest of the album, and a freeform finale snippet that would sit more easily as an interlude. Still, it was obvious that AREA’s restless creative zeal was undiminished. As the caustic title ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ suggested, AREA had always a political edge; as on the socialist hymn ‘L’internazionale’ (released as a single in 1974).
This track was also included on the live ARE(A)ZIONE (1975) {*6}. The group delivered a strong performance here, and with ‘il maestro della voce’ and Tofani’s synthesized guitar gaining early acclaim from the crowd on the only song from ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’: ‘Luglio, Agosto, Settembre (Nero)’, that legendary tight rhythm section and sax entered the fray. An extended version of ‘La Mela di Odessa’; the first of three songs from ‘Crac’, immediately resorted to freeform style, with anguished sax and pounding drums, before taking on sharp jazz rock fusion definition, amazing drumming, a flowing electric piano break and supreme guitar riffs demarcating a sound that somewhat roused the crowd. ‘Megalapoli’ was funky stuff as Stratos narrated, while on ‘Nervi Scoperti’ it was back to the mystic east; the acoustic guitar and simmering organ a perfect bridge to Demetrio’s remarkable DEMIS ROUSSOS/APHRODITE’S CHILD-like vocal that enraptured the audience.
Jazz was perhaps inevitable in terms of group direction, and the most demonstrative example was MALEDETTI (MAUDITS) (1976) {*7}; with sax player Steve Lacy and percussionist Paul Lyton contributing. By way of introduction, Stratos narrated and whistled to a didgeridoo accompaniment on ‘Evaporazione’, before a heavily-modulated synth came in to play counterpoint to some virtuosic bass and drum playing; with Tofani delivering one of his best guitar solos to a funky beat. As expected, AREA mix it up with an Arabic inflexed number with voice, hand drums and sax (similar to AGITATION FREE’s experiments on “Malesch”). There were obvious similarities to BANCO and P.F.M. (especially their “Jet Lag” LP); with Stratos’s vocal style not that dissimilar to Bernardo Lanzetti, though there was no doubt that AREA ploughed their own path. There was some nice offbeat jazz piano and JACO PASTORIUS-type lead bass playing; along with some more scintillating interplay on ‘Giro, Giro, Tondo’ and a part version of Bach’s ‘Brandenburg Concerto’ (entitled ‘Il Massacro Di Brandenburg Numer Tre in Sol Maggoine’) with cellos as popularised by The NICE. The percussion parts were as always interesting, with use of a txalaparta, which is a Basque wooden instrument similar to a marimba. The 8 minute experimental closer was honestly called ‘Caos Parte Seconda’, and highlights a problem with the album; a lack of more structured material compared with previously (despite the continued magnificence of the playing).
GLI DEI SE NE VANNO GLI ARRABBIATI RESTANO (1978) {*7} was a return to form in terms of what AREA did best; although guitarist Tofani had already left, tempering the discordant experimental tendencies with solid jazz rock fusion, crisp drumming and elegant synth lines in the opening salvos. ‘Il Bandito Del Deserto’ was an exceptional opener; the tricky rhythms and brass filled adding to Stratos’s vocal. ‘Return from Workuta’ had a drone-like organ chord to the main man’s eastern-flavoured vocalisations and graceful double bass. ‘Guardati Dal Mese Vicino All’Aprile!’ epitomised all that AREA was best at, displaying the virtuosity of the band in true jazz style combining Stratos’s semi-yodelling, warbling and whooping (which suited the piece very well), and some terrific ensemble playing embellishing a smart melody. ‘Hommage A Violette Nozières’ proved the group could pull off a catchy 3-minute song; it was released as a rare single. ‘Ici On Dance’ was another case in point; economical as well as inventive. While some of the music seemed a little too smooth and polished, there were no such qualms about ‘FFF (Festa, Farina E Farca)’ and ‘Vodka Cola’; the album’s two concluding pieces in which once again prominent bass determined the trajectory and the soloing was at its most inspired (and demented), ending with a tip of the hat to the sardonic doo-wop of The MOTHERS OF INVENTION.
During this period, erstwhile collaborator Mauro Pagani (of P.F.M.) was backed by members of AREA on his 1979 solo album; an album including Demetrio whose sad and sudden passing in New York of leukemia (on June 13, 1979) was a great loss to the free music scene. A concert attended by 60,000 people in the Arena Civica in Milan was a fitting tribute, and a double LP of the event was released.
TIC & TAC (1980) {*7} was an all instrumental album from the three remaining musicians; augmented by brass players, and has a title track propelled by great walking bass, scat singing and mellifluous synth lines. It was certainly as good as anything masters of jazz STANLEY CLARKE, CHICK COREA or HERBIE HANCOCK were doing at the time. Ten short pieces were perhaps a sign of the times, as were some of the synth sounds! Still the gifted rhythm section of Tavolazzi and Capiozzo was still there, and Larry Nocella’s tenor sax contributed greatly to pieces like the opener ‘La torre dell’alchmista’ – as close to WEATHER REPORT at their best. ‘Danza ad anello’ was simply great jazz that would grace any genre radio station playlist. There was guest trumpet on this and two other tracks, but just one vocal (Pino Vicari) on the final track. There was no guitar anymore; Patrizio Fariselli playing most of the lead instruments (piano, synth, clavinet, electric piano). A group formed by drummer Guilio Capiozzo bore little resemblance to the original AREA in membership, but continued to play free-form jazz under the name AREA II.
Opinions were also divided among fans over a CD entitled, CHERNOBYL 9771 (1997) {*3}; under the name of AREA, when only two original members, Giulio Capiozzo and Patrizio Fariselli were present. While there were some memorable themes and fine playing as one would expect from these two venerated musicians, the realisation did not match the ambitious concept. On 22nd August 2000, Giulio Capiozzo died, and it was to be a decade until AREA re-formed with Ares Tavalazzi, Paolo Tofani, and Tuscan drummer Walter Paoli joining Fariselli for a concert tour in 2010 that included dates in New York and Japan. The resulting live double-CD, AREA LIVE 2012 {*6} provided a fitting sonic record as the quartet continued their reunion tour into.
© MC Strong/MCS May2017/PJ/Phil Jackson

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