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Arbeit Macht Frei

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  • Appearing as it did in 1973, Area's debut album must have sounded to the average Italian pop critics like the end of the world. Issued on the Cramps label (and reissued by Arkarma as part of the Area box set), the album highlighted Area's early sound, which featured overt folk melodies, Canterbury Scene prog rock, acid psychedelia, and vanguard jazz all filtered through a particularly Italian sensibility. Those who came to love PFM later will not be able to handle the beautiful -- yet very disciplined -- weirdness of Area, at least on this disc. The Soft Machine comparisons are inevitable, especially in the free jazz sax blowing of Victor Eduardo Busnello. But in the deep funky guitarism of Paolo Trofani and rock-steady rhythmic invention of Patrick Djivasa on bass and Guido Capiozzo on drums, this band, fronted by keyboardist Patrizio Fariselli and vocalist-from-Mars Demetrio Stratos, Area was, at least in this early stage, a rock & roll band more than it was a jazz unit in the same way Soft Machine had evolved into one. Stratos is closest, sounding like Leon Thomas fronting Eno-era Roxy Music playing Mahavishnu Orchestra tunes, but Busnello's saxes are a close second. The rockish angles come from the guitars, while the bridge to progressivism comes from the rhythm section. Of the six tracks here, clocking in at just over 36 minutes, "Arbeit Macht Frei," the title track, is the one that brings all the pieces together most seamlessly. There are quotes from King Crimson's "21st Century Schizoid Man" and Jeff Beck's Beck-Ola album wrapped around towering rhythmic architectures and bleeding key changes that blur the boundaries between the various musics that made up the pursuit of Area. This is ambitious, strange, and ultimately very beautiful, an album that has dated very well into the new century. ~ Thom Jurek
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