Stefano Panunzi – Pages from the Sea (2023)

Stefano Panunzi - Pages from the Sea (2023)
Artist: Stefano Panunzi
Album: Pages from the Sea
Genre: Crossover Prog
Year Of Release: 2023
Quality: FLAC (tracks)

Tracklist:
1. Which Trust? (5:50)
2. Not Waiving, but Drowning (5:30)
3. The Secret (5:16)
4. The Sea (6:24)
5. You and I (4:37)
6. Steel Wave (6:03)
7. Every Drop of Your Love (6:19)
8. Swimming to Sea (6:14)
9. I’m Feeling So Blue (5:49)
10. Those Words (Words Are All We Have) (5:16)
11. An Autumn Day (5:32)
12. The Sea Woman (4:23)

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Personnel:
– Stefano Panunzi / keyboards, piano

With:
– Nicola Lori / guitar & bass (1,2)
– Mike Applebaum / flugelhorn (1,9)
– Luca Fareri / drums (1,4)
– Fabio Trentini / bass (1,3,6,11)
– Jakko M. Jakszyk / vocals (2,7,10)
– Sunao Inami / electronics (3)
– Alessandro Inolti / drums (3,5,10,11)
– Peter Goddard / vocals (4)
– Giacomo Anselmi / guitar (4)
– Fabio Fraschini / bass (4,5,7,8,9)
– Robby Aceto / vocals & piano & guitar (5,8)
– Peter Dodge / trumpet (5)
– Cristiano Capobianco / drums (6,9)
– Pat Mastelotto / drums (7)
– Stefano Petrocco / double bass (10)
– SiRenée / vocals (11)
– Markus Reuter / Warr guitar (11)

Fortune would have it that my pre-ordered and autographed Stefano Panunzi album would arrive just in time for my birthday, making this a perfectly timed present to myself, as I adore his entire solo discography as well as his Fjieri project. Besides being roughly the same age, we both share a very strong love for the sadly departed Mick Karn, former solo artist, and bass player for Japan, who truly revolutionized the way fretless bass is played. His wobbly, almost rubbery tone set it apart from other master bassists such as Tony Levin, John Giblin, Percy Jones, John G.Perry, Jaco Pastorius, Pino Palladino and many others. Stefano continues to infuse Karn’s legacy into all his projects, making sure that that wicked bass has a strong beam of light shining down on it from the heavens. His 2021 album ‘Beyond the Illusion’ was extremely well-received and I had no qualms at all of it giving maximum acceleration points, jut like the two Fjieri albums that are equally brilliant. Whereas his previous work featured the silky vocals of Tim Bowness, on “Pages from the Sea”, the microphone is now handed to his old crony on the second Fjieri album, the illustrious Jakko Jakszyk, currently with King Crimson and an outstanding solo artist and session man extraordinaire (The Tangent, Lifesigns, Level 42, Kompendium etc?) in his own right. Other vocalists include Peter Goddard, Robby Aceto and Sirenée. The Panunzi musical adventure encompasses a variety of influences from progressive rock, art-pop and jazz, with intricate nods to complex rhythmic applications as well as charming and heartfelt vocals.

Before anything, swift and massive applause for the exquisite artwork, arguably one of the most alluring album covers ever, courtesy of master artist Bernd Webler from Weisbaden, Germany who has combined golden waves on an emerald green ocean to great effect, swelling the visuals to match the music inside. A real treat.

