Keyboardist/composer Giovanni Parmeggiani kicks off the first track of Accordo dei Contrari's third album, 2014's AdC, with the unaccompanied retro-synth buzzes and echoing swoops of his MiniMoog, but after the startlingly abrupt entrance of guitarist Marco Marzo, bassist Daniele Piccinini, and drummer Cristian Franchi, Parmeggiani switches to Fender Rhodes and the Bologna, Italy-based instrumental prog-fusion quartet is off and running -- or rather skipping -- through "Nadir"'s ever-changing rhythmic variations. The band's modus operandi, introduced on the 2007 AltrOck label debut Kinesis and continued on 2011's independently released Kublai, remains intact -- if not pushed further -- on this return to AltrOck, recorded mainly live in the studio with minimal overdubbing. In the nine-and-a-half-minute "Nadir," Marzo unleashes a full-throttle solo over the band's angular 11/8 backing and then gently doubles his electric guitar with acoustic in a ghostly interlude whose mood is enhanced by Parmeggiani's tremolo-laden Rhodes, but suddenly the guitarist, Piccinini, and Franchi explode and lock into a pounding syncopated 6/8 groove accented by Parmeggiani's overdriven keys. In an arresting crescendo, the pianist shifts to powerful chords, Marzo to a repeating wah-wah riff, and Franchi to pure pummeling. Accordo dei Contrari then segue from a brief recap of earlier motifs into guitar and keyboard ostinatos over which -- in classic Soft Machine style -- Piccinini delivers Hugh Hopper-esque fuzz bass; after more driving, layered angularity, the track's looping fade suggests Mike Ratledge melded with Fripp & Eno.
For those who might find "Nadir" a bit too epic, the unflaggingly energetic "Dandelion" is half the opening tune's length and keeps the focus on the band's skewed punch for the duration; Parmeggiani is the master of his full-bodied Hammond here, and given Franchi's lock on the syncopated beat, the drummer's right foot on the kick drum pedal deserves special mention in the credits. Music as muscular as Accordo dei Contrari's might seem ill-suited for interpretation by chamber strings, but the unaccompanied trio of Parmeggiani on acoustic piano, violinist Vladimiro Cantaluppi, and cellist Enrico Guerzoni is suitably animated and robust in the intro to "Seth Zeugma," and the Parmeggiani-penned themes prove equally effective whether played acoustic chamber style or rocked up electrically after the full band takes over. "Dua" finds Parmeggiani shifting back and forth between acoustic piano and organ through one of the album's most unpredictable numbers, while, after beginning with spacy atmospherics, "Tiglath" revisits -- with relative concision -- some of the same Balkan/Middle Eastern territory as the stretched-out "Arabesque" from Kublai. AdC returns to chamber music in its final track, "Piú Limpida...," with Marzo on arpeggiated acoustic guitar joined by Parmeggiani sparsely marking the harmonic changes on acoustic piano, accenting the warmth of Cantaluppi's viola and Marina Scaramagli's cello. It's a gentle, subtle coda to an album otherwise filled with the type of blazing solos, odd-metered time signatures, precisely executed unison bridges, hypnotic riffing, and dramatic chordal hooks that fans of high-energy fusion-tinged electric prog shouldn't miss. ~ Dave Lynch