November 23, 2007

The Return of Arti&Mestieri

Outstanding 7-piece progressive jazz-rock band from Italy. All the power delivered by the spectacular insane drumming of Furio Chirico (often compared to Billy Cobham) and magnificent analog keyboards of maestro Beppe Crovella (Mellotron, Hammond, Mini Moog, Fender Rhodes, acoustic piano), counter-pointed by the beautiful violin passages, killer sax lines, wonderful guitar work, robust bass and challenging vocals.

Captured live in Kawasaki/Tokyo, during the Japan tour in June of 2005, this 76 minutes album includes most of the material from their two legendary cult albums “Tilt” (1974) and “Giro Di Valzer Per Domani” (1975) with few newer compositions. In the vein and league of Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return To Forever, Mothers Of Invention, mid ‘70s Soft Machine, King Crimson and Gong.

Celebrating the 33rd anniversary of its inception in 2007 with a new album, a DVD, a tour and a special concert with guests, arti & mestieri has long been hailed as one of the truly essential Italian progressive rock bands. With its high-calibre musicianship and unique mixture of rock, classical and jazz elements, angular harmonies and unexpected rhythmic figures, its music stands as a timeless example of the best one can expect from the meeting of prog rock and jazz fusion.

arti & mestieri came into being in Turin, late 1973, when keyboardist Beppe Crovella (from The Mystics) and drummer Furio Chirico (from The Trip) got together with bassist Marco Gallesi (from Il Sogno Di Archimede), guitarist Gigi Venegoni, violinist Giovanni Vigilar and sax/vibist Arturo Vitale. At first calling themselves just Arti, they immediately attracted interest from Gianni Sassi, manager of the Cramps label, and Franco Mamone, PFM's manager, with their debut performance at the Festival Del Proletariato Giovanile in Parco Lambro (the Italian Woodstock !) in June 1974, which left both the critics and 45,000-strong audience breathless.

The next couple of years were like a whirlwind - they quickly recorded their first, largely instrumental, album, Tilt, in Rome, and promoted it with relentless touring, supporting the likes of PFM and Gentle Giant in sold-out theatres all around the country. In 1975, they again appeared at Parco Lambro and, with the addition of singer Gianfranco Gaza, recorded their second album Giro Di Valzer Per Domani. This was followed by extensive touring with labelmates Area and - sadly unfruitful - contacts with ELP's Manticore label.

By 1976, this heavy schedule had taken its toll and arti & mestieri entered a turbulence zone. This first manifested itself (after recording one last track together, "Necropoli") with the departures of Marco Gallesi and Gigi Venegoni (who went on to form his own group, Venegoni & Co). Without a guitarist, but with new bassist Gigi Fregapane, they toured Southern Italy, and started work on their third album, but it remained unfinished as the band collapsed for good. Beppe Crovella formed Mock-Ups, in a similar fusion/prog vein, while Furio Chirico joined forces with Gallesi in a new band, recording the album Quinto Stato which, following record company pressures, was released under the name arti & mestieri although this wasn't their initial intention. Chirico went on to front other arti & mestieri line-ups into the 1980s, with no other original members but with young up-and-coming jazz musicians, including trumpeter Flavio Boltro (now an international jazz star), recording two further albums, Acquario and Children's Corner.

Renewed interest in the band following CD reissues of their 1970s albums (there have so far been six reprints !) led to a reformation of arti & mestieri in 1999 with five of the six original members - Beppe Crovella on keyboards, Furio Chirico on drums, Gigi Venegoni on guitar, Marco Gallesi on bass and Arturo Vitale on sax, with Marco Cimino (who had played on Quinto Stato) on second keyboards 'replacing' Giovanni Vigliar (singer Gianfranco Gaza died in 1986). Vitale left after the first few gigs and was replaced by violinist Corrado Trabuio, and the resulting line-up recorded the 'comeback' album Murales, which stood stylistically somewhere between their classic sound and modern fusion.

The reunion concerts were documented on one half of the double-CD Live 1974/2000 which also included a vintage concert from their peak years. Since then there have been several personnel changes, which saw Crovella and Chirico remain at the helm with newcomers. The current line-up consists of Roberto Cassetta on bass, Marco Roagna on guitar, Alfredo Ponissi on sax/flute, Iano Nicolo on vocals and teen-age prodigy Lautaro Acosta on violin, and the band's sound and approach has moved closer to the classic arti & mestieri 1970s style. To mark their first-ever US appearance, at ProgDay festival in 2003, they released a mini-CD of the same name, followed in 2004 by a memorable performance at the Baja Prog festival in Mexico.

In 2005, a new CD, Estrazioni, was published. It is a mixture of new versions of old tunes along with new compositions. This was celebrated with a repeat appearance at Baja Prog and the band's first-ever Japanese dates in June 2005. Later that year they took part in two major Italian festivals, Sesto and 70s Flowers, the latter being filmed for a possible DVD release. In parallel with their arti & mestieri activities, Crovella, Chirico and Cassetta have also performed in Japan in 2006 as a power trio under the monicker C3. Now they are busy conceiving and recording the band's new album, which is expected for release in late 2007.

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