La Coscienza di Zeno

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Sensitivita Review

by Dave Lynch

The 2013 sophomore album and Fading Records/AltrOck label debut by these Genoa, Italy-based prog rockers harks back to a bygone era when singers vied for attention with swooping synthesizers and keyboard choirs. La Coscienza di Zeno, who derive their name from the title of Italo Svevo's 1923 psychoanalytic novel, build their music on a foundation of '70s Italian and British prog, sometimes bombastic, occasionally scaled to a more intimate level. Sensitivitá's leadoff track, "La Città di Dite," commences with a flourish as unaccompanied pianist Luca Scherani displays his skills with arpeggiated chordal ornamentation. The full band suddenly slams in with a full-on onslaught of glissando synth, dramatic guitar, and chordal keyboards, and bass-and-drum pummel leading to the entry of Alessio Calandriello's strong tenor vocal, rising powerfully through the mix to deliver the Italian-language lyrics penned by synthesizer player Stefano Agnini (merely one keyboardist would never be sufficient for a group like La Coscienza di Zeno, and engineer Rossano Villa even adds some Mellotron to boot). Davide Serpico's guitar introduces thick metallic crunch and is soon arching skyward with single-note sustain over a bed of symphonic keys, but a dynamic retreat leaves Agnini's high synth quaver setting a gentler mood over Scherani's piano and Gabriele Guidi Colombi's bass. Calandriello reenters with a more intimate croon, soon rising in passion as the strings swell around him and drummer Andrea Orlando kicks into a power ballad beat, momentarily abandoned in a feint toward the pure sounds of celestial keys and choir before resuming the deliberate tempo as the full band takes it all out in a surge of orchestral drama.

Sensitivitá's 12-and-a-half-minute title track again features a heartfelt Calandriello throwing every ounce of emotion into his performance, while the instrumental interludes hint at sequencer-tinged electronic prog, embellish one buildup with strings from guests violinist Sylvia Trabucco and cellist Melissa Del Lucchese, and even briefly flirt with jazzy piano harmonics. But whatever shifts in arrangements, tempi, or dynamics La Coscienza di Zeno may bring here and throughout much of the album, the band usually shifts into midtempo ballad mode whenever Calandriello begins singing. Of course, listeners without Italian-language skills are at a disadvantage, not comprehending what Calandriello is emoting about, and can only guess as to whether the lyrics are worthy of delivery with such passion. Calandriello does bring attractive qualities and considerable dynamic range to his vocal performances -- low-key and nuanced on "Tenue" and covering all the bases from intimate to powerfully clear to appealingly textured during the final two multifaceted highlight tracks, "Pauvre Misère" (with beautiful string work from Trabucco and Del Lucchese on a memorable concluding chorus and instrumental coda) and the ten-plus-minute opus finale "La Temperanza." The latter begins with a lovely chamber music arrangement featuring the string players and flutist Joanne Roan, and later effectively integrates Calandriello into varied compositional twists and turns while -- perhaps inevitably -- returning to proggy power ballad territory in its second half.

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