From the bottom of the garden to the bottom of the sea: a prog maestro goes for a solo shape-shifting.
Having made his name as part of MOONGARDEN who, in the ’90s, made a serious attempt to restore Italian art rock to its ’70s glory, recently Cristiano Roversi has been involved in a series of collaborations with the genre’s coryphaei, which resulted in the decision to embark on a personal quest of grand proportions. Cue “AntiQua” that sees the artist in mostly instrumental atmosphere, so perfect for a journey in the titular fairy land, but it would be just wrong for an Apennine kind of album to flow with singing, and who can deliver a quasi-operatic ballad better than former PFM warbler Bernardo Lanzetti, who voices the central section of “Tales From Solitude Suite”, and LE ORME’s Aldo Tagliapietra who’s all over “L’Amore”? Yet if the vocals are elegantly effusive, Roversi’s strings and keys sculpt gentle emotions from the classically informed acoustic fiber of “Morning in AntiQua” to the piano-led “AntiQua’s Evening”, while Mellotrons and electric guitars conjure up much more fantastic imagery than the brilliant Ed Unitsky’s artwork outlines.
Recurring themes keep elusive narrative together and melodic passages, for all their airiness and watercolor, both transparent and arresting in “Nessie Revealed”, never lose focus. It works in favor of integrity and intrigue, especially in the Arcadian delicacy of “Celestial Slowfall”, where flute imparts painfully sweet melody to the strum, and in the gauze-like treble which carries “Dimlit Tavern” from a reedy reverie to a folk dream that blooms on in the title track, until its heartbeat drums grow in scope and attract cosmic electricity. And it’s a demanding adventure: easy on the ear, “AntiQua” begs for repeating spins to see all the strains of its fabric. It’s that wonderful.