Mike McLatchey 18-March-2001 Itoiz

Itoiz - "Itoiz" (Lost Vinyl LV-003, 1978/1994, CD)

While the Basque country is politically part of Spain, Itoiz gives plenty of reason to count it as a separate entity. There is an influence in this music that is definitely indigenous to this small area in Northern Spain, which makes Itoiz all the more interesting to a connoisseur in unusual symphonic musics.

There are quite a few Basque progressive rock groups that have not been discovered until recently. Itoiz are probably the most relatively well known of these, but others such as Enbor, Koska, and Sakre have received a small but growing reputation among progressive rock collectors that don't think twice when shelling out good money for just one of these albums. Itoiz may be the first Basque progressive rock group to make it to CD that sings in the Basque language, a language that is much closer to Arabic than a Romantic language such as Spanish.

To me, this is the reason why European symphonic progressive can be so collectable. Itoiz draw from a less-familiar culture paradigm, infusing a Yes-influenced symphonic rock sound with a gentle wistfulness. Musically, there is as much similarity to the French scene (especially the Nice groups - shades of Carpe Diem and Shylock here) and Portuguese progressive (very similar to Tantra in many ways) as there is to the Spanish scene.

The overall concoction ends up being quite unique and extremely seducing. Similar Spanish groups like Gotic, Ibio, Coto-En-Pel, or Granada give some indication to the Itoiz sound in that those groups have a breezier and mellower symphonic sound than bands like Triana, Cai or Iman. Itoiz' indigenous folk sound combined with the England-influenced symphonic sound provides a much more fragile base than would be expected. Except for the out-and-out folk sound of the third and fourth tracks (the latter sounding exactly like a Basque John Denver), the music is good quality symphonic progressive with a laid back powerful sound topping a very magical atmosphere.

Connoiseurs of the Spanish, Italian or French scenes or at the limit, those who like the English acid folk scene like Dando Shaft, Mellow Candle, or The Trees, will find this an exotic and strangely hypnotic item.

(originally reviewed as part of Media Look: Lost Vinyl - An Introduction, Exposť #4, p. 6-7, Edited for Gnosis 2/9/01)

Peter Thelen 18-March-2001 Ezekiel

Itoiz - "Ezekiel" (Lost Vinyl LV-004, 1980/1994, CD)

By the time of their second album Ezekiel, the lineup of this Basque band had grown from five members to seven, now including saxes, mandolin, electric piano and even violin when required. The sound had changed from a rock base to one utilizing more folk understructures, and in some cases this was more evident at the surface as well - all the while remaining truly progressive in a no-nonsense sort of way. With more of an acoustic feel and elements of rock, jazz and Iberian folk incorporated into a more subtle whole, the album contains seven tracks of varying length, all tied together by one unifying theme of the life of the prophet Ezekiel.

Even though the overall feel is more acoustic, don't get the idea that the album doesn't rock - there are some very powerful moments here, plenty of sizzling guitar leads and driving sax solos. In comparison to other Spanish bands with a strong folk flavor, the closest would probably be Ibio. Unlike Triana, Bloque, Mezquita and others, Itoiz has nary a trace of flamenco in their sound, and far more of the local Basque flavor. There are many high points: the almost-celtic violin and dual vocal harmonies on "Ezekielen Esnatzea II," giving way to a splendid sax solo and flute interchange; the children's chorus on the title track; and the beautiful female lead voice provided by vocalist Itziar Egileor on "Ezekielen Ikasgaia."

In all, this is an outstanding release, yet one that may not strike you speechless at first listen, revealing its beauty slowly over several repeated listens. My highest recommendation.

(originally reviewed as part of Media Look: Lost Vinyl - An Introduction, Exposť #4, p. 7, Edited for Gnosis 2/9/01)

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