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L'UOMO (Fonit Cetra CDM 2037) [1971]

 MILANO CALIBRO 9 (Fonit Cetra CDP 420) [1972]

PALEPOLI (Fonit Cetra CDLP 425) [1973]

LANDSCAPE OF LIFE (Fonit Cetra CDLP 424) [1974]

SUDDANCE (Italian Columbia COL 466421 2) [1978]

UNO: UNO (Fonit Cetra CDLP 428) [1974]

CITTA' FRONTALE: EL TOR (Fonit Cetra CDM 2028) [1975]

NOVA: BLINK (Vinyl Magic VM 020) [1976]

The tangled story of Osanna -- a major force in Italian rock in the seventies -- begins around 1970 in Naples, with the formation of the first version of Citta' Frontale. This band, which never recorded, included keyboardist Gianni Leone (who later recorded as Leo Nero). Leone left to join Il Balleto di Bronzo, and Elio D'Anna joined and the group became Osanna.

The original Osanna -- which remained the same for the first four albums recorded under that name -- was a quintet consisting of Danilo Rustici on guitars and keyboards; Lino Vairetti on vocals, guitars and keyboards; Elio D'Anna on saxes and flute; Lello Brandi on bass; and Massimo Guarino on drums and percussion. The music they played came at "progressive rock" from a different, harder-edged direction than most Italian rock. The Mediterranean melodic sensibility is there, but it's blended with a psychedelic, Jimi Hendrix-influenced hardrock. In essense, Osanna was more of an old-fashioned rock 'n' roll band than were most Italian progressive bands of the seventies. Osanna could kick ass.

Paolo Barotto, in THE RETURN OF ITALIAN POP, states, "Their first album is another fundamental event in the history of Italian pop music and shows their fine writing and playing. The spotlight is on Elio D'Anna, who plays sax and flute, and on the electric guitar of Danilo Rustici. Their rock is aggressive even if a little bit 'naive,' and the lyrics are very interesting, half Italian half English, sung with great power and emotion." D'Anna's flute ranges from pretty to dirty in the style Ian Anderson picked up from jazzman Rahsaan Roland Kirk, and his sax playing (mostly on tenor) is wildly uninhibited -- combining r'n'b honk-and-scree with psychedelic freakouts. As Barotto puts it, "the protagonist was always Elio D'Anna, well backed up by the very disciplined Danilo Rustici and the good voice of Vairetti."

Their first album, L'UOMO ("a man"), was launched with a deluxe package from Fonit -- the triple gatefold cover opens into a poster and even has a hanger! This is better treatment than the label gave the New Trolls. The album was also an unacknowledged movie soundtrack -- to "Grazie Signor P." Their second album, produced with Luis Enriquez Bacalov, was openly acknowledged as a movie soundtrack.

MILANO CALIBRO 9 is their weakest (and, at only 31 minutes, their shortest) album. Oddly, it was also the first album which the American company Peters International issued on their domestic Cosmos label in 1973 -- and thus the first Osanna album I encountered. (Later Peters also did a domestic edition of the fourth album, LANDSCAPE OF LIFE. Once Peters issued a foreign album on its Cosmos label imported copies of the original albums ceased to enter the U.S., which was annoying because Peters' versions were more poorly packaged and not as well pressed as a rule.)


MILANO CALIBRO 9 uses an orchestra in places and is a classical/rock hybrid of the sort not uncommon in Italy in the early seventies. RDM's CONTAMINATION was the best such fusion and Osanna's MC9 probably the weakest, since Osanna's rough-and-tumble music made an uncomfortable fit with Bacalov's extravagant classical orchestral flourishes.

PALEPOLI had only three tracks, two on its first side without a track-break, and one on its second. But the album is a direct and seamless continuation of the music on the first album (itself really one long suite), full of middle-eastern sounds blended into psychedelic effects, and rocking, manic sax solos. LANDSCAPE OF LIFE, in contrast, has six tracks which blend into each other. On the first, third and fourth albums all the compositions are credited to the group as a whole. As Barotto notes, "Another reason for the success of this band from Naples is the great sense of collaborative involvement that all members felt for each other: the compositions were written by all five musicians, and in the first four albums the lineup remains absolutely unchanged."


But the group had broken up by the time the fourth album, LANDSCAPE OF LIFE, came out, and according to Barotto, "the album kept a low profile compared to previous works." Rustici and D'Anna went to England to form Uno.

