As is probably obvious from the title, 20 Years: Alive and Well celebrates the 20th anniversary of Roz Vitalis, which began as a studio project with electronic elements but has grown into an ever-changing chamber ensemble of talented musicians under the leadership of Ivan Rozmainsky. The band has increasingly become a live-focused act, and while there have been standalone singles released, their last full-length album (The Hidden Man of the Heart) was back in 2018. Between then and this latest live album, Roz Vitalis have thirteen releases, including five live albums – each with a quite different quality. There are some bands where one or two live albums are enough, as there is simply not enough variation and innovation. Other bands I rarely listen to their studio albums, as they pale in comparison to their live albums, and too many is still not enough. Roz Vitalis is certainly one of those bands where I will never tire of hearing a new live album, such are the differences between them – even when the setlists are similar. And when much of Roz Vitalis’s vast catalogue of songs can only be heard on their live releases, I would simply be missing out if I didn’t eagerly consume every new one as it is released. But, yes, this one is something special – and if you’ve never listened to Roz Vitalis, it’s a wonderful way to jump in and immerse yourself in the sometimes gentle, sometimes heavy, avant chamber prog of the band. The sound is often pastoral and almost folk-like, but there’s a dark edge almost always lurking, and the band can transition from smooth and peaceful to sharp and angular with ease and to great effect.
The album begins with Daybreaking, one of the more recent Roz Vitalis compositions to be released (and, thus far, without a studio version), and one which quickly has become a favourite of many Roz Vitalis fans. It had its beginnings in an Ivan Rozmainsky piece, Too Late Awakening, which I think was first performed in 2017, and it is possible to track its changes over time, and various Roz Vitalis releases. While this is not my favourite rendition of Daybreaking, the more I hear it, the more I enjoy it. This is one of the pleasures of following the band, as older pieces can become something quite different and new. The most well-known example, albeit unlikely to be known by anyone not familiar with the band, would be Ascension Dream from the debut Roz Vitalis album, L’Ascensione, which has become more and more compact and concise over the years, but no less exhilarating. The first abbreviation of Ascension Dream a year after the release of L’Ascensione, on the Painsadist EP, and it’s been evolving ever since. And given that while the band has always had avant leanings, the earliest Roz Vitalis compositions were far closer to progressive electronic music than the chamber prog they now play, it’s really no wonder that the earlier compositions sound quite different when played live now.
Walking is another piece that will be familiar to followers of the many live releases of Roz Vitalis, but which has no studio recording as yet. It’s a great wee number, and I really like it, but up next is one of the first of many treats that pop up on this album, Patience of Hope. As far as I’m aware (and I admit, I am too lazy to look back at the track listings of all the live releases in between), this title track to the 2012 Roz Vitalis album has appeared only once on subsequent live releases. It’s really neat to hear some of these older compositions given a new lease of life, and this is certainly a very lively performance of the piece. The energetic and enthusiastic playing has me imagining the band all grinning wildly as they play this track. But even if Patience of Hope has not appeared on many Roz Vitalis live albums since the studio album of the same name, we can be assured it is not the first performance of it live, as the band have handily let us know in the track listing which of the pieces have their first appearance in a Roz Vitalis set. The following tracks, Recovery and For My Love They Are Adversaries are the two new ones, and it will be interesting to hear how they evolve over time – as they surely will.
The first performance of Escaping From Myself appeared on last year’s Confortate Gli Abbattuti Live, and is another energetic number. It’s followed by another track from 2012’s Patience of Hope album, but unlike the title track, this piece has appeared on many live releases since, and I’m absolutely fine with it having another appearance here, as Mother of All Rain is one of my favourite Roz Vitalis compositions, and it’s easily one of my favourite tracks on this album. It has either an ugly beauty, or a beautiful ugliness, and I’m not sure which – but whichever, I love it. It’s followed by the aforementioned Ascension Dream, which is no doubt the favourite Roz Vitalis track of many, and for good reason. It’s simply beautiful, and this is a wonderful performance of the piece. And then this is followed by another of my favourite Roz Vitalis numbers, Annihilator of Moral Hazard from 2007’s Compassionizer album. This is my new favourite performance of the piece (previously being the extended version on 2019’s Great Expectations Live), proving (just as with Ascension Dream) that it’s not the size that counts, but how you use it, and an abbreviated version can be just as powerful and potent, and even sometimes more so. These three tracks, which comprise my favourite sequence on this album, all feature Philip Semenov – the first official drummer for Roz Vitalis (from 2008 to 2018). This is another nice aspect of this release, as it features appearances of Roz Vitalis members of the past, and one brand new (AndRey Stefinoff).
After the title track of 2015’s Lavoro D’Amore comes a run of four tracks from 2018’s The Hidden Man of the Heart, broken only by a performance of Se Camminiamo Nella Luce (released last year as a stand-alone single, and the only studio release from Roz Vitalis in 2021, but previously appearing on a 2017 live release). Perhaps surprisingly, one of those four is not Psalm 6 – one of the most well-known and well-loved Roz Vitalis compositions. Not that it is missed, as the four numbers that are played are exceptional. The Hidden Man of the Heart is often lauded as the greatest studio album from Roz Vitalis. If I’m being as objective as possible, even if it’s probably not my favourite Roz Vitalis studio album, I can understand why. So, I imagine will new listeners after hearing these four tracks. They are amazing! The penultimate track is of the same vintage as The Hidden Man of the Heart, and received its live debut in concerts promoting that album; and the album ends appropriately with the closing number from Lavoro D’Amore, Ending. If you are new to Roz Vitalis, I can foresee only two outcomes, after listening to this twentieth anniversary concert: either you’ll now be a fan, and want (no, need!) to listen to everything else the band has released, or you’ll be bewildered as to how anyone could enjoy this odd music. If you’ve actually read this far, I hope it’s the former. Here’s to 20 more years!
01. Daybreaking (6:03)
02. Walking (5:05)
03. Patience Of Hope (5:52)
04. Recovery (3:41)
05. For My Love They Are Adversaries (2:17)
06. Escaping From Myself (4:24)
07. Mother Of All Rain (Extended Version) (5:48)
08. Ascension Dream (3:29)
09. Annihilator Of Moral Hazard (5:43)
10. Lavoro d’Amore (3:45)
11. Blurred (3:02)
12. Se Camminiamo Nella Luce (3:50)
13. Passing Over (6:26)
14. Thou Shalt Tread Upon The Lion And Adder (6:12)
15. Jungle Waltz (7:25)
16. Bait of Success (5:12)
17. Ending (3:06)
Total Time – 81:20
Ivan Rozmainsky – Electric Piano, Synths
Vladimir Semenov-Tyan-Shansky – Electric & Acoustic Guitars
Vladislav Korotkikh – Flute
Ruslan Kirillov – Bass Guitar
Evgeny Trefilov – Drums (except tracks 7-11), Mixing, Mastering
Philip Semenov – Drums (tracks 7-11)
Yury Khomonenko – Percussion
AndRey Stefinoff – Clarinet
Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: Russia
Date of Release: 26th January 2022