"Of Fate and Glory" - The second album by The Rome Pro(g)ject. Review by Alan Hewitt.
Well, in keeping with the Latin theme of this edition, here we have the second album by Vincenzo Ricca and his band of merry minstrels. I first had the pleasure of encountering Vincenzo at one of Steve’s gigs in Italy in 2009 and was delighted when he released the first album a few years ago.
Here he is back with a second slice of historically themed Prog based around the characters and history of the Eternal City of Rome. Once again Vincenzo ha managed to enlist the help of some impressive musicians not only Mr and Mrs Hackett but also Yes’ Billy Sherwood and Van Der Graaf Generator’s David Jackson and modern day Prog icon, Franck Carducci.
The album’s title track gets things off to a suitably impressive start. Jo Hackett take s the role of our narrator, reciting the titles of the tracks of the album before Mr Hackett’s unmistakable guitar soars like a veritable Roman eagle, accompanied by equally impressive keyboards from Vincenzo himself.
The Wolf And The Twins is a delightful musical interpretation of the story of the founding fathers of Rome: Romulus and Remus and the she-wolf who is reputed to have suckled them when they were abandoned as infants. Sharing the honours here are Vincenzo and Billy Sherwood and this is a track that is definitely tinged with echoes of Yes at their most magisterial. Sherwood and Vincenzo also share the honours on the album’s next track: The Seven Kings of Rome which opens with an instantly catchy drum and keyboard pattern. I cannot help but be reminded here of Rock Wakeman’s musical interpretation of another series of historical figures, the music is even more abstracted in terms of depicting individual characters especially as shadowy as these.
Seven Hills And A River is a broad sonic sound scape of the city itself and the Rover Tiber which flows through the heart of it. A brilliant evocation of the majesty and beauty of the city and its surroundings which is vividly brought to life through Vincenzo’s majestic keyboard work and the delicate phrasings of Riccardo Romano on harp (Riccardo is the keyboard player with Steve Rothery’s band), and Franck Carducci on acoustic guitar and bass. Every facet of the city is here in a glorious confection of sound, and as someone who has visited the city on several occasions, I can tell you the end result really is a particularly vivid evocation of it and listening to this track brings back many fond memories for me.
Forum Magnum (The Great Forum) is next, and here Vincenzo is joined by Van Der Graaf stalwart, David Jackson on his usual variety of wind instruments and begins with what sounds like a dog howling in the night. The Forum is evoked here as a place of majesty and yet the everyday hustle and bustle is there too as it was the central marketplace for the city and the central hub of the Empire after all, and so the great and the good rubbed shoulders with those lesser mortals who also had their part to play and all are brought vividly to life in a wonderfully rich musical pageant played out through the performances of Vincenzo, David and the other musicians who accompany them.
S.P.Q.R (Senatus Populusque Romano rum - The People And Senate Of Rome) the political heart of the Empire and the governing body responsible for its maintenance. Here we have an evocation of such well known characters as Julius Caesar, Pompey Magnus, Cato, Crassus et al. Mr Hackett makes his presence felt here with a particularly spiky electric guitar refrain. The musical voices of Steve, Vincenzo and Billy compete as if in debate and then soar as if that debate has ended in agreement, as defined by another eloquent classical guitar part from Steve. The debate never ends however, as the business of a might empire is a never ending thing.
Rome’s literary legacy has the spotlight thrown on to it next with a reference to one of her finest poets and his best known work. Ovid’s Ars Amatoria (Art Of Love). Vincenzo sets a sepulchral time here while Mauro Montobbio, David Jackson and Giorgio Clementelli respectively on flute, sax and a plethora of other wind instruments, synth, guitar and acoustic guitar take the parts of the lovers evoked in the poem itself. The Muse becomes the music here with some truly wonderful playing while the story is deftly left to your own imagination, which is, of course, as it should be.
Augustus (Primus Inter Pares - First Among Equals) is a magnificent pen portrait of the first emperor of Rome. Here there are some definite Wakemanesque touches, maybe because once again, like Rick, this is a musical portrait rather than a vocal one. Augustus was, by all accounts, a very complex character, and this is certainly borne out by the music which veers from gentle acoustic moments to full blown rages of savage saxophone and relentless marching drumming - Augustus brought brilliantly to life.
Hadrianeum is a darkly dramatic evocation of one of the city’s finest civic buildings and features some impressive guitar work by Paolo Ricca in addition to the excellence of his father’s keyboard work and bass playing.
The album proper concludes with The Conquest Of The World (Traianus - Trajan). By the time the emperor Trajan took the throne, the Roman Empire was at its largest extent, and this is described by another brilliant series of musical vignettes outlining the various elements of the empire and its constituent peoples, all of whom had the right to claim : “Civis Romanus Sum”.
There is a bonus track on the disc - The Pantheon’s Dome, another magnificent description of one of the city’s more majestic landmarks. Here we have the combined classical guitars of Steve Hackett and Mauro Montobbio alongside Vincenzo’s deliciously restrained, almost severe, keyboards. I can’t help but hear echoes of Genesis’ Lamb… album here but that does not detract from what is a fittingly grandiose ending to a marvellous album.
