(All Album Reviews by Reginod)
"Love 'em or hate 'em" . . . . it’s probably a good guess to say that Italian avant-fusion maestros Area would fall into that rather broad and nebulous category. Even at their most user-friendly, Area never came anywhere close to the relatively accessible territory of the Big 5, or even to Italian prog-legend counterparts such as PFM or Banco. Instead, they practiced a particularly challenging brand of music that may have spawned some imitators, but had very few true peers.
To some ears Area could be unlistenable due to the vocal gymnastics of the late Demetrio Stratos; he was several leagues away from the norm, combining a robust, breathy operatic power with a weird, trilling ululation that sometimes came across more like a sound effect than a human voice. His palette didn't stop there, however. Stratos not only used his voice as an instrument, he used it as a weapon, and he could fashion it to weave in and out of the wildly energetic fusion salvos fired by the rest of the band.
Released in 1975, the band's first live album Are(A)zione featured a side of burning selections from the band's first three albums, with a second side more suited to their improvisational tendencies.
Taken from Arbeit Macht Frei, the folk-fusion-jig melody "Luglio, Agosto, Settembre (nero)" is played quickly and punkishly, but with a confident clarity and unity. It is followed by the funky rock/avant stew "La Mela di Odessa," the second piece on Crac!, whereupon Stratos' punctilious proclamations could put any rapper to shame. His impassioned solo lament is set apart from the dizzying instrumental ride of the ensuing "Cometa Rossa," which is played with a swarthiness not quite captured on Caution Radiation Area.
Side two features the 14:30 title track and so far as I've heard it's the closest thing to "mellow" music from Area. The band flies first into an easy cruise through space, highlighted as much as anything by the hyperactive drumming of the late Giulio Capiozzo. He and keyboardist Patrizio Fariselli carry on a dialogue as rare as any fine fusion performance, before guitarist Paolo Tofani takes over, building from an almost comical type of avant-solo guitar playing into a soaring, scorching single-note run. Stratos' vocalizations sail in and out of the spectrum and even bassist Ares Tavolazzi plays an avant-ish solo of his own. The whole affair is a rather fantastic and unique diversion from the fusion norm and it eases into the closing cut "L'Internationale," a rousing, almost patriotic-sounding theme which was eagerly deconstructed by a group that apparently delved into the political realm.
With no understanding of Italian politics, I can offer no comment on that aspect of the band's art. But it seems sensible that Are(A)zione might serve as a fitting gateway to the rare musical space occupied by this most indispensable Italian band. The album gets the highest of recommendations, and, despite the dear losses of Mr. Capiozzo and Mr. Stratos, an Area reunion of some sort is at the top of my NEARFEST wish list!