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Italian avant-prog ensemble Yugen came together at the end of 2004 under the impetus of guitarist Francesco Zago and music festival organizer and AltrOck label head Marcello Marinone. Zago envisioned a group uniting prog rock and chamber music elements, and began writing compositions for Yugen, whose membership by early 2005 included, in addition to Zago, keyboardist Paolo Botta, reed players Markus Stauss and Peter Schmid, and bassist Stephan Brunner. As the year progressed, Zago continued to write additional music, and the band's lineup expanded to include the diverse instrumentation required to realize the guitarist's vision: Massimo Mazza on vibraphone, marimba, and glockenspiel; multi-instrumentalist (everything from harpsichord to shakuhachi to theremin) Giuseppe Olivini; pianist Maurizio Fasoli; violinist Elia Mariani; and clarinetist Marco Sorge. By the time Yugen commenced the recording of their first album, Labirinto d'Acqua (Water Maze), in June 2005, the lineup also included drummer Mattia Signò; noted avant-prog drummer Dave Kerman (Thinking Plague, 5uu's, Ahvak, Present); and -- on mandolin -- Tommaso Leddi, a member of Stormy Six, one of the original bands that participated in the Rock in Opposition collective during the late '70s. Labirinto d'Acqua was recorded between June 2005 and January 2006, and ultimately featured a total of 14 musicians -- not all playing together on every track, it should be noted. The album was mixed and mastered by Udi Koomran at Ginger Studio in Tel Aviv, Israel, and saw release in late 2006 as the first album on Marinone's AltrOck label. Two years later, Yugen's second CD, Yugen Plays Leddi: Uova Fatali, was issued as the fifth AltrOck release; entirely comprised of Tommaso Leddi compositions, the album made an even more explicit connection between Yugen and the RIO sound that had first emerged 30 years previously. In addition to Leddi on mandolin and Zago on guitar, a number of other musicians heard on Labirinto d'Acqua also returned for Uova Fatali, including keyboardist Botta, pianist Fasoli, violinist Mariani, multi-instrumentalist Olivini (here heard on percussion and glockenspiel), and drummer Signò. This edition of Yugen also included keyboardist Pietro Cavedon and reedist Valerio Cipollone, and a number of guest musicians also participated. In September 2010 the third Yugen album on AltrOck, Iridule, was released -- the ambitious recording featured the participation of 19 musicians in total, including (in addition to such usual Yugen suspects as Zago, Botta, Fasoli, Cipollone, Mariani, Schmid, and Stauss) a number of musicians who might be seen as keeping elements of an RIO style alive in the faraway western U.S.A.: guitarist Mike Johnson, bassist Dave Willey, and vocalist Elaine diFalco, all of whom have been affiliated with Colorado avant-prog group Thinking Plague. Also present on the recording are drummer Kerman and mandolinist Leddi on two tracks each, and former Univers Zero bassist Guy Segers is featured on one. Other participating musicians include Simone Beneventi (a replacement for Massimo Mazza) on vibraphone, marimba, and glockenspiel; Giacomo Cella on bassoon; Enrica Di Bastiano on harp; Michele Epifani on harpsichord; and Alberto Roveroni on drums. The AltrOck label's batch of September 2010 releases also included another album on which Yugen appeared: A_Live by a 21st century version of Picchio dal Pozzo, an Italian group that began in the mid-'70s playing in a style heavily influenced by the British Canterbury scene before moving in an RIO direction. A_Live was recorded live at the 2008 AltrOck festival in Milan, and features a quartet version of Picchio dal Pozzo (including original members Aldo De Scalzi and Paolo Griguolo) with support from Yugenites Zago, Botta, Cavedon, Cipollone, and Signò. In September 2011 a septet version of Yugen (Zago, Botta, Cipollone, and Fasoli along with Jacopo Costa on marimba and vibraphone, Matteo Lorito on bass, and Michele Salgarello on drums) performed at the Rock in Opposition festival in Carmaux, France; the set was documented on the album Mirrors, released by AltrOck late the following year. Mirrors featured Yugen repertoire penned by Zago and largely derived from the Labirinto d'Acqua and Iridule albums -- with new arrangements reflecting the seven-piece lineup and live setting -- along with a version of "Industry" from the 1979 album Western Culture by Henry Cow, an appropriate inclusion given Henry Cow's status as founding members of the original RIO collective. Mirrors proved that even with a comparatively small lineup and relatively short rehearsal time, in concert Yugen could duplicate -- and indeed build upon -- their studio-recorded material with power, precision, and virtuosity. ~ Dave Lynch

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