Malaavia began life in Naples in 1998 on the initiative of Pas Scarpato. After some line up changes and a good live activity, in 2004 the band released a début album on the independent label Ma.Ra.Cash., Danze d'incenso, with a line up featuring Pas Scarpato (bass, guitars, vocals), Oderigi Lusi (organ, piano, keyboards, synthesizers, accordion, backing vocals), Lucio Fontana (drums), Solimena Casoria (flute, vocals) and Egidio Napolitano (percussion) plus numerous prestigious guests such as Michele Mutti (synthesizer, from La Torre dell'Alchimista), Lino Vairetti (vocals, from Osanna) or Giovanni Mauriello (vocals, from Nuova Compagnia di Canto Popolare) just to name but a few. The result is an interesting album, very rich in ideas but where, in my opinion, is difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. You can recognize many different influences ranging from Le Orme to Osanna, from classical music to ragtime, from disco music to rap, but the blending is not always convincing. The album is divided into three long suites where you can find some brilliant passages but also some weak points that risk to spoil the pleasure of listening to it.
The opener “Sequenza prima: delle danze” (First sequence: of the dances) begins with a very promising instrumental part, “Preludio di luna piena” (Prelude of full moon), featuring classical influences and a dreamy mood, then comes “Abraham, where is the land?”, with lyrics swinging from Italian to English to Neapolitan dialect evoking the contradictions of the tormented countries of Middle-East, a promised land ravaged by war and culture clashes. There are some beautiful melodic lines with male and female vocals and a raging rap break... “Panic and terror in the streets and markets of Damascus / Blooding children who pay the horror of a war / Land, land that will never come...”. Then, suddenly, the music and lyrics take you across the Sahara desert to the streets of Marrakesh, a melting pot of cultures, colours and sounds... Hints of ragtime and ethnic sounds lead to the weak final part, “Kyrie Eleyson”, and its disconcerting, horrible disco-beat.
The second suite, “Sequenza seconda: della conoscenza” (Second sequence: of the knowledge), begins by piano and vocals, then ethnic instruments joins contributing to evoke some mysterious shadows creeping on: the ancient shadows of life, harmony and love. The first part, “Ombre” (Shadows) fades into the ethereal second section, “Gnòti sautòn (conosci te stesso)” (Know yourself), where reality becomes uncertain and beautiful melodies soar in a living dream... “Gnoti sautòn, the truth is just inside you / If the music will resist / Your soul will listen to new notes... An orchestra will play a symphonic music...”. Unfortunately what comes after is not a symphony but a disco-pop section, “Vie interne” (Internal ways), that abruptly breaks the dreamy mood... “We are the travellers of the internal ways / We are looking for eternal truths / Wandering souls of the internal ways / We are looking for ancient truths...”. Then a delicate piano interlude, “Softmoon”, leads to “Cuori d'elettricità” (Hearts of electricity), a section that in some way reminds me of Franco Battiato's works from the eighties... “Animality, mechanicality / We are bodies / We are hearts of electricity...”. A distorted electric guitar solo, “Hominem quaero”, follows and a final explosion concludes the sequence.
The third suite, “Sequenza terza: tra balsami d'incenso” (Third sequence: through balms of incense), starts with an instrumental section, “Interludio sospeso” (Suspended interlude), featuring a dark mood and a strong classical influence with strings in the forefront. It leads to “Vivi nascosto” (Live hidden), another nice section that recalls Franco Battiato with lyrics telling you that you've better hide from false priests and easy goals, from false paradises and sophisms... A beautiful, dreamy instrumental section follows, “Danza d'incenso” (Dance of incense), bringing a touch of exoticism and Middle Eastern flavours. It fades into “Mezzaluna fertile” (Fertile crescent moon), a bitter-sweet part with lyrics in Italian and Neapolitan dialect about the absurdity of the never ending war that Christians, Hebrews and Muslims are fighting in Palestine. Rap, Italian melody and Bach are mixed together with a very peculiar effect. Then comes the sound of a gong that introduces an acoustic guitar passage evoking a peaceful landscape, “Locus amoenus”. The following section, “Canzone di Giuseppe” (Joseph's song) is dedicated to the character of Saint Joseph and reminds me slightly of the atmospheres of Fabrizio De André's album La buona novella, recently reinterpreted by Premiata Forneria Marconi. The conclusive section, “Coda di luna calante” (Tail of waning moon), is a magnificent instrumental featuring murmured vocals in the background reciting some verses by Italian poet Gabriele D'Annunzio... “Oppressed in love, in pleasure, the people of the world of the living are asleep... O waning scythe, what a harvest of dreams ripples in your mild and diffuse light down here!”.
On the whole, I think that despite the many ups and downs this is an album that is worth listening to. A mention also for the beautiful album cover painted by Domizia Parri that maybe describes the content better than all my words.
Malaavia: Danze d'incenso (2004). Other opinions:
Thomas Szirmay: This is another fine example of Italian proficiency in progressive rock field, combining local and foreign influences to create memorable music and exemplary playing. RPI is akin to Italian cuisine, there are a lot of combinations, flavors and aromas that can go into the pan, while still keeping to long held traditions... (read the complete review HERE)