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SUN SUPREME (Japanese Polydor ERC-32011) [1974]

IBIS (Polydor/Mellow 847 073-2) [1975]

Ibis was a footnote in the career of the New Trolls. 

In my review of the career of the New Trolls elsewhere here, I quoted Paolo Barotto from his THE RETURN OF ITALIAN POP: “1973 is the year of the big break up: from here on until 1975 only a very few people have been able to follow the many line-up changes that occurred. The group's members admitted that the problems arose about different musical and political positions.”

Properly speaking, the New Trolls ceased to exist for three years, during which time its members went in different directions. Vittorio De Scalzi formed Atomic System, which gained control of the New Trolls name. Nico Di Palo (guitar, vocals), Maurizio Salvi (keyboards), Gianni Belleno (drums), and Frank Laugelli (bass) formed another group, which was at first nameless. Di Palo was the group’s leader, but for their first album, CANTI D’INNOCENZA CANTI D’ESPERIENZA, the group was known simply as “Nico, Gianni, Frank, Maurizio,” and the album’s cover consisted of a large stylized question mark on a black background.

During this same session the four musicians improvised “a strange version of ‘Satisfaction’ only for fun,” according to Barotto. This was ultimately released as a single by the “Tritons.” Then Gianni Belleno quit. The group called in Ric Parnell, ex-Atomic Rooster, to replace him on drums to record a foreign market version of “Satisfaction.” This sold so well that the “Tritons” recorded an album to back it up, using an additional five musicians in the studio. The SATISFACTION album (Italian Polydor CD 847 072-2) is amusing but in no way “progressive.”

Having switched labels (from Fonet Cetra to Polydor), and having lost “Gianni” from their group name, the quartet conducted a readers’ survey in the magazine Ciao 2001 for a new name. The name was Ibis.   Under this name they recorded SUN SUPREME.   This album consisted of two side-long suites. Late in 1974 Ric Parnell and Maurizio Salvi left, due to “musical divergences.” They were replaced with two musicians from Forum LIVII (a hard rock group which released two singles in 1972), Pasquale Venditto on drums and Renzo Tortora on guitar. The new quartet made IBIS, a seven-song album, which was released in 1975.     Following its release Ibis broke up and New Trolls reformed, Nico Di Palo rejoining Vittorio De Scalzi in the group.

Each one of the three Ibis albums has its own character, but all are driven by a hard rock sensibility – an accentuation of the hard rock tendencies in the New Trolls’ UT, which had led De Scalzi to leave the group in 1973.   This hard rock foundation is based on the legacy of Jimi Hendrix and Cream, mellowed by Mediterranean melodicism, but at least one reviewer has compared Ibis with the American group, Styx. However, progressive production touches (backward guitars, massed choral voices) are used in places.

Most progfans prefer SUN SUPREME – perhaps because of its side-long suites – and it has been compared with FRAGILE-period Yes by some. But Barotto says of the album, “Their hard rock style was nothing new, because it was sung in English; it seemed more similar to that of foreign groups.” I don’t think he meant Yes. Of the final album he says, “there’s a return to Italian lyrics, and the pieces seem better structured than on SUN SUPREME.” He regards the album’s first two tracks as “maybe the best compositions of the entire New Trolls repertory.”

The third track on that final album is however possibly the strangest:   “Dedicated to Janis Joplin” (with English lyrics) opens with Hawaiian guitars reminiscent of the Beach Boys and a gentle vocal chorus sings “You were so sweet…too bad you’re gone” and then cuts to a raucous solo vocal. The gentle chorus alternates with the stronger vocal which in turn segues into the lyrics of “A Piece of My Heart,” a Joplin hit.   This track and the final track (the only other piece with English lyrics), “Keep on Movin’,” were released as a single the same year.   That last track ends with a Beatle-esque collage of sounds (including saxes and Mellotrons which sound as if they’d been lifted from Picchio Dal Pozzo – although that group, reviewed elsewhere here, recorded their first album a year later).

Ibis’ strong points were always their compositions and Nico Di Palo’s vocals.   Di Palo is as strong in Ibis as he was in New Trolls, occasionally using filters to choke down his sound into the modern equivalent of singing through a megaphone – powerful, but distant.

Personally, I feel that if you like one of these three albums you’ll probably like them all, despite their differences. Unfortunately, the first is “a limited edition by Vinyl Magic” released through Fonet Cetra in 1991, and its current availability is questionable. (A Japanese version was released in 1987 by Nexus/King – SSX 4 – and is even more likely to be unavailable.) The only thus far available CD of SUN SUPREME is a 1989 Japanese release. But the final album, IBIS, has been released as a CD twice in Italy. I have the Mellow version, released in 1992, but Italian Polydor re-released the CD in 1995 (523 695 2), apparently with one or more bonus tracks (only one side of one single had not previously appeared on an album and I suspect that’s it) but I have not seen a copy to check.

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