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"Leo Nero" was in fact Gianni Leone, the keyboard player on Il Balletto di Bronzo’s landmark 1972 album, YS (reviewed elsewhere here). His contributions to that album are in fact much greater than I’d previously credited him. In my review of YS I said, "Both the words and music of this extraordinary album are credited solely to ‘N. Mazzocchi.’ Paolo [Barotto, in his book, THE RETURN OF ITALIAN POP] does not mention who this was, and I have never seen the name elsewhere." And, in reviewing YS ENGLISH VERSIONS, I said, "The tracks are credited to ‘Leone - Mazzocchi,’ implying that Leone (who later released a solo album as Leo Nero, and moved to Los Angeles) supplied the English lyrics." I was in error. I should have read Barotto more closely. In his separate entry for Leone (as a solo artist), he says, "Leo Nero was surely one of the most important Italian keyboards player and composers (he wrote the music for YS)."

So let me state here that "N. Mazzocchi" wrote the "text" (lyrics) for YS, while Leone wrote the stunning music.

One wonders why, after composing YS, Leone never again wrote music of this nature. Perhaps the reception at the time – YS was seen as "difficult" and was not successful when it was released – discouraged him. Be that as it may, Leone left Italy in the mid-seventies for America. In 1977 he recorded VERO in New York City, and then moved to Los Angeles for several years. In 1981 he recorded a second solo album, MONITOR, also for EMI. According to Barotto, circa 1996, "Leone is now back in Italy, preparing his third album." It may or may not have had anything to do with TRYS.

I’ve never heard MONITOR, but VERO – on which Leone plays all the instruments – is in its own way a delightful album. It is tuneful and melodic, by turns serious and playful ("R N’Roll Cat" is a great send-up), and warm where YS is sometimes chilling. If it lacks the ambition of YS it is wholly successful in its own terms.

In September of 1996, at the Progressivamente Rock Festival, Leone more or less recreated Il Bronzo di Balletto for a new live performance which was recorded and released in 1999 by Mellow as TRYS. In fact, only Leone himself goes back to the Balletto which originally created YS. The new Balletto is a trio, and Leone is joined by Ugo Vantini on drums, and Romolo Amici on bass. There is no guitarist, unfortunately.

The album made from this performance is a long one, officially clocking in at over 71 minutes. But more than seven minutes of the final track is silence – leading up to a "hidden track" of rehearsal and setup/soundcheck snippets which lasts another minute or two. The program is divided between solo "Leo Nero" material (tracks 1 and 2 are from VERO; track 5 from MONITOR), material originally recorded by Il Balletto di Bronzo (track 4, "Donna Vittoria," was a 1973 single, included on the Mellow CD release of YS; tracks 6 through 9 are from YS), and improvisations at the concert (tracks 3 and 10). I’m not sure what track 11, "Love In The Kitchen," is. The credits (in Italian) say of it, "pubblicato in una diversa edizione sul cd promozionale di RomaEstate al Foro Italico net 1997," from which I infer it first or originally appeared on a promotional CD. It ends abruptly, without applause – and is followed by the aforementioned more than seven minutes of silence before the "hidden track" appears.

It is exciting to think that Leone reformed Balletto for this performance, but a bit frustrating that as such Balletto played little new material. But the program is well thought out, with the "Leo Nero" material building nicely up to the music from YS. As for the performance of that music, Leone is in fine form and all over his keyboards. He sings as well as he did in 1972, but in live performance much of the studio production subtleties are lost, the massed choir of voices is missing, and there is no guitar to trade off with the keyboards. Despite that, the music from YS retains most of its impact – and reveals all over again what a monumental achievement the 1972 album was. As for Leone, he can cut Keith Emerson rather easily.

So what does this album mean? Is it part of the overall reflowering of progressive rock in Italy? Does it mark the permanent reformation of Il Balletto di Bronzo? Or was it a one-off, just for that festival? The fact that three years have passed without anything more from either Leone or Balletto suggests the latter, unfortunately. But I recommend both albums nonetheless.

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