Some will be aware of the long running partnership between the Finland’s Colossus Project and French label/distributor Musea Records. The fruits of this joining have produced an impressive twenty-plus back-catalogue of ‘compilation’ releases dating back over a decade and a half. The format has altered somewhat over the years, but in essence the varied projects bring together bands and musicians, from across the globe, to offer interpretations from a given theme. Across the years there have been album collections with such subject matters as The Spaghetti Movies, The Seven Samurai, Dante’s Divine Comedy, The Stories of H.P. Lovecraft, The Tales of Edgar Allan Poe and, as is the case here, the second instalment based on The Decameron writings of the 14th-century Italian author Giovanni Boccaccio.
As the album title implies, the book itself contains one hundred tales – this is told by a group of ten young people who are hiding in an isolated villa just outside Florence in Italy to escape the Black Death, circa 1346–53. Given the storyline the music within this box set steers clear, for the most part, of too graphically portraying the horrors of the subject matter and remains fairly upbeat.
Decameron – Ten Days In 100 Novellas – Part II was released about a year ago and I’ve been on with this review for some time now, but with over four hours of music from thirty artists/bands, this has been a colossal (pardon the pun) feat. So this album has been played many times, but never in one sitting and over many months. Now the difficult task of trying to do some justice to the many bands who have contributed.
CD 1: opens with Robert Webb’s Intro, also titled as Limoncello, which those who purchased the The Samurai Of Prog’s excellent The Imperial Hotel will be familiar with. A subtly different arrangement to the one that appears on The Imperial Hotel, but as remarked upon earlier gets the album off to a bright and breezy start. Catchy keyboard lines and Yes-like harmonies give the notion that this Black Death malarkey was a fairly jolly event. Argentina’s Nexus sail in with The Ship and tack us more towards Trilogy era Emerson Lake & Palmer with the emphasis on Hammond-esque organ, piano and Mellotron thrown in for good measure.
Russia’s Serdimontana offer us the upbeat, psychedelically tinged Legend. A solid, driving affair, with wordless vocals and a neat twist coming from the harmonica. This is followed by a familiar band to these Colossus/Musea projects, Argentina’s Jinetes Negros bringing more of a Latin theme with Fatales Rastros. The orchestrated keyboard intro leads to the first track with vocals, invoking the progressive sounds of the early Italian masters. A great track, as is Mogon’s Mr Toad, albeit in a folkier vein, with a more late ’60s vibe. Written by Johnny Unicorn and Phideaux Xavier the first part of the track follows an infectious verse chorus formula, cutting away to a more playful and rather excellent Tullian mid-section, before returning to the chorus hookline.
Initially Willowglass continue with a sense of what has just happened, but err more into Neo territory. There’s still some Tull influences, courtesy of Steve Unruh – who also adds violin to The Salvestra Tear. Not entirely sure what to make of Intarsia’s Fourth Day/Ninth Tale – Cuore Strappato. From the piano opening through the symphonic string washes the track starts promisingly, but the new-wave riffing guitar that precursors the vocals seemed a tad out of place. An Italian band that conjure up their native prog masters, as well as Fish era Marillion, perhaps just a little over ambitious and at ten minutes plus, a bit too long. Disc one concludes with Oceanic Legion’s The Sleeping Lover. With Steve Unruh on vocals (as well as flute and violin), bassist Marco Bernard and the dynamic Kimmo Porsti on drums there are inevitable references to The Samurai Of Prog. Not that that’s a bad thing…
The first lap…
CD 2: By way of continuity the second disc opens with The Samurai Of Prog. A different beast to the disc one closing track and initially adds a medieval flavouring. The harp like keyboards, bassoon and crumhorn-esque phrasings bring an “at court” sense to the proceedings, as does the initial vocal arrangement. The track builds into a real prog classic – as those who have the band’s Secrets of Disguise (2013) album will already know.
I have to say, disc two is the pick of the four CDs in this collection and perhaps due to the gentler, folky nature of many of the tracks. The CD’s longest track and a real standout is Steve Unruh’s Carapresa’s Tale. Certainly Steve is a guy who deserves more recognition. His spritely fourteen minute Day Five/Second Tale flies by as Steve treats us to a fine display of guitar, flute and violin. Fans of the folkier Tull and an early version of Molly Bloom will find much to enjoy. Equally delightful is Canadian quartet Ars Ephemera, who display a playful and absorbing brand of acoustic prog. At times I was mindful of a less spiky version of Belgium’s Aranis as well as the acoustic version of Asturias from Japan.
