Album review: Panther & C. - Il Giusto Equilibrio (2017)
Il Giusto Equilibrio
I first saw Panther & C. at the Fiera Internazionale della Musica in Genoa in 2014 and thought they were a confident ensemble playing an impressive melodic symphonic progressive rock, somewhere between the classic Italian style and subsequent incarnations of prog. Yet another band from Genoa, Panther & C. formed in 2003 but didn't release their debut album L'Epoca di un Altro (Another Time) until 2015, a recording that clocks in at less than 38 minutes which is the ideal length for a vinyl LP but, considering they had other material that was already in a polished format in 2011 and the album only came out on CD and digital formats, releasing something so brief seemed rather unusual for the times. That's not to take anything away from the group who play beautifully constructed progressivo Italiano and tend to mix 10 minute compositions with shorter pieces. The first release boasts two epics; the opener Conto alla Rovescia (Countdown) and the closing La Leggenda di Arenberg (The Legend of Arenberg.) It's predominantly instrumental but the vocals possess an expressive, theatrical touch. I detect hints of Locanda delle Fate, especially the interactions between piano and flute, and if there's any reference to the UK prog scene, I'd suggest they were influenced by Lamb Lies Down-era Genesis.
The line-up for the first album was comprised of Riccardo Mazzarini on guitar; Mauro Serpe on flute and vocals; Alessandro La Corte on Keyboards; Giorgio Boleto on bass; and Roberto Sanna on drums. Their follow-up effort Il Giusto Equilibrio (The Right Balance) (Black Widow BWRDIST 668) featured an amended line-up, where Sanna was replaced by Folco Fedele on drums, but without compromising the sound in any way.
Il Giusto Equilibrio, like the first album, features five tracks mixing short pieces with three longer ones with a total running time of 47 minutes - and this too deserved a vinyl release. Unlike the first album, Il Giusto Equilibrio has a loose theme linking the five songs - how mankind attempts to reconcile the human condition, finding the right balance between the competing essentials of existence.
Opener ?e continua ad essere? (...and Continues to Be...) is firmly in classic territory, commencing with a baroque harpsichord figure before being joined by wildly racing vocals and guitar which in turn subside to calm section which has some haunting Camel-like flute drifting on to the end of the track; it’s short, but perfectly formed.
The second track Giusto Equilibrio contrasts the beauty and the dark side of nature, like the lion killing the gazelle. This is the first of the extended pieces and is mostly in the classical style. There's a particular moment where the piano and organ work together in a style similar to that developed by Banco del Mutuo Soccorso and the changes in style and tempo reinforce this feeling. The track ends with a quite wonderful expansive guitar solo.
Oric is the other short track, about the 'hopes of positive feelings in the transition from one life to another' neatly distilled into a gentle ballad with mellow picked guitar chords, Mellotron strings and choir and some Genesis-like flute. It works because it provides a dramatic contrast to the other, more full-on prog. Having said that, the second of the three lengthy tracks Fuga dal Lago (Escape to the Lake) begins in a similar fashion. This instrumental has been around since at least 2011 and relates to the need to escape from the stresses of everyday life. There are some amazing melodies weaving their way through this piece, from early Crimson flute passages to some immediate post Gabriel-era Genesis guitar and keyboard lines. The earliest versions of the piece could have fallen into the new-age category and though snatches of programmed keyboard sections remain, it's now largely shaken off that feel but sounds like neo-prog rather than 70s prog.
The last song, the 13'40 L'occhio del gabbiano (The Seagull's Eye) commences with the same mellow picked chords of Oric but builds nicely. It describes a gull who witnesses the attack on the Twin Towers in New York on September 11th 2001, comparing the majesty of natural flight with the murderous intent of the hijackers. The vocals express a remarkable sadness but it's predominantly instrumental with some great guitar and synthesizer melodies (think Misplaced Childhood and post-Hackett Genesis for sounds), all expertly held together with a dextrous, inventive rhythm section.
I've spoken to the band on numerous occasions and they're really great people. There's talk of a new album with a slightly different line-up and post-lockdown rehearsals have begun following the coronavirus pandemic. However long it takes, it will be well worth waiting for if it’s of the same calibre as the first two albums.