(All Album Reviews by ffroyd)
It’s been almost 10 years since the Italian band D.F.A. released their last studio album Duty Free Area, but now they have a brand new disc on the MoonJune Records label. So what have these guys been doing since then? Well, if I were to venture a guess, I would probably say that family and regular jobs take precedence over a career as creative musicians. It doesn’t matter how good you are in the prog rock game these days, playing this kind of music doesn’t put food on the table. If life were fair, these guys would be making enough money to be able to consider this their main source of income, but I digress.
4th could actually be considered the band’s fifth album if you include Kaleidoscope, the double CD repackaging of the bands first two albums with bonus tracks that came out last year. The new disc has been creating quite a buzz in the progressive rock community lately and has been the number one album on the weekly top twenty of the Gagliarchives radio show for the past few weeks as of my writing this review (July 21, 2008) and it shows no sign of backing down any time soon. I must admit that it’s really great to see music of such high quality getting so much attention.
The disc begins with the scorching 14-minute opener “Baltasaurus” and right away I can tell that these guys mean business. There seems to be an added Canterbury influence added to the band’s already intense fusion style as if they have been listening to stuff like Soft Machine, National Health and Hatfield & The North. Alberto Bonomi is playing lots more classic keyboards like Hammond organ and Rhodes electric piano and these go well with his amazing synth sounds. As if he wasn’t already doing enough, Alberto is also playing the flute now. I don’t remember him bringing that out before and it certainly adds to DFA’s sound. They’d probably have to include an extra flute player to pull some of this stuff off live. Guitarist Silvio Minella has also gotten the Canterbury bug and his playing has more of a Phil Miller/Alan Holdsworth influence these days. In fact, everyone in the band seems to be in high-performance mode. The rhythm section of Alberto De Grandis on percussion and Luca Baldassari on bass also put on a spectacular show. By the time this track is over, I don’t even realize that it’s so long, things move so effortlessly.
The second track “Flying Trip” starts out with a nice mellow groove of Rhodes, guitar and cymbal work. A few bars into the piece, Bonomi brings out the flute again and alternates playing flute and keyboard parts for a while. The song gradually picks up pace and there is some really amazing distorted guitar work from Minella. This is another nice track that seems to be over too quickly.
“Vietato Generalizzare” sees the band kick things into high gear. This one reminds me a little of the more energetic stuff from Niacin in some ways. Lots of really intricate percussion work and some intense Hammond playing with the leslie turned all the way up. Even though the band has absorbed some other elements in their sound, they still have a style all their own and this comes out in every track.
“Mosoq Runa” is another extended epic, this time lasting almost 19 minutes. The track begins with some soft jazzy piano playing and is soon joined by an unexpected guest appearance of string players Zoltan Szabo on Cello and Maria Vincentini on violin. Alberto gets in some more spacey syths and great flute playing. I don’t know why he hadn’t played this more on previous albums. This also contains a few more intense lead guitar solos; there’s one towards the end that is just incredible.
In a slight departure for the band, “The Mirror” starts out in a nice world music flavor with congas, marimba and soulful vocals from drummer Alberto De Grandis. This is an almost dreamy piece with some nice synth padding which gives way to some amazing eletric piano. As always, there’s some really powerful guitar soloing going on here. Towards the end there is some killer drumming that comes to the front of the mix. It’s not exactly a solo but it is very prominent.
The disc ends with the mostly mellow number called “La Ballata de S’Isposa ‘E Mannorri” which features a trio of female vocalists from the band Andhira. Elena Nulchis, Cristina Lanzi and Egidiana Carta add sort of a folk charm to the finish of the album. This is a traditional ballad of the Urzulei community in Sardinia, Italy and the story behind the song is told in the liner notes of the CD. I can see that some aren’t going to be that thrilled with this one but I think it’s really nice closing piece and provides a peaceful end to an amazing album.
Many fans have already picked up on the brilliance of this album and I’m sure it will be in their ‘best of 2008’ lists. I know it will be in mine. It took DFA quite a while to release a new studio album but this one was truly worth the wait.