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FINISTERRE (Mellow MMP 254) 
IN LIMINE (Mellow MMP 291) 
HOSTSONATEN (Mellow MMP 320) 
LIVE...AI MARGINI DELLA TERRA FERTILE (Mellow MMP 336) 
Finisterre are a group from Genoa who have become one of Italy's brightest lights in contemporary progressive rock. Their music looks forward, but acknowledges and assimilates much that came before. The group is an augmented quartet within which there have been three consistent members: Stefano Marelli on guitars and vocals, Boris Valle on keyboards, and Fabio Zuffanti on bass and vocals. The drummer has been different on each album. In addition, guest musicians play flute, saxes, woodwinds, trumpet, violin and cello on various tracks. While lyrics have been credited individually, the music is credited on the first two albums to the band as a whole, and, on the live album (which draws its material entirely from the first two albums), to Marelli, Valle and Zuffanti. (The back of the jewel box for the live album says "All tracks composed by Fabio Zuffanti," but this is contradicted by the insert notes which credit all three. I suspect this error is Mellow's. Mellow is a label owned by Mauro Moroni, a wealthy attorney, and apparently as much his hobby as anything. Moroni is a fan of progressive rock and has devoted his label to reissuing many of Italy's finest releases of the 1970's, but he does so with a mad abandon that has seen well over three hundred albums issued on CD within the past ten years, usually with skimpy and barely adequate packaging -- in contrast, say, with France's Musea, who extensively annotate their rereleases, usually supplying the band's history and biography in the accompanying booklets...and do so in English or French and English. Although Mellow's sales must extend well beyond Italy, rereleases are never annotated in English, and rarely annotated at all. Mellow puts out so many CDs -- a minority of which are recorded by non-Italian bands -- that new releases can be lost in the shuffle, and get little or no promotion from the label. Finisterre is Mellow's only major new Italian band. This contrasts with Italy's other progressive label, Vinyl Magic, which has also rereleased many classic Italian albums -- and did so before Mellow -- but has also supported more new bands although none of Finisterre's quality, alas. But I digress....)
HOSTSONATEN ("A collection of autumnal dances" -- although that description may apply to "Hostsonaten" the piece and not the album as a whole) is not credited to Finisterre, but rather to "Finisterre Project" -- and then only on the jewel box's spine. The insert claims "All songs written, arranged and produced by Fabio Zuffanti except" three pieces credited to others, and the lyrics to a fourth taken from Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner." Zuffanti is joined by nine other musicians, among them Marelli (all tracks) and Valle (one track), making this a Finisterre-like album. One difference, however, is that while Finisterre's first two albums are sung in Italian, this album's lyrics are entirely in English. (I have no idea why the title alone is German.)
Much of the music on the first two albums is instrumental -- only three of the eight tracks on the first album have vocals, and only four of the nine on the second -- and it covers a lot of territory. Indeed, on some tracks the music may change abruptly for a brief but totally contrasting interlude. My sense when I first heard FINISTERRE was that the band was both demonstrating the breadth of their musical range and honoring the many Italian bands who had preceded them. The music includes both rich melodies -- an Italian staple -- and jazzy free-form atonality. It is ambitious and surprisingly original, building as it does on two prior decades of Italian progressive music There is occasionally a playfulness, a suggestion that the band is having fun with the variety of music it plays.
This is particularly true of the Live - ...Ai Margini Della Terra Fertile... album. Recorded half in Italy and half in France, it draws upon the material in the previous albums, but makes no attempt to recreate it note for note. Here the basic quartet is joined only by a guest flautist (Sergio Grazia on the French date; Marco Moro on the Italian) and material which required other outside instrumentalists is rearranged. But the music does not suffer. Like King Crimson, Finisterre may never play the same piece in exactly the same way twice, but they remain true to its spirit every time. And they handle music originally realized in a studio setting quite well live, effecting the same surreal polytonal blends and contrasting intercuts. They also drop in a number of sly and affectionate bows to other bands in occasional fractured quotes from those bands blended into their own musical context. There are early allusions to Genesis and Le Orme, but it's in their final (encore?) track, "Phaedra," that they really cut loose. Each member of the band is introduced (in Italian), and takes a solo. These solos salute several bands, among them Pink Floyd and King Crimson (a bar or two of "21st Century Schizoid Man"), but it's after those solos that the entire band segues into a segment of Genesis's "The Firth of Fifth" that builds for several choruses before returning to "Phaedra" (itself no relation to the Tangerine Dream album of that title).
Such allusions and playfulness are absent from HOSTSONATEN, and I find myself subtly disappointed by it. There is the usual musical richness that I associate with Finisterre, but somehow it lacks a dimension. Perhaps it's that "autumnal" quality. Maybe it's the English lyrics. Or is it just Zuffanti? Dolorous is the word I would use for much of the music on this album.
In any event, I highly recommend the first two Finisterre albums, suggest that after you've heard them (and if you've liked them) you should listen next to the live album (you'll appreciate it more that way) -- and finally, a lesser, qualified recommendation for Zuffanti's "Project" album, HOSTSONATEN.
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