Uno was actually a trio. The two Osanna members were joined by Milanese drummer Enzo Valicelli (although Toni Esposito had been the rumored first choice) and they collaborated with British lyricist Nick Sedgwick, who had been working then with Pink Floyd. He brought singer Liza Strike (who sang on DARK SIDE OF THE MOON), and she is featured on one track ("Goodbye Friend") of the album they made. The UNO album is better than any of the Osanna albums, with stronger compositions and melodies, and D'Anna's manic sax is employed to best effect. As an LP it had two incarnations: the Italian version on Fonit is half in English and half in Italian, but the German (!) version, on the Pan label (a subsidiary of Ariola), is entirely in English and has a cover by Brit album packagers Hipgnosis. Only the Italian version of this album is available on CD.

Perhaps over-hyped, Uno, despite an excellent album, met with a disappointing response. In consequence they brought in Corrado Rustici from Cervello (guitar and bass) and made Uno into a quartet. Barotto says, "Their live work got better but at the moment of their definitive 'consecration' Uno transformed itself into Nova, taking up jazz rock influences."

Valicelli left. Franco Lo Previte, from Circus 2000, became the new drummer. Luciano Milanese joined on bass. Nick Sedgwick wrote all the lyrics (in English) and Maurice Pert added percussion in spots. Nova sounded a lot like Brand X and other jazz fusion bands of the time. BLINK was initially very disappointing to me when I heard it -- a surrender of all those uniquely Italian aspects which had fired Osanna and Uno -- but on relistening to it I found that touches (mostly in D'Anna's sax parts) of the old music remained. But D'Anna had given up his tenor sax for the most part in favor of soprano and a bit of alto sax -- thinning his sound and rendering it significantly more "polite" than had once been the case. This flirtation with jazz fusion swept Italy in the mid-seventies, weakening groups like PFM as well.

Nova made four LPs, all for Arista (a non-Italian label), of which only the first, BLINK, is available on CD. Danilo Rustici left after the first album (to reform Osanna -- which we'll get to soon), and Renato Rosset, the keyboards player in New Trolls Atomic System (which had also gone the jazz fusion route with its second album) joined Nova. Others, like Percy Jones, Phil Collins and Narada Michael Walden joined for an album or two -- and Ric Parnell (Ibis) joined later as drummer. Nova became almost indistinguishable from bands like Brand X, although its final album, SUN CITY, marked a partial return to rock. But by then it was too late; the band had no real identity left.

At this point Citta' Frontale reformed in Naples. Osanna's other members, Lino Vairetti and Massimo Guarino, brought in Gianni Guarracino (formerly Saint Just) on guitar, along with Enzo Avitabile on flute and sax, Paolo Raffone on keyboards and Lino Zurzolo on bass. They made the EL TOR album, released in 1975. It's not impressive, but sounds much like a tamer Osanna. Vairetti's vocals are strong, however, and contribute greatly to the appeal of the album. Citta' Frontale made no further albums.


"In 1977," Barotto states, "after three years of contradictory rumors, Osanna recorded another album." The new lineup reunited Danilo Rustici with Lino Vairetti and Massimo Guarino, but added Enzo Petrone on bass and Fabrizio D'Angelo on keyboards. They made Suddance -- with added violin from Antonio Spagnolo and saxes from Benni Caiazzo. Barotto calls it "the worst" of Osanna's five albums, and the reason is the still-lingering presence of the spirit of jazz fusion. SUDDANCE sounds more like a Nova album than an Osanna album. It is polite where previous Osanna albums were rude, and it is restrained where they were exuberant. It was a disappointment, and the end for Osanna in the seventies.

In 1994, as bands like PFM, New Trolls, Banco and Le Orme were reforming in a wash of nostalgia and the reemergence of progressive rock in Italy, some of Osanna's members tried to reform the group, first under the name of Progetto Osanna and then as Citta' Frontale, doing some live performances. There have been no new recordings, however. Both Rustici and D'Anna turned to producing, and Rustici today has a recording studio in Los Angeles.

Some of the Osanna CDs are Fonit Cetra's own releases and some are Fonit Cetra-labelled Vinyl Magic "Limited Editions." The latter include the first and fourth Osanna albums and the Uno album. I'm not sure how "limited" these in fact are, but I believe all are still available. (In addition, two of these albums -- MILANO CALIBRO 9 and PALEPOLI -- were released on CD in Japan on King's Nexus label, although I suspect they're now out of print.) I recommend the first, third and fourth Osanna albums. I recommend the Uno album highly. I suggest you try these first, and if you like them try the others, with the Nova and fifth Osanna coming after the Citta' Frontale.

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