|Rob La Duca||5-November-2001||Biography|
DFA was formed in 1991 by Alberto de Grandis, Luca Baldassari and Roberto Tommasini of Verona, Italy. De Grandis was the main composing force in the fledgling band, which rounded out its lineup in 1993 with addition of Silvio Minella on guitar. They explored progressive territory first mined by King Crimson, Gong, and Allan Holdsworth. In 1994 DFA made its initial live performances to good reviews. Buoyed by the reception, they recorded a six-song all-instrumental demo tape entitled Trip on Metrņ. Reviews were positive, eliciting comparisons to Moerlen-era Gong. Alberto Piras of Deus ex Machina heard the tape and saw a tremendous amount of potential in this young four-piece, agreeing to produce their first full CD.
At this time Tommasini left the group. The keyboard vacancy was rapidly filled by Alberto Bonomi. In 1996, the new line-up re-recorded many of the songs on Trip on Metrņ with Piras in the producer's chair, adding vocals performed by both De Grandis and Bonomi. Some of the compositions were fleshed out with extended complex instrumental breaks. DFA first performed live with this line-up in January of 1996. In October of that year, Lavori in Corso (Works in Progress in English) was released on Piras's Scolopendra label. The album is chock-full of highly sophisticated but very melodic jazz-influenced progressive rock, with occasional vocals.
1997 saw the live debut of all of the Lavori in Corso material, in the band's hometown of Verona. Gigs with legendary Italian progressive bands Banco del Mutuo Soccorso and Le Orme attracted attention to this rapidly developing quartet. DFA began to get noticed outside of the Italian peninsula as well. Keyboard columnist Dan Barrett stated in the magazine's 1997 year-end issue: "This superb new band from Italy carries the torch of Yes and Gentle Giant without being imitative. Lavori in Corso features intricate, complex, high-energy ensemble playing that grabbed me in the first 10 seconds and didn't let go. Possibly my favorite release of the last three years."
During 1997 and 1998, DFA broke in some material for another album in the live setting. In September of 1998 the band concentrated solely on composing for their sophomore effort. The band was signed by Mauro Moroni's Mellow Records, ensuring wider worldwide distribution. Recording took place in June 1999. Duty Free Area was released in October 1999. This album expands the already distinctive DFA sound, with a bit of an Ozric Tentacles or Happy the Man vibe in places. Of note is the track "Esperanto", featuring the unmistakable vocals of guest performer Piras. "Escher" is a stunning ten-minute instrumental workout with bubbling synths and laser-precise drumming and guitar leads.
Rob La Duca
(originally published in the NEARFest 2000 Program Guide, edited for Gnosis 11/4/01)
|Greg Northrup||6-August-2001||Duty Free Area|
DFA's blistering set at NEARfest 2000 was one of the true highlights of the festival, and although I was a little afraid of a letdown on their studio work, their second album, Duty Free Area, is certainly no disappointment. DFA plays a style of primarily instrumental symphonic fusion with an intense and heavy air, comparable perhaps to fellow Italians Deus Ex Machina, but less bombastic and with more breathing room. As has been pointed out in a number of reviews I've read, the band also adopts a sort of "spacey" vibe, with heavy echo and reverb, as well as beds of sci-fi sounding keyboards cushioning the proceedings. Musically, the bands playing is tight, complex and often extremely melodic. This kind of symphonic fusion sounds somewhat influenced by 70s bands like Finch or Focus, but I think DFA pulls it off even better - varied, with a sublime understanding of dynamics. Jumpy rhythms and pulsing basslines give way to open, melodic passages of sweeping guitar and synth.
The opening instrumental, "Escher," is phenomenal and presents all the strengths of the band's sound. "Caleidoscopio" is more drawn out, allowing room for some nice vocals before building into some intense jamming at the close. "Esperanto" is awesome, featuring one of today's premier vocalists, Alberto Piras from Deus Ex Machina, over active, odd-timed rhythms. "Ragno" features some absolutely shimmering piano parts, and is more excellence in the same style carried throughout it's eleven minutes. It's perhaps the finest track on the album.
The only Italian stuff from the 90s that I've heard so far has been
excellent (Deus Ex Machina, A Piedi Nudi), but Duty Free Area
probably ranks as my favorite so far. Although this album isn't quite as
purely visceral as their awesome live performance, it's still excellent. A
great jazzy symphonic group that surely stands apart from the pack in the
modern prog scene.
|Sjef Oellers||Lavori in Corso||6-April-2001|
Interesting debut album by this 90s Italian band. Energetic prog with Italian symphonic and fusion parts. There is a strong Gentle Giant influence (Glass House/Free Hand period) on some tracks, but DFA are far too original to be called copy-cats. There are also similarities with Deus ex Machina, but overall DFA is less heavy and sounds more fusion/symphonic influenced in contrast to the heavy progressive style of Deus Ex Machina. Not a classic, but excellent as a debut album.
|Sjef Oellers||19-March-2001||Duty Free Area|
This second album is more professionally recorded than their first, so the sound quality is excellent. The music this time out is spacier, bringing them closer to bands like Ozric Tentacles and Gong on some tracks, while overall, the album is a well balanced mix of spacey symphonic rock and fusion. Other musical reference points are Deus Ex Machina, the more symphonic side of Finisterre, and Gentle Giant. For me the highlight is the 11 minute fifth track, "Ragno", where all the elements mentioned come together and lead to a blistering track of fusiony spacerock. Despite being easily among the best albums to come out of Italy in the 90s, I feel they are still bordering classic territory, but still haven't made it completely yet. A very promising band that hopefully will become even better.
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