Hailing from the heel of the boot of Southern Italy comes the band Crianza. The beautiful white limestone cliffs, the blue-green Adriatic and sun-kissed beaches are reflected impressionistically, if not directly, in the breezy watercolor sailboat that adorns the cover of Suoni a Sud (“Sounds to the South”). Crianza itself is a Spanish red wine aged for a minimum of one year in an oak barrel and another year in the bottle before being sold. One can almost taste the connection between the wine and the robust flavor of the music presented by this band. Whatever your expectations of what lies within this collection, toss it aside and be swept away by the charm and refreshing difference of the music of Crianza.
Led by composer and flautist Gianluca Milanese, Crianza is probably not like any other band you have heard recently. If anything, their music harkens back to sounds from another time. There are hints of Italian folk music, chamber music, art songs, and even jazz. The remainder of the band consists of vocalist Alessandro Podo Brunetti, cellist Marco Shiavone, and percussionist Vito De Lorenzi. If you are looking for guitars and Mellotrons, look elsewhere. If you are interested in progressive music performed in a manner more akin to Gryphon than ELP, you’ve come to the right place.
Most of the eight songs that make up Suoni a Sud are between three and five minutes. Only one hits the seven-minute mark. This, however, is an advantage in that the focus is clearly on the songs. Not to take anything away from the performances, all of which are top notch, but the vocal is the focus throughout. All the tunes are sung in Italian (save for the lone instrumental), with Brunetti’s voice alternately tender, joyous and passionate. Only a single song, La Rusciu te lu mare, features a piano, but even then, it never seeks to break through its supporting role. Instrumentally, Milanese’s flute is the star. Still, pay careful attention to the cello and the variety of percussion, from traditional drums to tar to tabla. Each instrumentalist plays in service of the tune, but their creativity and wit come through on every song.
The first two songs, Cu ti lu dissi (“I told you that”) and Brigante se more (“Brigand if he dies”) are fun, waltz-time and sea-shanty tunes respectively that, whatever language barrier might exist, convey a light-hearted feel that brings to mind the beaches and sunshine. Pizzica dorica (“Doric pinch”) is another excursion into animated expression where the cello is plucked like a bass guitar, while a breathy flute floats over this sole instrumental track.
Canuscu ‘na carusa (“I don’t know a Carusa”) is a beautiful song which builds in an organic, almost imperceptible way. The uplifting chorus contrasts with the hypnotic verses, and the instrumental breakdown toward the end of the song highlights the chamber ensemble feel. Similarly, Damme nu riccio (“Give me no curls”), the longest song on the album, emphasises the classical roots of the composition. Beginning with a cello drone leading into plucked cello and percussion before the flute enters, the arrangement is uncluttered and satisfying. It’s difficult to miss the traditional guitar and keys one expects in progressive music because the musicians are smart enough to alter their tone to fit the mood of each song. The excellent production clearly frames the nuances of each instrumental twist and turn.
The closest Crianza comes to traditional prog is the song Vitti la mia fortuna (“Saw my fortune”). The playful interplay between the flute and vocal beautifully navigates the deceptive time signature changes. Vocalist Brunetti does not exhibit a particularly wide range, but his expressiveness and controlled use of vibrato make each song a pleasure to listen to, especially on closer Pizzica di S. Vito (“Puzzle of S. Vito”). Its Israeli folk song vibe is interrupted midway by a Middle Eastern style instrumental break, adding melodic intrigue before surrendering once again to the folk influences.
It’s hard to compare the music of Crianza with anyone else. The closest I can come is imagining a traditional Italian prog rock vocalist fronting the Kronos Quartet. But even I have to admit it’s not a wholly fair comparison. What Crianza is doing is unique to these ears. It will not be to everyone’s taste, for certain. But if you are looking for an adventurous, Sunday-morning coffee and paper soundtrack that is more than mere background, give it a try. I dare you to be disappointed.
01. Cu ti lu dissi (3:32)
02. Brigante se more (4:00)
03. Lu rusciu te lu mare (5:39)
04. Damme ‘nu ricciu (7:03)
05. Canuscu ‘na carusa (4:44)
06. Pizzica dorica (3:56)
07. Vitti la mia fortuna (5:45)
08. Pizzica di S. Vito (5:29)
Total Time – 40:08
Gianluca Milanese – Flute, Alto Flute, Piccolo
Marco Shiavone – Cello
Vito de Lorenzi – Percussion
Alessandro Podo Brunetti – Vocals
Francesco La Viola – Tenor & Baritone Sax (track 1)
Marco Grasso – Piano (track 3)
Giancarlo Paglialunga – Tambourine (track 6)
Record Label: M.P. & Records
Country of Origin: Italy
Date of Release: 3rd December 2022