May 17, 2020

Conta has produced a fine album very much in the Italian prog tradition.

The name of Michele Conta will probably ring a bell to aficionados of Italian prog music. For those of you still scratching your heads, Conta was the keyboard player in the Italian prog band Locanda delle Fate which in 1977 released its debut album Forse le lucciole non si amano più (in English that translates to the intriguing title of ‘Maybe the fireflies don’t love each other anymore’!).To this day, it is still considered a masterpiece by Italian prog fans. But 1977 was also the year of Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols which might be part of the reason that this was sadly their one and only studio album.

After the band formally split up in 1980, Michele, who was still only 20 at that time, abandoned music and dedicated himself to his other passion: medicine. He still practices today in his home town of Asti, not far from Torino. Michele has continued to write music through the years and that has finally come to fruition in this his first solo album (recorded at Abbey Road, no less).

Musically, Conta has not moved significantly from his Italian prog roots. This is definitely mellow prog of the symphonic variety with a typical Italian melodic twist and a strong 70s feel. The album has six tracks of medium length which brought to my mind the debut album of Rick Wakeman. With Wakeman he shares a classical training that shines through in the piano parts but he clearly loves letting loose on the Moog too.  While Wakeman’s debut album is clearly that of a keyboard wizard, Conta is much more restrained on the pyrotechnics and there’s more of a band feel thanks to the frequent use of electric guitar (courtesy of Ermanno Brignolo, who also contributes vocals).

Three of the tracks have vocals and these are close to the melodic prog tradition of Italian bands like PFM. The third of these, Riva Al Mondo (the only one sung in Italian) is a long dreamy slow burner of a ballad climaxing in a fine keyboard solo. The highlights of the album for me are in the opening and closing instrumentals. The opening track, È Nell’ Aria, mixes multiple moods from quiet classical piano, to quite aggressive guitar-led sections, to swirling Moog parts.  All of this builds up to an impressive guitar-driven climax.  It’s not very often you can say that a six minute instrumental passes in the blink of an eye but that is the case here thanks to the quality of the music and the musicianship. The closing track, Fiori Nascosti,  opens with a sublime theme introduced on piano that is then picked up by synths before going through a whole set of variations with the band. The music ebbs and flows effortlessly, arriving at a final moving rendition of the main theme firstly on electric guitar and then vocals.

Conta has produced a fine album very much in the Italian prog tradition. The only disappointment is that we’ve had to wait so long for it!