Day Five/Fourth Tale from Italy’s The Rome Prog(j)ect firmly lies in Hackett era Genesis, be it the familiar opening melody, the swelling guitar lines, Moog synths, evocative flute from David Jackson, or the gargantuan strings and bass pedals. And we remain in Italy for Orchestra D’Oblio’s Neifil. No less absorbing and varied, but boasting a different dynamic with the introduction of Giacomo Petrucci’s fluid sax presenting a more jazzy vibe, erring towards early King Crimson territory. The nylon guitar intro to Damsel’s Love And King’s Wrath from Germany’s Kings Of The Agokik is somewhat misleading, after which Hans Jorg Schmitz, the man behind the Kings, takes us on an intriguing power instrumental.
Italians Marchesi Scamorza offer up a bouncy, ear friendly brand of prog. Sung in their native tongue, La storia di Teodare l’Arrmeno prima schiavo poi liberto d’amore, to give it its full title, comes across as a fun mixture of Wishbone Ash and a lightweight Uriah Heep. And finally for this disc we remain in Italy for the pastoral, classical and delightful Nastagio Degli Onesti from Playing The History. From the initial Mellotron (M400) opening, the track is centred around the grand piano, with additional keyboard sounds and bass guitar for colour. John Hackett adds some dreamy flute as the final touch. A fine conclusion to disc two.
The halfway mark…
CD 3: Spain is represented by Senogul’s Day Five/Ninth Tale – a bright and breezy track that combines prog, world-music and jazz fusion in equal measures. The impressive line-up includes, along with a full band, both tuned and hand percussion, multiple voices, flutes and a brass section. Impressive stuff. In contrast the rippling piano, keyboards and Moog-esque synth of Italian’s Camelias Garden bring a ’80s era Neo prog to the plate. A catchy piece, that rather oddly stops half way through for a narrative section before returning to the infectious tune. The in vogue Rhys Marsh turns in one of the album’s shorter tracks – the riffy The Tales That You Tell mixes that blends heavier guitars with Mellotron releases. Perhaps in keeping with Boccaccio’s tale, but it did seem a tad out of place on the album.
The Italians return for Day 6 Tale 2 and Narrow Pass bring us the standout track from disc three. Nicely intermingling medieval moods with progressive workouts. The selection of relatively authentic instruments from both periods is the key to this great track. Solo performer Mauro Mulas performs the third tale from day six and employs a whole gamut of keyboards – pianos, Hammond, MiniMoog and Mellotron/drum samples. The track may have been conceived in several movements (this is not indicated), however as the track changes mood several times, and sometimes abruptly, it did come across more as a ‘taster sample’ rather than a cohesive piece.
La Bocca della Verità kick off with something that might have come from Fish era Marillion, complete with gentle Rothery picked guitar, before launching into a heavy, bastardized guitar riff that spoke “Money” to these ears. Chichibio is an engaging track that will appeal to many, aided by Fabrizio Marziani’s catchy vocal, and Faveravola’s Marco Boetto also turns in an impassioned vocal for Fifth Tale, accompanied by a variety instruments – Hammonds and guitar but notably Renato Bettlello on flute.
Dutch prog three piece Trion take things down with the gentle ear friendly Xindia. In stark contrast La Théorie des Cordes’ Day Six/Seventh Tale is initially discordant and spiky before swapping between the avant garde and jazz friendly. Perhaps a little misplaced in this set, but certainly a highlight. As there’s no way of outstripping the previous track – disc three concludes with another hook laden song, Believe, Grow from Jaime Rosas & Rodrigo Godoy.
The final furlong…
Opening CD 4 will be one of the more familiar names to many, the now sadly defunct Australian band Unitopia, who contribute the epic twenty minute Day Six/Ninth Tale. Those familiar with the band will instantly recognise their story telling style encompassed in finely crafted mesh of music and strong vocal delivery. Whereas Italy’s Piccolo Zoo offer us a 70s infused prog affair, with Hammonds, Moog synth lines, riffing guitars, lush strings and a male/female vocal dialogue. Instrumentally the track works well although the vocal conversation is not so effective.
Musically Richard Wileman’s Karda Estra combine pop song sensibilities with creative keyboard instrumental sections, whilst utilising medieval timbres and wordless voices in the pleasantly meandering Day Seven/First Tale. A fascinating track and along with Yagull’s brief P’s Ways, the second tale from day seven, are a sheer delight. Blues tinged, with intertwining acoustic guitars – P’s Ways is a lovely interlude. Combined with The Wanton Subtlety Of Monna Tessa this ten minutes worth of music is definitely a high point form the collection.
A couple of oddball tracks follow. Firstly Norway’s D’Accord’s Seven/Third Tale (The Rock & Roll Missionary) pastiche, which encompasses psychedelic era The Beatles mixed with the extravagance of ’70s Mott The Hoople and hints of early Queen, whereas Ozone Player’s Day Seven/Fourth Tale (The Well) is totally left-field. The most lyrically dense track and combining a bizarre potpourri of Am-Dram narrative, burlesque music hall – amongst some clever musical interludes. In a different context this may well work, but here it just seemed anachronistic.
