While the concept of a new kind of classical musicliberally cross-pollinating beyond its furthest reacheshas been evolving since the 1970s with artists ranging from Univers Zero to Frank Zappa, there are those sadly overlooked in a new chamber music as likely to mix electric keyboards with violins as it is mandolin and drums with clarinets and grand piano. Multi-instrumentalist Tommaso Leddi was a founding member of Italy's Stormy Six, one of the seminal Rock in Opposition groups alongside Univers Zero, Henry Cow, Samla Mammas Manna and Etron Fou Leloublan. Each brought its own distinctive sound to the table, but all were defined by a fearless exploratory aesthetic described as "The music the record companies don't want you to hear."
Times have changed, and with the proliferation of small, independent labels and the creation of larger global communities to support niche music (thanks to the internet), none of these groups would get rich today, but there's now an audience that would have been impossible to maintain 30 years ago. Leddi has, in recent years, become a founding member of Yugen, whose debut, Labirinto d'acqua (AltrOck, 2006), focused on rearrangements of music by Erik Satie and other original music in a context that was undeniably complexoften approaching the avant-garde with a combination of gentility and a harder rock edgeoccasionally cacophonous but somehow always beautiful. Uovo Fatali: Yugen Plays Leddi is Yugen's follow-up, but this time focuses exclusively on Leddi's writing. The result is an album possessing more innate focus; one that capitalizes on the strengths of Labirinto d'acqua, but goes further towards defining a distinctive personality for the group.
Elegant contrapuntal lines twist and turn around guitarist Francesco Zago, pianist Maurizio Fasoli, violinist Elia Mariana and clarinetist Valerio Cipollone at the beginning of the aptly titled "Escher, as drummer Mattia Signo provide a straightforward backbeat. But that's only the beginning of a four minute piece that then turns knottier, with instruments intertwining while tempi shift constantly; a complex web of musical lines that, no matter how difficult to navigate, remains strangely resonant.
The contrapuntal convolutions sometimes recall Gentle Giant, but the instrumentation is far richer and the music less song-based (even with Giant's disposition to long-form, episodic compositions). The near-anarchy (but still through composition) of "Abisso" contrasts sharply with the waltz-time and quirkily humorous "Campo," with its images of sun-drenched piazzas, and the darker, more rough-hewn and rhythmically propulsive "Colonia," where Zago's overdriven guitar takes this chamber-driven music well into the 21st century.
Yugen successfully marries concerns of the heart with those of the mind; challenging yet compelling writing, interpreted by an unorthodox combination of instruments to create music that, were it performed by a conventional ensemble, would be unmistakably a part of the classical tradition. Still, despite its nonconformist approach to music and how it's delivered, Uovo Fatali: Yugen Plays Leddi is a remarkable album that posits a new kind of classicism unafraid to incorporate immediate contemporary concerns with the more traditional construct and elegance of small ensemble chamber music.