Album review: Michele Conta - Endless Nights (2019)
Locanda delle Fate’s Forse Le Lucciole Non Si Amano Più (Polydor, 1977) is quite rightly regarded as one of the best progressivo italiano albums of the 70s but it is also a classic example of the right record at the wrong time, as it was released when symphonic prog and long suites in general had begun to be ignored by a new generation of music fans. They disbanded in 1980.
The resurgent interest in progressive rock in the 1990s, reappraising the music of a generation before, was sufficiently broad to include Locanda delle Fate, and their debut album was released on CD, with bonus tracks in 1990. The group reformed in 1996 and released the more straightforward rock CD Homo Homini Lupus three years later, then regrouped in 2010 and played their farewell tour in 2017.
One of the main songwriters was Michele Conta (fifth from the left in the Forse Le Lucciole Non Si Amano Più inner gatefold group photo) who joined the band as a pianist just aged 17. Conta was largely responsible for the romantic influences, hinting at the keyboard work of Tony Banks but perhaps more accurately, creating a sound that fitted the vocals of Leonardo Sasso and generating comparisons with the music of Banco del Mutuo Soccorso.
Conta was born in the Piemonte city of Asti, where at the age of 10 he began studying piano at the Giuseppe Verdi Music Institute under the guidance of organist and composer Giuseppe Peirolo, later moving to the Antonio Vivaldi Conservatory in Alessandria, a city 37km due east of Asti, to continue his studies with the concert pianist Maria Gachet.
He gave up a career in music and instead trained to become a doctor, and continues to practise medicine in his home city to this day. In 2012, AltRock released a Locanda delle Fate CD of tracks written at the same time as but not included on Forse Le Lucciole Non Si Amano Più, recorded by the 2010 incarnation of the band and supplemented with excerpts from a gig at Asti’s Teatro Alfieri on November 21st 1977, a performance which does include Conta.
In one of the most unbelievable examples of sampling, even stranger than 50 Cent using Me and You for Other Days from I Pooh’s 1973 album Parsifal for his song Everytime I Come Around, rapper/producer Dr. Dre used Conta’s piano arpeggio from Vendesi Saggezza throughout the song For The Love of Money on the 2015 CD Compton, which was nominated for Best Rap Album at the 2015 Grammy Awards. The film Straight Outta Compton inspired by the CD was also nominated for the best screenplay at the Oscars. It should be said that Conta has been recognised as the copyright holder.
Conta’s love of music remained and he continued to compose, eventually deciding to record some of the compositions with the help of the sound engineer and co-arranger Simone Lampedone. The CD Endless Nights was released on AMS records in 2019, a collection of original compositions built up since he left the band. He admits it took a long time to complete this album but he has been working as a doctor throughout. Conta has stated that Endless Nights reflects the changes of the last 40-50 years, from the golden age of prog when form and structure in music were important, to the present day with its immediacy and modern music production values. When you first hear the instrumental È nell'aria (It’s in the Air) you’re transported back to 1977, with the piano melody and the staccato guitar phrasing providing a sonic link to A Volte un Istante di Quiete. The track also provides an insight into the quality of his collaborators, with Gavin Harrison (Porcupine Tree, King Crimson) on drums.
With You on the Walk of my Life has a similar feel and is of a very similar length to È nell'aria though this track features vocals, delivered by guitarist Ermanno Brignolo and sung in English. There’s more synthesizer, but still lots of gorgeous piano.
Notte Infinita (title track Endless Nights) is another instrumental, but this provides a degree of contrast because it has a more modern sounding palette, with synthesizer given more of a lead role. The song builds up following a choral keyboard section, slows briefly before resuming the up-tempo, uplifting feel with guitar and synthesizer sharing the melody.
Growin’ Up is another track with a distinctive Costa-penned melody line reminiscent of Locanda delle Fate and lots more piano. The arrangement varies between modern sounding during the vocal passages, sung in English, and a structure reflecting his writing in the 70s.
In Riva Al Mondo (On the Shores of the World) is sung in Italian. Beginning with tolling bells, it’s played at a slower tempo with acoustic guitar, lending a prog-romantic feeling. The keyboard work is primarily piano lead and the whole piece is much more orchestrated. The pace is picked up around the middle of the track, and there’s some restrained electric guitar before the tempo moves down a gear for another vocal section, then picks up again before slowing and fading.
Fiori Nascoti (Hidden Flowers) begins with piano and cello, a reflective orchestral introduction followed by a modern sounding break, before the melody is introduced and rather like the preceding track, the pace increases and slows as layers of instruments are added and subtracted. The vocals are short and at the very end of the piece, which ends with a piano flourish.
Overall, the album is uplifting, positive-sounding and has a brightness that’s difficult to define. The beautiful piano playing provides a link back to Locanda delle Fate and I’d recommend this album to any fan of Forse Le Lucciole Non Si Amano Più, but Endless Nights manages to occupy territory shared with modern progressivo italiano acts. It doesn’t sound like a solo album either, despite the different personnel, because the songs have been sympathetically arranged for the other instruments.
It may have taken a long time to make, but it was most definitely worth it.