Floating textures combined with psychedelic pop sensibilities represent Canadian’s The Rebel Wheel’s contribution and return the album onto a more even keel. Tommy Eriksson & The Heartwall Band on the other hand bring us firmly into prog territory with its fiery guitar and flashy keyboards – conjuring thoughts of Keith Emerson’s Three Fates Project. Decameron – Ten Days In 100 Novellas – Part II concludes as it started with former England keys man Robert Webb plying the Outro (Ode To Good Sex: The Ladies Valley). The nicely orchestrated keyboards laying a tranquil setting for Jenny Darren’s impressive vocal performance, before Robert and the Samurai of Prog boys take us through a truly proggy mid-section and Jenny closes the performance.
Crossing the finishing line…
You have to admire the sheer scale of this undertaking and given the subject matter this could have been a fairly weighty affair. Credit to all involved and some careful thought as to the order in which the songs appear, the box-set works rather well. At a little over four hours there are bound to be some peaks and troughs, but on the whole, this is a bold and for the most part a winning collection of music. Certainly there’s some bands here I need to investigate further…
The sumptuous 80 page booklet, illustrated by renowned graphic artist Ed Unitsky, proves to be the icing on a rather large cake.
CD 1: Running Time: 61:16
01. Robert Webb – Intro | Limoncello (8:07)
02. Nexus – Day Four/Fourth Tale | Tall Ship (6:29)
03. Serdimontana – Day Four/Fifth Tale | Legend (5:10)
04. Jinetes Negros – Day Four/Sixth Tale | Fatales Rastros (6:16)
05. Mogon – Day Four/Seventh Tale | Mr Toad (8:21)
06. Willowglass – Day Four/Eighth Tale | The Salvestra Tear (7:51)
07. Intarsia – Day Four/Ninth Tale | Cuore Strappato (10:29)
08. Oceanic Legion – Day Four/Tenth Tale | The Sleeping Lover (8:32)
CD 2: Running Time: 66:01
01. The Samurai Of Prog – Day Five/First Tale | Sweet Iphigenia (7:33)
02. Steve Unruh – Day Five/Second Tale | Carapresa’s Tale (14:35)
03. Ars Ephemera – Day Five/Third Tale | Lost & Found (9:28)
04. The Rome Prog(j)ect – Day Five/Fourth Tale (5:05)
05. Orchestra D’oblio – Day Five/Fifth Tale | Neifile (6:12)
06. King Of Agogik – Day Five/Sixth Tale | Damsel’s Love And King’s Wrath (8:15)
07. Marchesi Scamorza – Day Five/Seventh Tale | La Storia di Teodare l’Arrmeno… (6:06)
08. Playing The History – Day Five/Eighth Tale | Nastagio Degli Onesti (8:48)
CD 3: Running Time: 71:59
01. Senogul – Day Five/Ninth Tale (9:12)
02. Camelias Garden – Day Five/Tenth Tale | Quinto Giorno/Decima Novella (5:26)
03. Rhys Marsh – Day Six/First Tale | The Tales That You Tell (3:54)
04. Narrow Pass – Day Six/Second Tale (8:02)
05. Mauro Mulas – Day Six/Third Tale (9:08)
06. La Bocca della Verità – Day Six/Fourth Tale | Chichibio (5:05)
07. Faveravola – Day Six/Fifth Tale | Dell’amore di Gianni da Proccida…(9:00)
08. Trion – Day Six/Sixth Tale | Xindia (4:22)
09. La Théorie Des Cordes – Day Six/Seventh Tale | La Femme Adultere… (10:48)
10. Jaime Rosas & Rodrigo Godoy – Day Six/Eighth Tale | Creer, Crecer (5:00)
CD 4: Running Time: 77:13
01. Unitopia – Day Six/Ninth Tale (20:05)
02. Piccolo Zoo – Day Six/Tenth Tale | Guccio Porco e la Nuta (8:56)
03. Karda Estra – Day Seven/First Tale | The Wanton Subtlety Of Monna Tessa (7:38)
04. Yagull – Day Seven/Second Tale | P’s Ways (2:49)
05. D’AccorD – Day Seven/Third Tale | The Rock & Roll Missionary (6:49)
06. Ozone Player – Day Seven/Fourth Tale | The Well (9:11)
07. The Rebel Wheel – Day Seven/Fifth Tale | Golden Chains (8:18)
08. Tommy Eriksson & The Heartwall Band – Day Seven/Sixth Tale | Cherchez La Femme (5:47)
09. Robert Webb – Outro | Ode To Good Sex: The Ladies Valley (7:46)
Total Time – 248:06
With 34 bands contributing to this box set it has not been possible to separately list all the musicians involved.
Record Label: Musea Records
Catalogue#: FGBG 4943
Year Of Release: 2014
Main Website: Colossus Project