15 Oct 2015

Le Orme - Collage

Reviewed by Shaun C. Rogan

For many years I had to hide my love of early 70's progressive rock from my friends who were largely driven by the kind of fundamentalism towards music that only comes from a) being a teenager and b) loving punk rock and adopting a hard line in doing so. Furthermore, there was the plain FACT that loving prog in the early/mid-1980's almost guaranteed you years of sitting in your bedroom with no realistic hope of getting a girlfriend. How times have changed. We are in the most liberated of eras where the tribes of musical cultures have largely disappeared and it is acceptable for a grown man to combine tight jeans with a beard and be able to listen to whatever he likes with impunity. Who woulda thunk it?

Now happily middle-aged and liberated from the cultural straitjackets of the past I can flaunt my love of prog recklessly and get to review records like this one. The latest reissue of the second lp (released originally in 1971 on Philips) from long serving Italian progmeisters, Le Orme is called 'Collage' and over its 40 or so minutes duration the band members get to flash their chops with dazzling dextrous audacity. Every trill on the keyboard, every splash on the cymbal and every rumble of (bass) guitar is planned with precision by this trio. This is baroque progressive rock of serious calibre and if that floats your boat you will be off over the horizon with this one.

Like a lot of Italian prog, it is sung (unsurprisingly) in Italian and I am going to 'fess up now and admit I don't know any Italian except 'please', 'thank you' and 'Juventus'. Therefore I am unable to state whether the lyrical content is of the witty, palindromic narrative sort delivered with such relish by the likes of Peter Gabriel on 'Foxtrot' nor whether its is more plaintive 'I love you baby, why did you leave with the guy next door with the fast car?' I can however assure you, the listener, that it is vocalising of a good standard and has an edge that would indicate to me that they are rockers at heart. This is further compounded by the outrageous Jon Lord-isms on third track in 'Cemento Armato' which definitely wouldn't be out of place on Purple's smash long player 'Machine Head'.

However, like all great prog, Le Orme are a band of many moods and 'Era Inverno' is one of those lovely slow-burn folky prog tunes, which may well be my favourite on the record with its chiming guitar and very tasteful keyboard counterpoints . In fact, it is, so there. The mystery of not knowing what the guy is singing (but knowing he means it whatever it may be) is part of the charm of listening to artifacts such as this.

'Evasion Totale' opens with some nice reverb / echo effects, until the keyboards snake out under cover of cymbal washes, (not unlike early Floyd), before breaking out further with a some bossa-drums and a light touch, slow and deliberate keyboard exploration. Then in typical prog fashion we have some very interesting noodling on the keys with some sympathetic drumming and more echo chamber lunacy before a final denouement section that takes us up a staircase to nowhere. Very intriguing and very prog. Hey! Maybe this is my favourite 'song' on the record!

As we head towards the exit door we have the extraordinary 'Immagini' which could easily make it onto one of those library music compilations with its inexplicable direct steal from Dick Dale in its first section before delving safely back into the more recognisable landscape of keyboard led, Hammond spinning cabinet chordage and heavily compressed very sincerely delivered vocals. This has the potential to sound like an unholy mess but really its pretty great and highly entertaining.

Now, I am guessing given the smorgasbord of sounds angled for on this tune that 'Immagini' is Italian for imagination. But don't shoot me if I'm wrong. Whatever, it's a great song and Le Orme are doing their best to give Italian prog a good name with this one and indeed with all of the songs on 'Collage'. If prog is your bag, especially that unique brand of daredevil prog that eschews any semblance of taste to pursue a vision of artistic purity, then Le Orme will not disappoint.

We end, as all good prog records do, with an uplifting consideration of mortality (with very tasteful piano and organ playing) in a final trapeze-act called "Morte di un Fiore" ('death in the fire', maybe?), which has a brass section on it. Just in case you wondered where a horn section had been hiding the rest of the record. Marvellous.

So there you have it. Le Orme. They have their shirts off on the sleeve and the main man is holding a coat-stand in a very meaningful way. And they all have talcum powder on their faces. They are prog and proud. And these days so am I. Get acquainted.

New vinyl reissue available here (UK/EU), or here (US).

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