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DIES IRAE (Numero Uno ND 74271) [1970]

FORMULA 3 (Numero Uno ND 74272) [1971]

SOGNANDO E RISOGNANDO (Numero Uno ND 74430) [1972]

LA GRANDE CASA (Numero Uno ND 74273) [1973]

FRAMMENTI ROSA (Durium ND-CD 201) [1992]

25 ANNI DI LUCIO BATTISTI (RCA Italiana 74321-17295-2) [1993]

LA CASA DELL'IMPERATORE (Carras CRR 475909-2) [1994]


IL VOLO (Numero Uno ND 74682) [1974]

ESSERE O NON ESSERE? (Numero Uno ND 74119) [1975]

{BOTH} (Japanese Nexus K32Y 2051)

The history of Italian progressive music is inextricably intertwined with that of its genuinely popular music, and this is nowhere more apparent than in the history of Formula 3 (Formula Tre to Italians).

Formula 3 was a trio, as its name implies, made up of Alberto Radius on guitar, vocals and bass, Gabriele Lorenzi on keyboards and bass, and Toni Cicco on drums and vocals. This instrumentation is similar to that ELP and other trios, but the music was not. And in good part this is because it was originally entirely written by the group's producers and "guardian angels" (to quote Paolo Barotto from THE RETURN OF ITALIAN POP), the duo of Mogol & Battisti. Lucio Battisti was then (and still is) one of the biggest pop stars in Italy, a singer/composer whose success was founded on his long-time collaboration with lyricist Mogol (whose first name I have never encountered anywhere).

Mogol & Battisti wrote most of the material on Formula 3's first two albums. According to Barotto, when they got together in 1969 "The group's idea was to transfer long suites of avantgarde music into short selections lasting only a few minutes, without falling into the trap of the low quality light music then existing." Frankly, the results belie that aim. The first album, DIES IRAE, is, from its cover onwards, a psychedelic-rock album. Interestingly, while the musicians' names do not appear anywhere on that cover, "Lucio Battisti, Produttore" appears in type larger than that used for the song titles. The songs are not all by Battisti & Mogol, but none are by the actual members of the group, and one is a cover of "Walk Away Renee." The album is not typical of those which would follow.

The second album, the eponymous FORMULA 3, appears to be a collection of singles, although the first track runs eleven minutes in length and in fact only two of the tracks were released as singles. And all are Battisti & Mogol songs. Lyric-oriented songs, sung in Italian, with relatively sparse instrumental accompaniment, these are good examples of superior Italian pop, with just a tinge of progressive production. Some, like the single, "Eppur Mi Son Scordato Di Te," have since deservedly achieved a "greatest hits" status. Barotto says the material on this album is "a selection of songs already recorded by Lucio Battisti," making them in essence covers of his pop songs.

It was with their third album that Formula 3 produced a genuine progressive work. "Sognando e Risognando" is also the title of the first piece on the album, a four-track suite by Battisti & Mogol. The duo contributed one other piece to the album, the short "Storia di un Uomo e di una Donna." The remainder of the album is taken up by two other suites, "L'Ultima Foglia" (three tracks), and "Aeternum" (four tracks), and these are by Formula 3 themselves, with Battisti collaborating on the music of the latter. By now Formula 3's own voice is beginning to emerge: choked guitars and throttled vocals that transmute the music. The melodies still have that unique Italian-Mediterranean tunefulness, but their voicings are unique.

LA GRANDE CASA shows that sound in full flower, and is the group's most mature album, but some may find its return to songs disappointing. It is the first album not produced by Battisti, who appears to have no hand in it; it is produced instead by Mogol, who contributed all the lyrics while Formula 3 collectively wrote all the music. By now Radius's guitar sounds like no one else's.

Sales of LA GRANDE CASA were disappointing and the band broke up. Drummer Cicco took up a solo career under the name "Cico," while Radius and Lorenzi joined a "supergroup" Mogol was putting together called Il Volo.

In 1990 Formula Tre reformed (as a quartet or larger) and began releasing new albums -- FORMULA 3/1990 and KING KONG on BMG (as LPs) and the three listed above on CD. All are "popular" and not "progressive." Most of these albums are quite short (the 70's albums range from 30 to 36 minutes in length; LA GRANDE CASA is the shortest), even the new ones running around 45 minutes -- with the exception of 25 ANNI, a collection of 18 Battisti songs (including "Eppur Mi...") which runs almost 80 minutes. Their production is slick, modern, and accomplished but no trace of progressive tendencies remains. What we have left is Italian pop music.

But if your appetite was whetted by Formula 3's third and fourth albums (their best), there is in fact more where that came from, and it is to be found on the two albums by Il Volo. These are the logical successors to Formula 3, picking up and continuing the music and the voicings developed by Formula 3 in their third and fourth albums.

As mentioned earlier, Mogol had formed a "supergroup," a sextet made up of Mauro Lavezzi (from Camaleonti and Flora Fauna Cemento) on guitar, Alberto Radius (Quelli and Formula 3) on guitar, Vince Tempera (Pleasure Machine, composer of I Giganti's progressive album reviewed elsewhere here) on keyboards, Gabriele Lorenzi (Camaleonti and Formula 3) on keyboards, Bob Callero (Duello Madre and Osage Tribe) on bass, and Gianni Dall'Aglio (Ribelli) on drums.

Mogol contributed lyrics and Lorenzi, Lavezzi, Radius and Tempera contributed the music for individual pieces. Amazingly, the music sounds like a further maturation of the music of Formula 3. Barotto says it was due to "their effort to take up again a typical Mediterranean conception and style, completely detaching themselves from foreign influences." Here clever and catchily original melodic hooks are interwoven and dynamics are used to good effect (very quiet passages presaging more powerful eruptions). Here again the vocals are processed and filtered, and the guitars' sounds are choked and squeezed uniquely, to produce music that sounds like no other. What is remarkable is the overall consistency of this style despite the individuality of each piece and their differing composers. The studio is used to full effect here.

IL VOLO was released in 1974, continuing the progression of Formula 3 albums, and the second album (the full title of which is ESSERE O NON ESSERE? ESSERE, ESSERE, ESSERE!) in 1975. The second follows so successfully on the first that their music is inseparable, as demonstrated by the Japanese CD, which combines both albums under the cover of the first. (This CD was released in the late 80's and may be hard to find, but is the one to get if you can find it, since it offers Il Volo's total output on one disc. The rather short Italian CDs are now more commonly available and still in print, and should not be ignored in a perhaps futile quest for the Japanese version.)

In 1976 progressive music came to a halt in much of Italy, as elsewhere. Sales of the second Il Volo album were disappointing and the band broke up. Lavezzi and Radius tried solo careers (Radius had released his first solo album in 1972) while the others became much-in-demand session musicians. And in 1990 Formula 3, as already noted, reformed to be a group not unlike the 90's New Trolls and PFM, trading on past pop successes for the most part. We wait and wonder if the progressive impulse will ever strike these gifted musicians again.

SOGNANDO E RISOGNANDO and LA GRANDE CASA by Formula 3 and both Il Volo albums are recommended; if you find yourself growing fond of them you may wish to explore the earlier and later Formula 3 albums, but they are not recommended to those whose primary interest is progressive music.

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