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PASSIO SECUNDUM MATTHEUM (Japanese Polydor ERC 32002) [1972]

PAPILLON (Japanese Polydor ERC 32003) [1973]

PAPILLON English Version (Mellow/Polydor 517 537-2) [1973]

LIVE (Mellow MMP 110) [Recorded 1974]

AQUILE E SCOIATTOLI (Japanese Crime KICP 2388)(Subteranea/Vinyl Magic Sub 01) [1976]

VAMPYRS (Mellow MMP 131) [Recorded 1979]

Latte e Miele (the name means "milk and honey") was originally a trio from Genoa whose members were Alfio Vitanza on drums, flute and vocals; Marcello Della Casa on guitars, bass and vocals; and Oliviero Lacagnina on keyboards and vocals. This is, of course, the classic ELP lineup -- but the comparison stops there. Latte e Miele were better. They were also younger. The drummer was only 16 when they started out, and in early pictures he looks like a girl with his long hair, large soulful eyes and full lips.

The group released only three albums on LP in the seventies, the first two within a year's time for Italian Polydor, and the third three years later for Vittorio De Scalzi's Magma label. Interestingly, Latte e Miele also released a number of singles in the seventies, a few of which had album tracks on one side, but most of which have never been collected or issued as an album on either LP or CD -- probably because only three were originally released by Polydor, one each by Magma and Grog (De Scalzi's successor to Magma), two by RCA and one by EMI. That totals sixteen tracks of which only three appeared (in expanded form) on albums.

The first album, PASSIO SECUNDUM MATTHEUM ("The Passion According to Matthew"), is the most orchestral of all the band's albums. It's hard to believe only a trio recorded it -- and although there are no credits for them, I strongly suspect a backup chorus and orchestra were used in spots. Whether created by live singers and musicians or via effects and electronics, there are some strongly Wagnerian choral moments here. They are balanced by cathedral organ and concert piano while in other places an acoustic guitar sounds harpsichord lines over a gently swirling Mellotron. There is little soloing, all the instruments crafted into the music's whole. The music is quasi-classical and richly Mediterranean. Its melodies are grand, but not overblown. The music takes some inspiration from Bach's "Messa Requiem," but has an inner warmth.


PAPILLON was, on its original LP, divided between two side-long works, with two short pieces to end each side. Side one was "Papillon," a long, operatic fantasy. Side two was "Patetica," based on Beethoven's "Pathetique." (Capsicum Red also did an interpretation -- one hesitates to say "rock version" with these conservatory-trained Italians -- of that piece, which is reviewed elsewhere here.) Keyboards dominate this album, but the album as a whole has a less orchestral sound despite the occasional sounds of a tuba and other brass which may or may not have been real (this was 1973 -- digital sampling was still in the future). The album is a good companion to the first -- and eight minutes longer, the first album clocking in at a rather short 34 minutes.

Polydor apparently had plans for introducing the band to the international -- English-speaking -- market, hoping to follow PFM and Banco into Britain and the United States, and break out of the local Italian scene. To this end they produced a second, English language, version of PAPILLON. The trio manage decent, if accented, English in their vocals. But the main effect of being able to understand the lyrics is that I'm much more conscious of the other major musical influence on Latte e Miele: Broadway show music. Not modern, "Cats"-style show music, but the now-classic music of Gershwin, Porter, Rogers and others, full of sophisticated melodic twists. Such music sets the scene and the mood -- in exactly the way the group uses it here. Polydor never released the English version of the album, but Mellow rescued it from their vaults and issued it on CD with minimal packaging and explanation. Indeed, they didn't even bother to translate the song titles into their English equivalents, and it's only the tiny words, "English Version," on the bottom right of the cover which identify this variant of the album. (The instrumental music appears to be the same mix as the Italian version.)


Polydor dropped the group a year later, but Latte e Miele performed at a number of different rock festivals in Italy in 1974, and we are fortunate that their appearance in August in Vieste was recorded. In 1992 it was released as LIVE by Mellow. The sound quality is not fully professional but it is better than one gets from a bootleg, and was probably recorded by a member of the band. It is also the last recording available of the original trio. The CD opens with "Ouverture da J. S. Bach," the title of which says it all. This is followed by three sections of the "Passio Secundum Mattheum," and a somewhat boiled down "Patetica." What catches my interest is the final piece, the seventeen and a half minute "Pavana" (here typoed as "Pavane") which prefigures the major work on their third album (where it runs six minutes longer). Here the Della Casa & Lacagnina composition proves the band was continuing to evolve musically and compositionally. (There is a crudely obvious edit at 9:08 -- which might account for some of that missing time. One can only speculate about why this edit exists, but my guess is that the tape ran out and had to be replaced or turned over at that point.)

But they broke up. They disappeared from the Italian scene until 1976, when the drummer, Vitanza (who had never contributed compositionally), resurfaced with a new group and a new recording contract -- with De Scalzi's Magma label. Now Latte e Miele was a quartet, with two keyboard players. Joining Vitanza were Massimo Gori on guitars, Luciano Poltini on keyboards, and Mimmo Damiani on guitar and piano. This was the group which made AQUILE E SCOIATTOLI -- with the help of some others on certain tracks (Vittorio De Scalzi played flute and his brother Aldo and Leonardo Lagorio of Celeste played saxes on "Pavana," for example).

Despite the fact that only the drummer continued from the original trio, and all four of the group's members get equal credit for three out of the five compositions on the album (the others are "Opera 21," an adaptation from Beethoven, and "Pavana"), this album sounds and feels like a proper Latte e Miele album. It sounds like the next step for the original trio. It is better recorded, and it feels like there's a bit more musical meat on its bones -- there are places where a stronger, more driving sort of rock takes over. Oddly enough, the third track, "Menestrello," is built on a chord pattern very suggestive of "Stairway to Heaven," although it's by no means a copy. All of side two of the LP was occupied by the studio version of "Pavana." This is a long, episodic rhapsody which sounds very much like a movie soundtrack -- or the overlong overture to a Hollywood musical. It even features a few bars of whistling that sounds like an invitation for Fred Astaire to come dancing in. It was to be both Latte e Miele's and Magma's last hurrah. When an edited version of "Pavana" was released as a single it was on the Grog label (that label's second single).

Some version of the group went on to record two singles for RCA, released in 1978 and 1979, and another single for EMI in 1980 -- none of which I've seen or heard. However, an album's worth of songs (none more than four minutes long, most shorter) was recorded "during 1979." It included none of those singles and was released by Mellow in 1992 as VAMPYRS. By this point Latte e Miele was again a trio, Damiani having dropped out. The material is disappointing, having only vague ties to earlier Latte e Miele compositions, and all of it the work of Poltini and Gori, drummer Vitanza making no contributions. It's mostly pop-rock, following in the trail of groups like PFM who had gone this route, and with similar bland results. About half the song titles are in English, probably an indication of the intended market. It seems likely that the RCA and EMI singles are similar, being contemporaneous. Only diehard collectors will find much value in VAMPYRS, unfortunately.

Everything is available on CD, but I'm not sure how readily available all the CDs are. I have the first two albums on Japanese Polydor, but these came out in the late eighties. Italian Polydor versions (perhaps released through Mellow) may now be available. The third LP was available both on Japanese and Italian CDs -- and is now available as a Korean CD. (I prefer the Subteranea version of the two I have -- the packaging is superior.) I recommend all three of the original albums highly, in whatever form you can find them. If you like them, get the LIVE album. But there is little or no reason to get VAMPYRS.

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