Il Balleto di Bronzo - YsIl Balleto di Bronzo's Ys is an unequivocal classic, and stands as one of the very best albums out of Italy, and perhaps among the finest examples of dark, heavy progressive. However, newbies to the Italian scene might want to approach this one with caution, since it can be tougher to get into than some of the other popular Italian works. This was one of the first Italian albums I got, and I was frankly unprepared for it. The pyrotechnic keyboards, thundering rhythms, the angular, punishing guitars and the abrasive vocals made for a work that I found initially dense and unrewarding. For an album that many have hailed as the best progressive rock album of all time, I was a little disappointed. Of course, I've come around by now, and certainly hold this album in high regard as one of the jewels of Italian prog, but that personal anecdote should serve as a caveat for those expecting to be blown away immediately, especially if not particularly predisposed towards the more dissonant branches of progressive rock.
Still, Ys is a complete monster. The music on here is thundering, cacophonous and simply unrelenting in its sheer, brute force. This also stands as one of the best keyboard-based albums of all time; Gianni Leone employs the full range of classic keys, from Hammond, Moog and Mellotron to piano and harpsichord, pitting them in savage, fiery duels that will absolutely tear your head off. These are contrasted against violent guitar riffs and surging basslines, making for a chaotic, mindbendingly complex ride. The music is punctuated by Leone's caterwauling operatic vocals, which are perhaps the toughest part of the album to get into, but are eventually endearing and nothing if not emotional. Take "Introduzione", an absolute beast of a cut that builds from volcanic climax to climax, as Hammonds and Moog duel it out for supremacy. Take the opening riff of "Epilogo," with its brilliant arpeggiated theme that simply bursts at the seams with intensity. The entire album is a series of mindblowing passages, with few spots of respite to be found. An indispensable Italian classic, without a doubt.
Greg Northrup [September 2001]
Il Balletto di Bronzo
The first nucleus of Il Balletto di Bronzo formed in Naples at the end of the sixties, with a hard-rock band called Battitori Selvaggi. The name was almost immediately changed to Il Balletto di Bronzo. This incarnation of the band was a quartet, with vocalist/guitarist Marco Cecioni, bassist Miky Cupaiolo, drummer Gianchi Stinga, and guitarist Lino Aiello. Their first single was cut in 1969, with their debut full-length LP Sirio 2222 seeing release the following year on the major label RCA Italia. Sirio 2222 is a Hendrix-esque psychedelic hard rock record, but sows the seeds of future progressive explorations, especially in the nine-minute-plus album closer "Missione Sirio 2222".
In 1971 Cecioni and Cupaiolo left the band. Bassist Vito Manzari and multi-keyboardist/vocalist/composer Gianni Leone, formerly of Citta Frontale, joined Aiello and Stinga. The addition of a classically trained keyboardist and composer opened up new avenues in the sound of Il Balletto di Bronzo. This new lineup's first record, Ys, was released in 1972 on Polydor. The beautifully dark Ys is widely considered by progressive rock connoisseurs to be one of the best albums to come out of the 70s Italian scene, perhaps even out of the whole progressive genre. Ys contains intense high-energy music with some jazz and classical influences, dominated by Hammond Organ, Mini-Moog and guitar, with strident, passionate Italian-langauge vocals, and complex and sometimes dissonant instrumental passages. Pastoral Mellotron-laden parts occasionally break the frenetic pace as a counterfoil. The music is somewhat reminiscent of ELP, with its fast-paced keyboard and piano leads, but the dark diminished-chord intensity is more similar to the Fripp/Wetton/Bruford era of King Crimson. The lyrics and music have been both mistakenly credited to Nora Mazzochi; in actuality Leone composed all of the music.
In 1973 the group released their last single on Polydor, "La Tua Casa Comoda", a warmer song when compared to the brooding intensity of Ys. (This single appears on the present-day Polydor reissue of Ys as a bonus track.) Following this last small burst of recording, the members of Il Balletto di Bronzo went their separate ways, with some moving to Sweden and leaving the musical realm entirely. Gianni Leone relocated to the US and recorded two solo albums for EMI under the stage name Leo Nero: Vero in 1977 and Monitor in 1981. He also served as a producer for other projects.
The return of interest in progressive rock in the 90s brought renewed interest in Il Balletto di Bronzo. In 1992, the Italy-based Mellow Records released a 15-minute mini-CD which contained English versions of two tracks from Ys, "Introduzione" and "Secondo Incontro". In September 1996, Leone reconstituted Il Bronzo di Balletto for a live performance at the Progressivamente Rock Festival in Rome, with Ugo Vantini on drums and Romolo Amici on bass. The trio performed Ys in its entirety, songs from Vero and Monitor, and a couple of improvisational jams. This concert was released in 1999 by Mellow as Trys (from trio + Ys). While Leone is the only member from the Ys-era band, albeit the most crucial, the new players handle the material exceptionally well. Leone is in fine form on keyboards, singing as well as he did in 1972. Leone has recently brought two younger musicians, drummer Riccardo Spilli and bassist Alessandro Corsi, into Il Balletto di Bronzo to revitalize its sound and record new material in the progressive tradition of Ys.
Discography (full albums only):
Most of the material for this biography was taken with permission from the web site of Ted White, who used Barotto's book The Return of Italian Pop for his source material. White's Dr. Progresso web site is at: www.holeintheweb.com/drp/Dr.P1.htm
Rob La Duca
(originally published in the NEARFest 2000 Program Guide, edited for Gnosis 11/3/01)
|Sjef Oellers||3-July-2001||Sirio 2222|
On their first album, Sirio 2222, Il Balletto di Bronzo were obviously influenced by English and American bands such as Jimi Hendrix, Beatles, Led Zeppelin and The Yardbirds. "Un posto" and "Girotondo" are nice Hendrixy rock tracks centered around a simple, but effective guitar riff. "Eh eh ah ah" starts like a nice mellow ballad, but gets into a Canned Heat type blues rock groove about halfway. A surprising track is "Meditazione" featuring orchestral arrangements; it is a more typical symphonic progressive track with elements of The Moody Blues, The Beatles and possibly Barclay James Harvest. Most tracks are short (between 2 and 4 minutes), except for the 7 minute "Incantesimo" which sounds not unlike Humble Pie and "Missione Sirio 2222," lasting almost ten minutes. "Missione Sirio 2222" contains droning psychedelic rock with whirling guitars and a heavy pounding drum sound, sandwiched between an acoustic intro and outro. Evidently incomparable to their masterpiece Ys, Sirio 2222 is nevertheless a good rock album with a clever mix of ballads and fairly heavy rock tracks. An Italian group with a similar sound would be Osage Tribe. Anyone looking for a proto-version of the Ys album will probably be disappointed by this album.
Ys is the second album by Il Balletto di Bronzo and rightly regarded as their best album. Ys features relentless, high intensity music with great spacey guitar and keyboard soloing. The unrelenting intensity on Ys reminds me of Banco's Darwin or the heavier parts of Semiramis. For the organ playing, imagine something like a psychedelic (instead of classical) influenced ELP-ish style. The guitar is also more on the psychedelic side of things. Still the album as a whole sounds very much like a progressive rock album. A very rough comparison would be Iron Butterfly playing a much more sophisticated and fierce In-a-gadda-da-vida [Note that this comparison doesn't do justice to Il Balletto di Bronzo, but it should give some idea what to expect]. The fairly harsh vocals may deter some people, but I think that they fit excellently with the music. A dark and brooding piece of work, possibly being the best album in the twilight zone of psychedelic and progressive rock that I have heard so far. A classic album, but prepare for an assault on your senses.
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