It feels a little odd to be almost halfway through 2020, and reviewing an album from the tail end of 2019, but perhaps it is almost appropriate, given that Michele Conta’s debut solo album seems to have been in gestation for 40 years or so. Plus, with the world still in a strange state of limbo, I have plenty of time to look back on albums I may have missed at the time but feel are worth pointing out a few months later. These days of lockdown seem endless, and Endless Nights could well be an appropriate soundtrack.
Michele Conta, for those who don’t know, was the composer and keyboard player on the quite wonderful Locanda delle Fate album, Forse Le Lucciole Non Si Amano Piu. Actually, three members of the band played keys on that album, but it was Conta, particularly on piano that provided the starring role. Forse… was the first Italian progressive rock album I ever bought, and remains one of my most favourite to this day. The drums of Giorgio Gardino, and the keys of Michele Conta have always been my favourite aspects of Forse…, so Conta’s solo album was always going to be of interest for me. Having parted from the band in 1980, it’s perhaps surprising it’s taken this long for Conta to provide us with this solo album, but as the saying goes, good things take time.
With opening track, È Nell’Aria, it’s hard not to be struck by the same two aspects, as Michele Conta’s playing is accompanied by no lesser drummer than Gavin Harrison – who impresses as always. It’s a brilliant beginning to the album, with many moods, and the way quite aggressive guitar is laid over the top of the calmer, classical keys is quite astoundingly well-done. It’s almost like listening to two different songs at the same time, yet the pieces fit together perfectly. It’s a trick played again, albeit in a slightly different manner and with far more subtlety, on the following song, With You on the Walk of My Life. The guitar adds just enough edge to keep this ballad from being too schmaltzy, providing accents rather than the attacks of the opening track.
This is one thing that I particularly like about Endless Nights: (despite the varying personnel, and that it does revolve around Michele Conta) it sounds like a band effort. Too often solo albums from keyboard players are too much about showing off the prowess of the player. Conta has given us a lush, symphonic album deliciously reminiscent of the classic days of ‘70s Italian prog, without sounding stale or dated, and allows the other players on his album room and space to elevate this beyond the stereotypical keyboard album. Ermanno Brignolo’s guitar alone dispels the notion that Endless Nights is going to be a keyboard wankfest. There’s no pretension or pyrotechnics, just very good and very enjoyable playing.
In fact, I can think of only two criticisms I might have about this album. One being that it took so long to eventuate, and the other being that of the four songs with vocals, only one is sung in Italian. This may well not bother some people, but for me the Italian language is such a naturally musical one, that it seems wrong to sing in English. I can’t think of a single Italian band that has released albums with both English and Italian sung versions, where I don’t prefer the Italian. Growin’ Up, particularly, I can’t help but wish were sung in Italian. It’s the track most reminiscent for me of Locanda delle Fate, and it just feels wrong for the lyrics to sung in English. Still, it probably remains my favourite track on the album, and deserves its place as centrepiece.
The following In Riva Al Mondo is a slow and mellow song, with some beautiful guitar and keyboards building and falling throughout, before a very nice instrumental climax, and final vocal reprise. I do find that, if not superfluous, the vocals are incidental to the music. Endless Nights could easily be an instrumental album, with no great detriment to the quality and enjoyment it gives. If anything, I think a track like With You on the Walk of My Life (which, I hasten to add, I very much like) would be improved by being completely instrumental. There is so much going on in that song that I think the vocals somewhat distract from the music. This is borne out by the longest track on the album (at just over eight minutes), Fiori Nascosti, which saves its sole vocals for the last minute. Vocals are used sparingly throughout the album, but the music is so good, I think they could have been even more sparingly used.
That leaves me with only one thing left to say: don’t leave it so long before your next album, Michele!
01. É Nell’Aria (6:17)
02. With You on the Walk of My Life (6:33)
03. Notte Infinita (5:23)
04. Growin’ Up (6:19)
05. In Riva Al Mondo (6:07)
06. Fiori Nascosti (8:16)
Total Time – 38:55
Michele Conta – Piano, Keyboards
Ermanno Brignolo – Guitar (apart from track 3) and Vocals, Bass (on tracks 5 & 6)
Gianni Cicogna – Bass (tracks 1, 2 & 4)
Gavin Harrison – Drums (tracks 1 & 6)
Gianni Branca – Drums (tracks 2 & 5)
Lele Melotti – Drums (track 3)
Sergio Pescara – Drums (track 4)
Max Arminchiardi – Guitar (tracks 1 & 3)
Leonardo Plumbini – Cello
Effe Quartet – Cello, Strings
Record Label: – AMS Records
Catalogue#: AMS 306 CD
Country of Origin – Italy
Date of Release – 25th October 2019