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MAXOPHONE: MAXOPHONE [1975] (Mellow MMP 179 -- English Version) (Mellow MMP 308 -- Italian Version)

I was wandering in the aisles of a Peaches record superstore circa 1978. The store, located in Rockville, Maryland, had a huge import section, full of Japanese pressings of favorite Beatles albums (outrageously priced at $15.00 -- or so it seemed then). But I'd by then pretty well picked it over. Now I was browsing in the general bins, pawing through hundreds of subliminally-familiar covers -- albums I'd never bought and would never ever buy, but which I had seen so many times in passing -- waiting for something unfamiliar and intriguing to grab my attention. Suddenly, there it was: a strange and slightly surreal landscape, with the single word, "maXophone," neatly hand-lettered across it, the "X" dominating the word. I turned the LP over. The label, one I'd not heard of before, was located in Los Angeles. And that label: Pausa. It was represented as a kind of a flag, with stars and stripes, and, in alternate blocks, "PA" and "USA." In the fine print it said, "recorded in italy by produttoriassociati." Break that last word up a bit and it becomes Produttori Associati -- and "PA" is explained. Pa/usa, I subsequently figured out, was the U.S. arm of an Italian record label.


(I have some other Pa/usa albums -- all by Gian Piero Reverberi, who went by his last name only. Reverberi did orchestrations for Italian groups and played keyboards. The first two of his Pa/usa albums used the same logo as the Maxophone album did and were numbered 7003 and 7016, a rough indication of the number of albums the label released here. Maxophone's was 7002. But the third Reverberi album, a 1977 Pa/usa release, was manufactured and distributed by United Artists, signaling the Italian company's withdrawal from the U.S. at that point.)

The back cover of the LP showed six men standing in a long narrow boat, a boatman standing at the stern. Mist half concealed both the figures and the landscape. I bought the album, wondering what I had and if it was any good.

When I listened to it, I was impressed. The lineup of musicians and the instruments they played had prepared me for something else.

Sergio Lattuada played keyboards and provided vocals (he also co-composed all the music with Giuliani); Roberto Giuliani played electric guitars and piano and also provided vocals; Leonardo Schiavone played clarinet, flute, and alto and tenor saxes; Maurizio Bianchini played French horn, trumpet, vibraphone and percussion and provided vocals; Alberto Ravasini played bass and acoustic guitar and did the lead vocals; Sandro Lorenzetti played the drums. With all those horns I was expecting the quasi-jazz or fusion-jazz which swept Italian rock bands in the mid-seventies, maybe even Chicago or Blood, Sweat & Tears style horn-rock -- which was pretty well played out by then, especially in the work of those two bands.

Instead, what I heard was richly melodic music which seemed to blend many styles with a Mediterranean sensibility. What I heard was more fine Italian progressive rock, with some individual touches. For instance, the introduction to one track, "When We Were Young"/"Mercanti di Pazzie," is taken from Hindemith's "Sonata for Harp." When I decided to put the album on tape for listening in my car, I paired it on the C90 with Celeste's Grog album, CELESTE (see my review elsewhere). They made a good fit, both rather pretty, with moments of delicacy balanced by strength. I never found any more albums by Maxophone.

Paolo Barotto, in his THE RETURN OF ITALIAN POP, tells us that the group "formed in 1973 in Milan thanks to six musicians coming from different previous musical collaborations. Ravasini, Giuliani and Lorenzetti had already formed an avantgarde trio, and decided to enlarge the group after getting to know three other musicians coming from music conservatories. After two years of work together the group released an album in 1975 for the Produttori Associati label. On this album all instruments are given their space, but some highlight is given to the horns and to the keyboards. Their style is close to classical rock of the early seventies, to which the group adds its own personal touches. The LP deals with 'freedom,' and the lyrics attempt to avoid triviality. Later on the recording label released it for the foreign market, and on its English version it strikes how English lyrics may better suit this kind of music. Maybe a second LP would have put the group at the level of Banco and PFM, but unfortunately Maxophone made only two more singles and then disappeared from the scene." The first of those two singles was simply a pair of tracks from the album.

This meant that the album I'd bought was the English-language version of an album which also existed in Italian -- but I never saw an import of the Italian version...and never heard it until it was released on CD. So I grew used to, and fond of, the English version. With song titles like "Life Can Be Like Music," "When We Were Young" and "Live Together Or Die," these were indeed not "trivial" lyrics.

Mellow released the CD of the English-language edition in 1993. It included the two tracks from their 1977 single, "Il Fischio del Vapore" and "Cono di Gelato." As the titles suggest, these were light confections albeit in the same style as the album tracks. Several years later, Mellow released the Italian version on CD -- again, with the second single as bonus tracks. The jewel box insert appears in each case to accurately duplicate the original gatefold covers -- which are identical on the outside, but open up to different lyrics (in each language). The English-language edition also has photos of the band, absent from the Italian version.

Comparison of the two versions reveals that the tracks do not appear in the same order, and that the titles are not transliterations of each other in all but one case. Both albums open and close with the same tracks, but the Italian version's second track is the English version's fourth, its third is the English version's fifth, its fourth is the other's second, and its fifth is the other's third. In addition to the new lyrics and their performance, there are subtle variations in the instrumental mixes. Interestingly, the final verse of "Live Together Or Die" is in Italian, and is the same final verse in the Italian version of that song, but its Italian title is "Antiche Conclusioni Negre," which does not mean "live together or die." (The only title which is directly translated is "Al Mancato Compleanno di Una Farfalla," which becomes "I Heard A Butterfly.") There is one instrumental track, "Fase," the title of which remains the same.

So -- which version to get? I recommend them both equally. If understanding the lyrics is important to you, get the English version -- if you can find it. Some stores have replaced it with the more recent Italian version and may not be aware of the difference, since the covers are almost identical. (The cover image of the Italian version is a hair larger -- but you'd need a sharp eye and both copies side by side to spot the difference.) The prices of each should be the same, since each was released by the same label. And on either version the music is great.

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