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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

DFA

Work In Progress Live

Review by Steve Alspach

One of the criticisms of fusion jazz was that it was little more than a forum for players to show off their ability to play 256th notes as fast as possible. While the Italian progressive-fusion band DFA can be considered a fusion jazz-rock combo, they proved without a doubt that you don't need lightning solos to impress the audience. The group made its American debut at NearFest 2000, and what a debut it was! For one hour this band treated the audience to frequent flashes of brilliance as it seemed to blend influences from a wide range of progressive music acts, but the band always sounded original and never derivative. The soloing is never overdone, always melodic and the band is content to function as a well-oiled unit rather than four musicians fighting for center stage. This CD does a top-notch job of capturing the band's performance that afternoon. The personnel is Silvio Minella, guitars; Luca Baldassari, bass; Alberto De Grandis, drums and vocals; and Alberto Bonomi, keyboards and vocals.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2002 Year Book Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Escher
Like an M.C. Escher print, the interplay between guitar and keyboards often displays a seamless counterpoint, constantly in play back and forth with each other, and often obscuring simple rhythmic patterns in the first several minutes. Solos are quite restrained, allowing for the band to function as a whole rather than to have someone step out in the spotlight.
Caleidoscopio
The first part of this song is reminiscent of the work of Happy the Man with its gentle, dreamlike arrangement of guitar and keyboards. This is one of two songs on the album with vocals sung in Italian. The band then explores different moods, breaking into rocking sections, jazzy 6/4 explorations, and a relaxing coda.
Trip on MetrĂ²
Gentle Giant intricacies duel with chordal blasts in the intro. DFA go into some exploratory grooves with Minella playing some tasteful lead lines. The band then merges the Gentle Giant patterns with its harder edge before falling into a free-form ending.
La Via
The song starts gently with legato synthesizer while the bass plays a sultry pattern. With this opening, and with the vocals, one might think that this might be a quiet, peaceful number. The band then go into a rocking 4/4 section where Minella's guitar lines sound a bit like Larry Carlton from his Steely Dan days. DFA then turn the heat up a notch before abruptly going into a slow, dark movement. This section builds with De Grandis' cymbal work before going into a jazzy section. The composition then goes back to the first movement before ending in a Minella solo over a 7/4/4 bar pattern.
Pantera
An amazingly complex 5/4 rhythmic pattern emerges in this song. Bonomi pulls off a rather jazzy solo on piano while the others lurk in the background playing the 5/4 riff. He gets a synthesizer solo as well (hey, he wrote the song, so why not?).
Ragno
There are tinges of Return to Forever on this tune as the band rides a syncopated riff for the first part of this track. De Grandis' drumming here is lively and inventive and keeps the song moving. The song then goes to a slow section, almost as a bit of musical relief from the first section, but they again cut loose. De Grandis almost steals the show here with his stick work - always locked in, funky at times, jazzy in others, and with an innate sense of when to hold back.
 
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