A dashing jazzy instrumental kicks off the proceedings with “Which Truth? “, featuring some brassy sass from flugelhorn master Mike Applebaum, complemented with a sparkling rhythm section and some astute keyboard and guitar interplay that winks at King Crimson at his mechanical finest. The viper bass line (Fabio Trentini) has the fangs drawn and can be heard swirling around the main theme with lethal accuracy. A cultured reworking of “Not Waving, But Drowning” from Fjieri’s second output “Words We All Have” does a new take on it with the same effortless gusto, a pleasing tune that Jakko sang back in 2015. The brooding and yet robust bass line recalling vividly the lamented Mick Karn is played by Nicola Lori and proves just how incredibly visionary this style has become. The suave singing and regretful lyrics are profound and emotional, caressing the senses with mysterious melancholia. Sophisticated adult music of the highest order. Another splashy instrumental is presented on “The Secret”, a more electronic adaptation with guest Sunao Inami flirting with his switches, as Stefano supplements his luxuriant keyboards, while rampaging bassist Fabio Trentini and percussionist/octopus Alessandro Inolti cook up a forceful tempest. The hauntingly aquatic “The Sea” features vocalist Peter Goddard and offers up a refined siren song about rescue amid the frothy crests, ‘cormorants crying, eyes misted by the spray’, a simply beautiful piece of music. A Robby Aceto/Stefano Panunzi collaboration on the strident “You and I” emits a more exploratory cool jazz feel, with Peter Dodge’s trumpet blaring in despair, a love song full of regret, feeling and perfume. Robby’s vocals are suitably despondent, perhaps even on the verge of sullen madness. One more vocal less workout is projected on “Steel Waves”, the Fabio Trentini bass spiralling like a berserk kite in the morning sky, with clanging guitars and choppy drums in tow, taking all kinds of twirling directions and drenched in subtle keyboard liaisons that seek only to titillate and inspire. Tremendous entertainment. A definite highlight track is the resilient “Every Drop of Your Love”, sounding like a way more progressive version of funk-pop band Level 42 (with whom Jakko had played back in the day, replacing the legendary Alan Holdsworth, believe it or not!). The track also features the rhythmic propulsion of drummer extraordinaire Pat Mastelotto (currently with King Crimson as well). Needless to say, this is a soulful piece full of forlorn pain emanating from an emotional breakup. I can stand this, even though Jakko sings that he can’t. The solemn “Swimming to Sea” is another winning Aceto/Panunzi composition, quite stripped bare in order to reveal the skin-deep despair within the lyrics. The lack of any animated drums really underlines the disconsolateness expressed, though there is some programed percussion. The manic piano swims in sorrow, the raving electric guitar drowns into agitated eddies, together in a perfect perception of musical discombobulation. Back to terra firma on the athletic “I’m Feeling So Blue” where Cristiano Capobianco (his last name ironically is translatable as whitecaps), a jazzy, punchy, modern, urban exercise that has a second flugelhorn appearance from Mike Applebaum. Sublime piano from Stefano, chugging guitar riffing and a subtle bass line underneath it all. Erudite, mature, and exhilarating. “Those Words (Words are All We Have)” is a renewed and extended version that appeared on the Fjieri album of the same name with residuals Panunzi and Jakszyk still on board but with a new rhythm section. It was and still is a tremendous piece of music that remains a classic in my eyes (actually, ears) as Jakko’s impassioned vocal is one for the ages, flush with drama and power. The chorus is majestic, heartfelt, and bold. That is what music means to me and hopefully to all of us. In this increasingly synthetic, acerbic, sarcastic, and imbecilic world we live in, its refreshing to witness FEELING and PASSION as opposed to the current 2 rulers of 21st century (yes Schizoid, Robert): apathy and lies. Words are all we have, indeed. “An Autumn Day” surprisingly takes the unaware listener to a different realm, with the inclusion of both vocalist Sirenée, owner of a suggestive voice and famed ‘oblique’ guitarist Markus Reuter, he of Stick Men fame. The result is a pure joy to witness, as both guests shine like a luminous ray, carving its way through the October clouds. Modern music does not get much more intriguingly likeable than this.

The finale is suitably elaborate, luminescent, and optimistic, as the bright keyboards serenade the siren, “the Sea Woman”, the enigmatic presence that has inspired many an adventurer through the strands of time. A gorgeous send off, as I already eagerly await the next chapter in Stefano Panunzi’s world.
Review by tszirmay, progarchives

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