Inner Prospekt is the solo project of Mad Crayon keyboardist Alessandro Di Benedetti. I first became acquainted with Di Benedetti’s music when Mad Crayon contributed to several Musea Projects, such as The Colossus of Rhodes and Kalevala. Subsequently, Di Benedetti contributed as a songwriter and keyboardist for the Samurai of Prog. Canvas Three is his thirteenth studio album since 2014 as Inner Prospekt.
If Genesis and Banco had a baby, it would probably sound a lot like Canvas Three. Right out of the gate, the early to mid-period Tony Banks influence attaches to the proceedings like a heavy cologne. Even still, the grandiosity and melodic complexity of the venerable Italian prog gods is never far away. As if acknowledging the two main influences, Di Benedetti’s voice is eerily similar to that of fellow countryman Simone Rosetti, who makes a living projecting Genesis into the twenty-first century with The Watch. In addition to the vocals, all the keyboards, drums and compositions are courtesy of Di Benedetti, and what a fine job he does with each. All of these songs were originally composed for other artists (including Samurai of Prog) or projects (The Spaghetti Epic 4), but here Di Benedetti takes the helm and fleshes out his own vision.
Scratches begins the proceedings, sounding like a track that wasn’t able to fit on to Trespass back in the day. Lush and dramatic, the spirit of Mr. Banks is everywhere. What truly elevates the song, though, is the guitar work of Carmine Capasso (also a Samurai sideman). He adds colour and depth without ever sounding like a Hackett clone, which is impressive in itself. Capasso’s leads are bright and unfussy, never in competition with Di Benedetti’s starring role as keyboardist. Even the drums have a keyboardist’s touch, rhythmic and flowing and always connected to the melody. A plethora of synth sounds dance around and over the beautifully rendered piano, organ and Mellotron. Scratches is a magnificent omen of all that lies ahead.
The first of three eleven-minute-plus epics arrives in The Island of Despair. Piano flourishes underpin a charming orchestral introduction which all too quickly gives way to a more driving Get ‘Em Out By Friday, influenced vocal section. Telling the tale of a shipwreck from a sailor’s viewpoint, the despair and loss of hope are captured evocatively in the music, particularly in the acoustic piano interlude midway through the song. The subsequent return of the string arrangement serves to heighten the sense of sadness. Multi-instrumentalist Rafael Pacha (The Guildmaster, Samurai of Prog) adds sensitive soprano recorder and viola da gamba parts which contrast nicely with the thick tones of his electric guitar. Banks’ fingerprints are all over the expansive storytelling, down to the ambiguous ending (“Where are you now? Where am I now?”) which mirrors the calming instrumentation that closes out the song. Has the sailor found peace in drowning, or has he been saved?
A Wordless Fable is eleven minutes of instrumental beauty. Sumptuous classical guitar, courtesy once more of Rafael Pacha, gives way to zither and more orchestral keys before yielding to a lively viola/synth dance. Just as quickly, the organ pushes the other instruments out of the way, only to succumb to the return of the joyous viola. Every thirty seconds or so the music changes, even giving the fretless bass a featured interlude. So many ideas come and go over these eleven minutes, but the juxtapositions are never jarring. Each section, no matter how different from its predecessor, feels like a natural successor, a testament to the compositional skills on display here. The blending of the keys and guitar here is sublime. Unlike Capasso’s lighter touch on Scratches, Pacha is not afraid to flex his muscles. At times pastoral, other times menacing or reveling in joie de vivre, this piece is an astounding tour de force. It almost defies belief that two men were responsible for the sheer number of sounds on display in this track. Pacha in particular earns his paycheck on this one, dazzling on every one of the nine instruments he performs on.
Rather than take a breather, a sense of foreboding introduces the twenty-minute The Showdown. The piano chord progression is eerily evocative of Mountain’s Taunta/Nantucket Sleighride, and I mean that as high compliment. Two minutes in, a sparkling, upbeat rhythm takes over, paving the way for a tale of bank robbery. The Banksisms continue to pile high, but the rubbery bass playing of Federico Tetti (Mad Crayon) gives Di Benedetti a run for the money with his slippery leads. While the vocal sections are largely carried along on the same melodic structure, the instrumental intervals are where the two musicians really shine. Introspective guitar parts float above the electric piano during the mid-song break, offering a striking divergence from the rest of the song. Lyrically, the song is a tad opaque, again tending toward ambiguity. Here’s a sample lyric:
And all the lights will never be
I get the clearance to the final race
Unless you set me free.”
When the vocal section concludes, the song comes full circle, hearkening back to the intro before it is embellished with wordless vocals, rhythm guitar and a synth solo lifted straight from 1975. A Mellotron choir sends the epic home in grandiose fashion, with the final sound being that of a bullet implying the death of the song’s protagonist.
Gentle classical guitar provides the foundation for Young Me, Old You, the story of someone reminiscing about her close childhood connection to her grandfather and his tales of how, during the war, he sought refuge in a cave. The child, shy and afraid, finds solace there too. The sense of nostalgia rife with regret is palpable in both the music and lyrics.
The old piano with the silver frames full of memories
My grandpa at my side with his old voice singing forgotten melodies.”
The song is incredibly moving yet never maudlin. It brought to mind my own Italian grandmother regaling us with stories of her life in Italy that she relayed when I was but a child myself. That ability to transport one back in time is a gift indeed.
The CD concludes with a bonus track unavailable with the download. Float Away is different from the rest of the album in that the guitar carries the song, the keys playing only a supporting role. This song is the closest the album comes to rocking out, giving the drums a very prominent place in the mix. Capasso’s guitars avail themselves of the opportunity to all the tonal colours and muscle they can. It’s a great way to end the album, reminding the listener of Alessandro Di Benedetti’s depth and breadth as a composer, vocalist and instrumentalist.
For those who order the Bandcamp download, there is a version of The Showdown sung in Italian.
Inner Prospekt’s Canvas Three is the sort of album that will find a home in the ‘heavy rotation’ section of my library. If you enjoy the gorgeous pastoral sounds of early Genesis and the drama of the Italian progressive bands, then I believe you will agree, Canvas Three is one of the most delightful releases of what is already shaping up to be a banner year.
01. Scratches (8:03)
02. The Island of Despair (11:47)
03. A Wordless Fable (11:20)
04. The Showdown (20:16)
05. Young Me, Old You (11:20)
06. Float Away (5:24) [CD Only]
07. La Resi dei Conti (20:16) [Bandcamp only]
Total Time – 68:10
Alessandro Di Benedetti – Vocals, Keyboards, Drums
Carmine Capasso – Guitars (tracks 1 & 6)
Rafael Pacha – Classical Guitar, Zither, Viola da Gamba, Tenor & Soprano Recorder, Mandolin, Fretless Bass, Flamenco Guitar, 6- & 12-string Acoustic Guitars, Electric Guitars (tracks 2,3 & 5)
Federico Tetti – Guitars (tracks 4 & 7)
Record Label: Somnus Media
Country of Origin: Italy
Date of Release: 2nd March 2023