Il Rovescio della Medaglia were one of the many bands of the Italian prog scene of the early seventies. They were from Rome and after two albums in hard rock style, “La bibbia” and “Io come io”, in 1973 they collaborated with composer Luis Enriquez Bacalov and lyricist Sergio Bardotti for a third album in a more symphonic style. The result was a very particular concept album blending classical music and rock entitled “Contaminazione di alcune idee di certi preludi e fughe del Clavicembalo ben temperato di J.S. Bach” (Blend of some ideas from some preludes and fugues from the well-tempered clavier by J.S. Bach). The line-up on this album features Enzo Vita (guitars), Stefano Urso (bass), Gino Campoli (drums), Pino Ballarini (vocals, flute) and Franco di Sabbatini (keyboards) while in studio the band interacted with a baroque orchestra directed by the Maestro Luis Enriquez Bacalov himself with excellent results.
The album tells the story of an imaginary character, a Scottish guitarist called Jim McCluskin who, back from a journey in Nepal, believes he is the “avatar” (the incarnation) of another imaginary character, a Scottish musician called Isaia Somerset, supposedly an illegitimate son of Johann Sebastian Bach who abandoned him during his stay in Britain. The guitarist is hospitalized in a psychiatric structure where he is haunted by his crazy musical dreams. The plot is ironic, all the tracks are linked together and the music flows continuously drawing a kind of well crafted “divertissement”.
The opener, “Absent For This Consumed World” is a short instrumental introduction that leads with a drum roll to the ethereal, melancholic “Ora non ricordo più” (Now I can’t remember). “Now I can’t remember what kind of music I used to play / I saw white and I fell over / It’s the image of an image... I run after my music / My music is running forward, away from me / As dark never touches light / Where time comes to life and immediately dies / She is there and she’s waiting for me / She is calling me...”.
Next comes “Il suono del silenzio” (The sound of silence). Don’t worry, it’s not a cover of Simon & Garfunkel but an experimental track where classical passages of harpsichord, organ and violin are mixed with a vibrant, pulsating rhythm section. In the mind of the protagonist a question arises... “Maybe, am I the son of Bach?”.
“Mi sono svegliato e... Ho chiuso gli occhi” (I woke up and... I shut my eyes) tells of a sad awakening... “Why am I here? Why did they shut me here? Because for them I’m like a strange child...”. From a lullaby a desperate electric guitar solo in Jimi Hendrix style takes off... The protagonist wants to go back to the world of dreams... “I woke up this morning and... / I shut my eyes...”. Well, dreams can definitely be better than reality...
The short, frenzied “Lei sei tu: lei” (She is you: she) depicts a troubled dream where the music becomes a beautiful woman inviting the protagonist to follow her in another world where she is waiting. Next comes “La mia musica” (My music), a sweet, romantic love song dedicated to the charming woman that incarnates music... “She is there... And in the light of thought even the faintest souvenir becomes clear / I run after her when she runs away / To have her one more time... Sing on the roof / And I’ll call you swallow / Sing on the bank / And I’ll call you sea / I can hear thousands of voices / They sing the secrets hidden in the soul / They sing the thoughts of a free spirit / It’s for me that they are singing / It’s for you... Now she is here / Now she is mine...”.
The mad rock guitarist now believes he is Isaia Somerset, the illegitimate son of Bach and on “Johann” the contamination of styles is perfect. The interaction between rock band and baroque orchestra is absolutely brilliant... “Johann Sebastian Bach had twenty-one children / He loved twenty of them / But one was abandoned in Scotland...”.
“Scotland Machine” blends classical music and rock with Celtic echoes... When the protagonist awakes he’s driven into cell number 503 that now is free and all for him... “Cella 503” (Cell 503) is an instrumental where we find a particular Spanish flavour mixed with baroque music, then a rock part precedes a closing section featuring a powerful organ solo. Then comes “Contaminazione 1760”, another short instrumental featuring only flutes.
“Alzo un muro elettrico” is one of the best tracks on this work, where you can find tasteful reminiscences of Brazil... “I build an electric wall / A sky of organs is opening / She is there / Now I’m again myself...”. “Sweet Suite” begins with a church-like organ, then a short reprise of “Alzo un muro elettrico” follows... “Now I’m again myself!”. The fiery, passionate instrumental “La grande fuga” (The great fugue) is a perfect “gran finale” for this amazing album.
An English version of this album was also released for the international market, but I prefer the Italian one. A must have for every prog lover!
Read the interview with Enzo Vita at progarchives. Click HERE