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Album Review

The "Canterbury" musical style is uniquely wedded to a time and place — late-'60s to mid-'70s England for the most part — and so groups from other times and places that may be influenced by the Canterbury sound are usually described in just that way: "Canterbury-influenced" rather than real Canterbury. Well, with the arrival of 4th by the Italian quartet D.F.A., maybe it's time to consider that real Canterbury music can be played anytime, anyplace. For this album nails the most adventurous aspects of the Canterbury sound — particularly that of Canterbury supergroup Hatfield and the North circa 1975's The Rotters' Club — so completely and expertly that it's nearly impossible to view the album as a mere tribute or knockoff. And not a ripoff, either — 4th is too fabulous to describe with such a pejorative. On the lengthy instrumentals here (and instrumentals dominate), keyboardist Alberto Bonomi, guitarist Silvio Minella, drummer Alberto De Grandis, and bassist Luca Baldassari unite in melodic statements that are knotty and angular enough to hold surprises for the listener while never sacrificing flow and momentum. The musicians plunge into intricate long-form compositions, such as the opening 14-plus-minute "Baltasaurus," that twist and turn and keep the changeups coming one after the other. With a solo burst here, a unison line there, counterpoint snippets, thematic reiterations, and dynamic advances and retreats, this is music to get lost in for anyone so inclined, and is also utterly absent aimless noodling or a lack of direction, thanks to so much of it being so thoroughly composed.

Bonomi alternately recalls Dave Stewart on the Fender Rhodes, Alan Gowen on synths, and — to cite a more current reference — the muscular yet nimble Hammond voicings of Tomohiro Ueno from Japan's Pochakaite Malko, while also interjecting some lovely, spacy Jimmy Hastings-style flute here and there. Meanwhile, Minella is clearly enamored of Phil Miller's sustained guitar tone, and drummer De Grandis (also principal composer throughout) and Baldassari form a powerful, tight yet fluid rhythm section. This music is not designed for the typical youthful listener of early-21st century post-grunge indie/alternative rock, and those constitutionally disinclined to "prog rock" would no doubt find something not to like here. Truth be told, one does wonder why so many proggers, D.F.A. included, seem enamored of words like "Dreaming melody/Rising from the sea/You dive/And float my soul to the sky." But in the case of 4th the vocals really are few and far between, and De Grandis' singing of the aforementioned lyrics on "The Mirror" is soon replaced by some of his jazzy wordless harmony vocals later in the track. Also consider the engaging vocals delivered by the trio of female singers from the Sardinian world-folk group Andhira on the closing ballad "La Ballata de S'Isposa 'e Mannorri," which recalls a real tragedy in the island's past. In this context, the three singers sound a bit like the Northettes mixed with the timbral qualities of a late-'70s/early-'80s Mike Oldfield vocal chant. As on the intro to "Mosoq Runa" midway through the album, cellist Zoltan Szabo and violinist/violist Maria Vicentini add a chamberesque quality to "La Ballata"'s conclusion, which ends the disc on a beautifully understated note. On balance, then, 4th's shortcomings seem so slight that one is inclined to greet the album with unabashed enthusiasm. For anyone waiting well past 30 years for a worthy successor to The Rotters' Club, here it is.


Formed: 1991

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '90s, '00s

The music of Italian progressive rock band D.F.A. became increasingly complex in the years following the group's formation. While their early repertoire, composed by drummer/vocalist Alberto DeGrandis, inspired comparisons to British space rock bands, including Gentle Giant and Pink Floyd, their later material was enlivened by polyrhythms, cascading chord progressions, and jazz influences. Formed in Verona, Italy as a trio featuring DeGrandis, bassist Luca Baldassari, and keyboard player Roberto...
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4Th, D.F.A.
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