Labirinto d'Acqua was a spectacular debut for Yugen, and yet Uova Fatali (Fatal Eggs), the Italian avant prog ensemble's second AltrOck release, improves upon it. The music was written by mandolinist Tommaso Leddi, who 30 years previously was a member of Stormy Six, a founding group in the Rock in Opposition collective on the avant-garde fringe of European progressive rock. Stormy Six began in the '60s as a leftist folk-rock band and it would take until 1977's L'Apprendista LP -- prominently featuring Leddi playing complex, angular counterpoint on violin and mandolin on tracks like "Il Barbiere" -- to adopt what might be deemed an "RIO sound," which now informs Uova Fatali three decades later. Despite a core ensemble of nine members plus several guests, wildly diverse instrumentation -- including keyboards, clarinets, soprano saxophone, mandolin, electric guitar, Mellotron, glockenspiel, violin, bodhran, oboe, flute, drums, and percussion -- and intricate scoring throughout, there is a lightness and effervescence to the entire project. Here Uova Fatali improves upon Labirinto d'Acqua, in which the group occasionally flirted with the impulse to become ELP. The chamber music and prog rock interludes of Labirinto d'Acqua were also sometimes separated in a way that suggested different bands sharing the same stage, but on Uova Fatali there is a more unified approach.
A highlight is the eight-plus-minute "Colonia," one of the disc's most consistently grooving -- or at least pulsing -- compositions; the myriad themes and interplay between some of the disc's most overtly "jazz-rock"-flavored instrumentation might suggest that side of the Quebec musique actuelle scene represented by the likes of Conventum, Miriodor, and guitarist Bernard Falaise on his album Clic, but here leavened by Mediterranean flavors and textures. "Abisso" breaks into fragments, with various instrumental groupings vying for attention, but always with enough space to cast the bursts of music into bold relief. "Campo" navigates through folky waltz miniatures with accordion, the double-reed piffero, and a bit of en masse background group vocalizing to keep the stuffed-shirt academics at bay. "Matterello" is a snappy, rocking number, half Zappa and half chamber music, followed by a lovely, understated, but occasionally spiky and unsettling trio of piano, clarinet, and violin on "Piani." After a twisted, rocking intro, the lovely "Sviluppi" settles into calmer waters, again prominently featuring piano, clarinet, and violin -- but the piece gathers momentum and even drama with the addition of electric instrumentation and a definite Miriodor-esque compositional flair.
The five-part title suite -- apparently referencing a provocative Russian satirical sci-fi novel of the 1920s -- at times verges on pure comedy in its comparatively brief fragmented instrumental conversations, with a heavy metal guitar and chunky rhythm appearing out of nowhere during the third section, and the six-plus-minute final track, "Complicazioni," builds beautifully -- even lyrically and melodically -- to a satisfying conclusion. Actually, the opening "Escher" is a perfect introduction to the joys heard throughout the album; it begins deceptively simply, with the band playing understated folkish themes highlighted by brief piano interludes until the ensemble suddenly drops away, leaving behind drums and a lowdown electric keyboard to navigate a crazy stop-start unison line before the notes tumble out in a flurry and the rest of the group reenters back in Italo-folkish territory. The two seemingly disparate parts of rhythm and theme somehow integrate as the piece progresses, like halves of a previously disconnected brain forming new synapses and learning to communicate as a single entity. Yet for all the seriousness of intent such a description might imply, "Escher" suggests not only the "impossible realities" of M.C. Escher, but the warm appeal of the Italian countryside the Dutch artist loved so much. Throughout Uova Fatali, Yugen prove that "knotty" and "breezy" can be part of a single -- and highly appealing -- musical equation.