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Thursday, June 29, 2017

Celeste: Celeste


1) Principe Di Un Giorno; 2) Favole Antiche; 3) Eftus; 4) Giochi Nella Notte; 5) La Grande Isola; 6) La Danza Del Fato; 7) L'Imbroglio.

This band is so close to totally unknown, it does not even seem to have its own Wikipedia page as of the time of my writing this — despite the fact that the only album they'd officially released while staying alive has now turned into a bit of a cult classic in various prog rock-centered sub-communities. Considering that classic Italian prog, such as Premiata Forneria Marconi or Banco Del Mutuo Soccorso, is usually taken seriously on the international level, it is only fair that this short-lived band with its somewhat idiosyncratic sound get at least a brief mention, too.

According to various sources (that mostly repeat each other anyway), Celeste were born out of the ruins of the locally-legendary Sanremo band Il Sistema, with two of their members — drum­mer Ciro Perrino (who also plays the flute and Mellotron), and keyboard / sax player Leonardo Lagorio — joining up with bass player Giorgio Battaglia and guitarist Mariano Schiavolini and deciding to take progressive rock in a... progressive direction. Well, frankly speaking, there is not much «rock» on here at all: even compared to their abovementioned Italian peers like PFM and Banco (both of whom were already heavily and inevitably influenced by the Italian pop scene), Celeste make sure that their music suits their name: all of this is very soft, relaxed, celestial-beauty-oriented stuff with no space allocated at all for distorted electric guitars.

The band's lack of popularity is technically explainable by the fact that the album was seriously delayed: although recorded in 1974, it did not see release until 1976, by which time the golden age of progressive rock had already expired, and new bands experimenting with the genre could only, at best, hope for a small level of underground appreciation. On the other hand, I will not pretend that Celeste is, by any means, some sort of unique lost Holy Grail of Italian prog, either. It does not have enough internal dynamics for that: a happy, mellow, easy-going listening expe­rience that does not so much suck you in or overwhelm you as it simply gives you a pleasant aural massage. But a very pleasant one, well worth the price of admission.

Celeste's influences are barely ever concealed — a mix of Genesis (who, not coincidentally, were one of the most popular prog bands in Italy), Yes (you will very quickly discern echoes of the theme of ʽAnd You And Iʼ at the beginning of ʽFavole Anticheʼ), early King Crimson, and, naturally, the Italian pop scene; the latter manifests itself most openly in the vocal parts, which, to my ears, seem like the weakest part of the experience and, frankly, I would vastly prefer it if the record were completely instrumental. Fortunately, there is not a lot of singing on the whole (most of the vocals are courtesy of drummer Ciro Perrino, and the best that can be said about them is that he mostly manages to stay on key), and it is perfectly easy to concentrate on the instrumental mix... well, as long as the word «concentrate» is applicable to aural massage.

Because I do not count a whole lot of memorable or emotionally stunning musical themes here, and that is not what matters. What matters is purely the soundscape — a lush meadow of sound created through a very careful mix of acoustic guitars, flutes, saxes, pianos, Mellotrons, and analog synths. You cannot get around a proper review of this album without using the word «pastoral» at least once, and it really only takes getting acquainted with the very first track, ʽPrincipe Di Un Giornoʼ, to get the general gist of these guys — gently submerge you in a soft, smoothly moving atmosphere created by the simultaneous, well-coordinated flow of all the ins­truments involved. At times, an ever so slightly dissonant sax solo, revealing a Coltrane influence or something like that, will cut across the horizon, but without jarring you out of the generally tranquil, meditative state of mind.

Only the first large track on Side 2, ʽGiochi Nella Notteʼ, is slightly rougher than the rest, with at least one section where several discordant overdubbed sax parts crash and bump into each other (ʽ21st Century Schizoid Manʼ influence at work?), but even that goes away fairly quickly, making way for the usual classy-pretty sonic jello. Also, ʽLa Danza Del Fatoʼ opens with a long prelude of sleigh bells and electronic blasts (alien invaders targeting Santa Claus?), but even that bit of weird experimentation cannot last long, and quickly gives away to the same acoustic gui­tars, flutes, and annoying Sanremo vocals.

In other words, the record simply begs for you to shoot it down because of monotonousness, but I just can't do it — there is something about the sound that is (a) individually intriguing and (b) so totally harmless, friendly, and stylish at the same time that I cannot help recommending Celeste for any fans of soft folk-pop with progressive ambitions with a satisfactory thumbs up. Just do not set your expectations unreasonably high, and remember that this is not really a «rock» band in any possible sense of the word, and you'll do fine.

1 comment:

  1. You've talked a lot about the San Remo sound, usually in derogatory terms. Who are the exemplars of this genre, and is there an analog in the English-speaking world?