Rome is a city that has inspired poets and writers for most of its history and here is another fitting tribute to the Eternal City and one which I am delighted to have in my collection. A veritable musical guide book to some of the key figures and monuments therein and one in which each and every musician who took part in it can be proud of such an immense achievement.
The Rome Pro(g)ject - Of Fate And Glory. TRP Records CDALB02. Available at www.vincenzoricca.it and in selected record stores worldwide.
TWR was also fortunate enough to catch up with Vincenzo for a chat about the album and how it came about so, over to you, Vincenzo….
TWR: Tell us a little about how you became a musician and what your influences are?
VR: I am not a musician, I am a composer, paying extreme attention to arrangement. I have been playing by ear since I was three. At the age of eight my parents offered me the chance to take private piano lessons. I couldn’t stand that approach so I “fired” the teacher after a month! My first original tune was composed when I was eleven. Electronic keyboards are my main media but I can play several instruments. I usually write soundtracks for documentaries and work for sound libraries. That’s why I consider The Rome Pro(g)ject as a beautiful diversion, even though Prog Rock is one of my main influences.
In May 1976 I was attracted by a tune played on the radio: A Trick Of The Tail which was unavailable as a single so I was forced to buy the album and that’s how I discovered Genesis… and the rest came subsequently, Yes, Wakeman, early King Crimson, Camel, Hackett., P.F.M . There are lots of deliberate “hints” of my musical heroes in both of these albums.
TWR: How did the Rome Pro(g)ject come about in the first place?
VR: I tried to meet Steve in the dressing room after the gig in Rome in 2009 (where we met, Alan!). It was one of the first concerts after his returning to stage and he was so tired after the show. So I humbly got close to Jo, introduced myself and explained to her my idea. I gave her the sheet of paper originally written for Steve. Being the wonderful person that she is - The Rome Pro(g)ject’s Godmother - she was immediately impressed by the idea of bringing back to life, in Prog Rock style, Ancient Rome by using just music and very few words. Steve was introduced to this project’s episode one by his wife. I owe a lot to Steve and Jo, two extraordinary human beings.
TWR: Tell us a little about the ideas behind the albums and the tracks on both of them…
VR: This and its predecessor are independent releases. Conceived and produced by myself. I used to hold full control of everything from the original concept to the final distribution of the records. It is all in my hands. A great attention to each and every detail, from the logo to the artwork, from photos to notes on he CD digital. A group of friends, excellent musicians, are allowed to play their own musical ideas and /or strictly mine. On TRP 1 I had important musical contributions from a wider bunch of known and less well known musicians - such as members of Italian Prog band Banco, whose singer, the late Francesco Di Giacomo; Caravan/Camel bassist Richard Sinclair, former Hackett band members Nick Magnus and John Hackett; David Cross of King Crimson, Steve and David Jackson. On TRP2 again we have Steve and David plus Yes alumnus Billy Sherwood.
In Steve’s case, he just did what he wanted on Down To The Domus Aurea (on TRP1) but I asked him to play two held notes at the end of that track; the same notes he had played in 1976 during the live passage from It to Watcher Of The Skies as you can hear on Genesis Three Sides Live. At the same time he was very pleased to evoke very closely his line in Hairless Heart in Of Fate And Glory upon the opening track. In this case, he didn’t change one note from the original score I sent him. Steve’s guitar was recorded by Roger King (Down To The Domus Aurea and SPQR) and by Ben Fenner (Of Fate And Glory and Pantheon’s Dome). Not to talk of his incredible availability when I asked him to act in the promotional video for SPQR which was shot just before one of his recent gigs in Rome!
Billy Sherwood is one of a kind! He is fully dedicated to music in a modern way. I asked him to play bass as “Squirish” as he could and he did a great job! He is a fine recording engineer and played some nice guitars and did some drum parts on The Seven Kings Of Rome was mixed by him in his own studio in LA.
Finally, David Jackson who, like Steve, was on TRP1. He played enthusiastically all kinds of wind instruments on three tracks. He also enjoys playing with me and his contributions are always made on an incredibly high number of tracks - eleven! Second just to the tracks needed to record a drum part - fifteen. It is always great fun to mix his parts!
TWR: How did you manage to get so many well known people to participate in the project?
VR: An interesting project, Steve’s presence and a lot of courage and nerve!
TWR: How long did it take to record the album?
VR: It was a long process. I think no less than two and a half years for both albums. That’s why in Fate And Glory’s case I have lost for different reasons - too many other commitments, and health conditions - some fine contributions from Steve Rothery, David Cross, and Rick Wakeman. They all couldn’t play on the album in the end although they all said yes immediately when asked. You can easily recognise Steve and David’s parts - modelled on their playing styles on track four: Seven Hills And A River, as well as you can easily hear Rick’s style on track three - The Seven Kings Of Rome.
TWR: Any plans to perhaps perform material from the albums live?
VR: I would love to do it but it is very difficult. Perhaps one day, you never know!
TWR: Future plans?
VR: Many. Different things, music for films, TV, orchestral stuff and who knows, a TRP III in five years? I’m joking!
There you have it folks, a brief look at how this fascinating project came into being. Thanks to Vincenzo for taking the time to speak to us.