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ACQUA FRAGILE, from Parma, Italy, was founded by Bernardo Lanzetti (vocals, guitar), Gino Campanini (guitar) and Piero Canavera (drums), all ex Gli Immortali (The Immortals). They were joined by former I Moschettieri bassist Franz Dondi and keyboard player Maurizio Mori. They came to the attention of fellow Italian progsters PREMIATA FORNERIA MARCONI (PFM) and were signed to the Numero Uno label. Their first album ACQUA FRAGILE (1973) opens with ‘Morning Comes’, a prog classic with mastery of ‘light and shade’, a pastoral opening with nice bass lines, the guitar becoming heavier with GENESIS like organ chords and flailing electric guitar passages. ‘Comic Strips’ sounds straight out of the GENTLE GIANT songbook with a unique twist demarcated by Bernardo Lanzetti’s distinctive vocal tremolo ‘warble’ (nearest comparison Roger Chapman of FAMILY). On songs like ‘Science Fiction Suite’ a YES influence is detectable, especially in the melodies and harmonies (Lanzetti insists the group was actually using ‘the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young code’), while album closer ‘Three Hands Man’ is a complex and powerful piece putting Acqua Fragile right up there with the best of the 70s prog bands. Sophomore album MASS-MEDIA STARS (1974) (not released in the UK), was even better than the group’s creditable debut, opening with prog classic and live favourite ‘Cosmic Mind Affair’, with some beautiful synth play and clever variations. On the second song, Lanzetti’s vocal resembles PETER GABRIEL and the music has a definite early GENESIS leaning. The title track is a complex YES like track with a prominent rhythm section. Both albums are sung in English and are excellent examples of classic melodic prog.

Joe Vescovi (ex The Trip) replaced Mori in 1974 and Lanzetti left to join PFM in 1975 and made telling contributions to their ‘Chocolate Kings’ and ‘Jet Lag’ albums. Although Lanzetti was briefly replaced by Roby Facini (ex Dik Dik) the group split in 1975. Lanzetti later sang with MANGALA VALLIS.

Following a revived interest in the group Esoteric followed their remastered CD editions of ACQUA FRAGILE’s first two albums by releasing an album of new material, forty-four years after their first one! Lanzetti, Canaveri and Dondi all featured and legendary lyricist PETE SINFIELD supplied some lyrics (on ‘Raindrops’) along with STEVE HACKETT collaborator Nick Clabburn. A NEW CHANT (2017) showed that the group had lost none of their technical ability or inventiveness with the passing of the years and the album was well received by reviewers: Bernardo Lanzetti’s ‘How Come’ is a highlight and ‘All Rise’ reminded us of GENTLE GIANT in the nicest possible way!

Imagine my surprise and delight when I discovered (late) that Acqua Fragile were releasing another album, with old stalwarts Lanzetti, Dondi and Canavera all on board. The keyboardist is Stefano Pantaleoni; Claudio Tuma plays guitar (so does Lanzetti), and guest vocalist in Rossella Volta is heard to good effect on just one track ‘IA Intelligenza Artificiale’. There are quite a few other guest appearances including illustrious drummer Gigi Cavalli Cocchi, ex MANGALA VALLIS, who plays on two tracks; he has played with DAVID JACKSON and NIC POTTER of VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR, JOHN ELLIS, MAURIO PAGANI of PFM and IAN ANDERSON to name but a few.

I love everything about this album, the way it flows, the synthesiser and mellotron sounds: ’Black Drone’ is a relative of KING CRIMSON’s ‘21st Century Schizoid Man’ for sure, but I for one am not worried for a new direction is taken and it features a top-drawer guitar break and a nice cameo by David Jackson on sax and flute. Lanzetti’s voice is really strong on opener ‘Her Shadow’s Torture’; the fluid guitar, sustained organ chords and expeditious rhythm section on the catchy, anthemic ‘Il Suano Dell a Voce’ are a delight; it would make have made a good single in Italy back in the day; Pantaleoni has his moment in the spotlight and shows his inventiveness and agility on electric piano, synth and organ (with cricket noises) on ‘DD Danz’, and ‘Limerence Ethereal’ is a strong closer. It is hard to pick anything out: I was moved by the whole experience, and will certainly continue listening to this album in the future. I totally agree with John Giordano’s of the Progressive Aspect website’s words: “Amazingly, this might just be their best!”

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