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DUTY FREE AREA (Mellow MMP 373) [1999]

WORK IN PROGRESS LIVE (MoonJune MJR003) [2001]

My review of the first DFA album was one of the first reviews posted to this site, back in late 1997. (And it reads like it; nearly half the review was taken up with an introduction to Italian progressive music which is clearly redundant now that I’ve reviewed so many more Italian groups here.)

DFA are Silvio Minella on guitars, Alberto Bonomi on keyboards & vocals, Luca Baldassari on bass and Alberto De Grandis on drums & vocals. The band was originally formed in Verona, Italy, in 1991 and – with two changes in personnel – evolved into the band which recorded its first album in 1996 for its 1997 release by Alberto Piras’ independent Scolopendra label.

DFA released their second studio album in 1999 and appeared at NEARfest in June, 2000. MoonJune has released a portion of their NEARfest concert as WORK IN PROGRESS LIVE. (Not included is their performance of “Esperanto” with Il Balletto di Bronzo’s Gianni Leone doing the guest vocal – whether for reasons of length or contractual problems I don’t know.)

With their second studio album DFA moved from Scolopendra to Mellow – a label which has issued around 400 CDs in the space of ten years, but (due to the personal problems of its owner) has slacked off considerably in the last year.   Whether DFA will stay with Mellow for future studio albums is unclear, but Mellow has reissued their first album on its label (MMP 392). Leonardo Pavkovic’s New York City-based MoonJune label – which will be marketing the next Finisterre album outside Italy – may be positioning itself to market DFA outside Italy as well, with the live album as the first trial balloon.

DFA stands poised for greater success, musically. Duty Free Area marks a maturation over the first album, LAVORI IN CORSO, although it is (no pun) less mellow. In my review of the first album, I said, “The largest debt is to early (OCTOPUS) Gentle Giant. Their angular, contrapuntal style is used to good effect to create music at once high-energy and complex – with strategically placed breaks into a more relaxed, flowing sound reminiscent at times of CLOSE TO THE EDGE-period Yes.”   Although it is not entirely absent, there is less of that “more relaxed, flowing sound reminiscent at times of … Yes” on Duty Free Area, and the angular contrapuntal style has been refined with angular rhythms as well as melodic lines.

Duty Free Area has the studio version of “Esperanto,” on which the guest vocalist is Deus Ex Machina’s Alberto Piras.   Clocking in at just over 50 minutes, the album is ten minutes shorter than the first album, and somewhat less varied in style and approach.

WORK IN PROGRESS LIVE is, despite the missing “Esperanto,” the longest DFA album yet, at 66:32. There are six tracks, evenly split: three (“Trip On Metro,” “La Via” and “Pantera”) from the first album, and the other three (“Escher,” “Caleidoscopio,” and “Ragno”) from the second. 

The recording, by Mike Potter with his Orion Sound Studios Mobile, is vividly sharp and clean and if anything sounds better than the live performance at Lehigh University’s Zoellner Arts Center auditorium did to those of us in the audience. (The auditorium is acoustically very “live” – which gave the live sound engineers ongoing problems with reflected sound all weekend.) Mike has been gaining a reputation as one of the best at recording progressive music in America, which I’m sure is due in part to his love for the music. His own Orion Sound Studios is one of the best venues for progressive music in the Baltimore-Washington D.C. area.

For this reason, WORK IN PROGRESS LIVE is sonically the equal to DFA’s studio albums. Since the performances are also excellent, this album makes a good place to start for newcomers to DFA.


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