Hailing from Milan, Italy, Court is one of the finest progressive rock groups in the classic Italian progressive tradition. I hesitate to use the word 'neo-progressive' as Italian bands miraculously never seemed to skip a beat at the end of the so-called 'Golden Era', that saw so many of the genre's finest bands either fall victim to commercial concerns, or simply stop playing altogether in the late seventies. Italian bands simply kept improving and building, and since 1990 Court has been a part of that formidable scene.
From the opening moments of Cries to the closing passages of Alviss' Revenge this album takes the listener on a musical journey that soars to the highest peaks and floats gracefully through endless plains of imagination. The addition of vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Marco Pedrini (vocals, keyboards, recorders, clarinet, percussion) has placed Court solidly at their best. Add in the musicianship of Francesco Vedani (drums, flutes), MosŤ Nodari (guitars, vocals, flute, oboe), Marco Strobel (guitars, vocals, mandolin) and Jacopo Favrin (bass, vocals) with the songwriting skills of original member Luigi Bonacina, and let the music flow!
Throughout the album's seven tracks, surprises appear holding the listener firmly in place for slightly over an hour. The soundscape approach is fully realized by the use of many different instruments, including some brilliant oboe and recorder work that explores some of the less commonly used tones in rock music. Be ready to invest your undivided attention as you're almost certainly going to find yourself captivated.
Cries immediately pulls you in with its 6/8 timing and impressive vocals. There's no auto-tune presence here, just vocals filled with emotional delivery and solid tonal accuracy. This band can sing! The spell cast on Cries is only briefly broken towards the end and it is here that I find the album's only moment where it didn't quite measure up: the guitar solo. In all honesty, this is most likely only a matter of personal taste and preference, as I would have chosen a different modal form for the scale as a few of the notes clash. The quirky phrasing only lasts for a few short moments, and the listener is quickly returned to enchantment with Anastasius Epitaph, and its lush vocals and recorder based segues. Any momentary doubts on the guitar phrasing choices used earlier are cast out from here on, and when The Great Bear Rising starts... Steve Hackett himself could easily be playing.
Next up Sumptuous Moment sounds like a who's who of progressive masters with comparisons to the best elements of Gabriel-era Genesis, Gentle Giant and Rick Wakeman's early solo works. Even A Farewell To Kings by Rush is easily called up for reference. A delicate and intimate affair follows with Lovers; this piece evolves into so much more. If you close your eyes you can feel and experience it for yourself. I'm truly impressed at the skill shown in capturing and playing such a personal experience for anyone to listen to at will. With Dream Tale I found myself bouncing back and forth between comparisons to Gryphon and Renaissance, and after many listens the obvious came to me: Blackmore's Night on their first two albums, Shadow Of The Moon (1998) and Under A Violet Moon (1999). It's a lovely piece, although far too short, so I'd like to challenge the group to continue developing the theme on a future release. Please, it's simply too good not to!
The final track Alviss' Revenge is a revamping of the first track released on their first album. It's a journey within a journey, and the song is one you will return to over and over again. I think it can best be described as a magnum opus, with many fine passages throughout. The most striking moment for me was the hearing of melodic guitar harmonies that harkened back to a specific work and a long-time personal favourite: Uli Jon Roth' s brilliant melodic 'hammer on' fills on We'll Burn The Sky by The Scorpions on the album Taken By Force (1977). Okay, it's not a progressive album I reference here, but his guitar playing is progressive in every way. Until this piece I've not encountered another guitarist with this marvellous approach. Its appearance is a breath of fresh air unlike any other.
I can't count the amount of times I've heard something like this. They don't write songs like that anymore in recent years. Well, I'm so very pleased to say that they most certainly do, and Court's Twenty Flying Kings is the proof positive. In every way imaginable they capture the spirit of progressive rock. Court delivers the full glory of what progressive music can and should be to eager their audience. They're excellent musicians, with well-written compositions offering a lush, full, and comprehensive sound. Judge and jury say: don't miss Court!
***** Thomas Rhymer (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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