- Nice New Year Present for a Friend
Reflecting back on 2013, its clear that Fabio Zuffanti has been a busy man. Not only did our recently closing year see the release of Le porte del domani, La Maschera di Cera’s ultimate sequel to Le Orme’s Felona e sorona, and new live CD/DVD performance of Hostsonaten’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Mr. Zuffanti still managed to find time to do a solo album entitled La quarta vittima. Inspired by Michel Ende’s work Mirror in the Mirror, a work cherished by Zuffanti, La quarta vittima takes us through a ride that Zuffanti considers to reflect in many ways the variety embodied in his work throughout his career. This being his 20th anniversary in the music business, it is certainly fitting that he take time to do a solo album and reflect on where he’s been and where he’s going.
Through and through and through Fabio Zuffanti, but its perhaps of particular interest the role that he takes within this recording. La quarta vittima being a solo album, it’s obvious that Fabio is the composer, but this time around we see him not as the bass player, but instead doing vocals and some of the keyboards. Don’t worry, those who are fans of Zuffanti’s bass playing certainly won’t be dissappointed by Riccardo Barbera. After a great narration with an intriguing metaphysical discussion launched off “Non posso parlare piu forte,” I almost forgot that Barbera was doing the bass playing and not Fabio; all I heard was that characteristic fuzz bass that we hear on La Maschera di Cera and it was an immediate reminder that this was a Zuffanti album. Certainly, however, Barbera brings his own chops and style to the table, as seen on the quick walking jazz bass of “Sotto un cielo nero.” Keyboards-wise, we hear all the traditional Mellotron use that we are accustomed to on MdC and Hostsonaten, but we also see Zuffanti bringing in Emmanuele Tarasconi from the young and upcoming Italian prog band Unreal City. Those who have seen Unreal City’s music video for “Dove la luce e’ piu intensa” will certainly recognize Tarasconi’s playing at the beginning of the title track, “La quarta vittima.” Honestly, I would say that it’s no wonder that Fabio has done some collaboration with Unreal City in the past and is now inviting Tarasconi to play on his solo album; their styles compliment each other perfectly.
Time to get to the heart of the album, the songs themselves. As already stated, the opener, “Non posso parlare piu forte” offers that excellent fuzz bass we all love, pounding rhythms, psychedelic jamming loaded with fantastic flute solos, and a solid dose of tron. As the song progresses we move on to a moody, soft section, supported by Mellotron 3 violins, and we finally get to test out Zuffanti’s vocals. My first impressions are that his soft, speaking like quality and use characteristic tone of the Italian language fits the part quite nicely: a great deliver of a meaningful melody, leaving me wishing that the vocal part extended a bit longer. As we move on to “La certezza impossibile” the vocals continue with a very speech-like characteristic, this time over some Floyd-esque chord changes. Following a number of solos, the piece climaxes with the main melody over 8 voice choir on the tron to make this a piece that had some solid moments. “L’interno di un volto” will immediately scream out La Maschera di Cera, staring off with a heavy, descending chord progression motiff on the Mellotron, then lightening up, giving space for vocals , 3 violins, and organ in between. For fans of Zuffanti’s work this particular piece will certainly scream enjoyability and familiarity, particularly reminding me of the Il grande laberinto of MdC.
The second half of the record delivers some of my favorite pieces, sending us through a labyrinth of variety that always seems natural and fitting. The title number, “La quarta vittima” sets us off with a mixture of prog, cantebury, and even funk. Groovy sax parts, wild flute solos, syncopated clean guitars, and loads of prog make this near instrumental quite a fun track. Moving on, a dark title like “Sotto un cielo nero” deserves some haunting music, which is precisely what the intro piano motif of this track lets us know that we have in store. A couple of minutes in, the gradual movement towards jazz drum solos starts to develop over eerie melodies, prepping us for what’s up next: a full on section of jazz and fusion section, replete with sax, brilliant drum solos, walking bass, and tasty piano soloing, demonstrating that Fabio’s band really shines in this context, particularly in the piano department performed by Alberto Tafuri. Finally, I’d like to touch on the last track of the album: “Una sera d’inverno.” There has rarely been a track that I felt was so fitting as an album closer as this one. “Una sera d’inverno” brings us delicate piano and mournful violin to set the stage for what I consider to be the most convincing vocals on the album. Zuffanti’s performance here is light, even fragile, with postproduction that sets wet piano contrasting with lots of dry on the vocals, combining with extended rests at the end of phrases which make for an absolutely brilliant use of tension, introspection, and melancholy. Following the vocals the mood shifts, getting slightly more bright, but heavily drenched in nostalgia. An electric piano riff comes in, complimented by some great fretless bass playing, as layers of Mellotron support a slow, beautiful melody on the guitar. The chord progression and arranging become increasingly heavenly throughout as a solo builds and builds, adding choirs and arriving at a triumphant and uplifting peak, leaving the record off on a high note.
After repeated listens, La quarta vittima, proved to be an album which grew on me more and more (which is always a good sign). While I can’t say that it topped his recent work with MdC (Le Porte del domani), my choice for best album of 2013, I will say that fans of Zuffanti albums will get something that is very much represents many of the aspects we have loved from his work throughout the years, in a manner that feels personal and intimate, as a solo album rightfully should be. Congrats to Mr. Zuffanti on yet another solid release and, of course, for making sure we never have to worry about running out of music. I for one, am certainly hoping to get a chance to see him perform La quarta vittima in the future.