Wednesday 10 January 2024

Roz Vitalis - Quia Nesciunt Quid Faciunt (2023)

Country: Russia
Style: Progressive Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 26 Oct 2023
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Prog Archives | VK

I like the title of this album, which is Latin for Because They Don't Know What They're Doing. Of course, they do, because Roz Vitalis have been around since 2001 and this is their eleventh studio album. I've seen the name often, because they were founded by my favourite Russian harpsichord player, Ivan Rozmainsky, who was a one man band until expanding in 2005 to a group setting. This is much more modern than his chamber prog band Compassionizer, who were named for an album by Roz Vitalis, not least through the use of a lot of electric instrumentation. However, there are a couple of songs here feturing his Compassionizer bandmates.

Like Compassionizer, this is entirely instrumental progressive rock, but it's guitar led just as much as it's keyboard led, courtesy of guitarist Vladimir Semenov. This is highly varied, from the opener, Bait of Success, which is fundamentally riff-based and the guitar is only one of many instruments working that riff, to Premonition, which rocks out with full on guitar solos. One in particular soars in patient fashion, reminding a little of the Alan Parsons Project. Walking starts out in the Mark Knopfler style, another song that often reaches for a heavier guitar. However, the need isn't just heavy here and often calls for a quieter acoustic guitar instead of an electric one.

While Rozmainsky does play harpischord here, his keyboard work is also varied, from a quiet piano interlude called Fountain (and a quiet piano outro called Nocturne) to wilder space rock sections on Premonition and more traditional electronica on Wides. He plays a metallophone on Walking, which is a xylophone with metal bars, just like a glockenspiel, in a section that comes right out of a harpsichord solo and segues straight into rock guitar. He's a sort of glue here: even when he's not performing on a lead instrument, he still controls where the song is going as a composer and links sections with his keyboards.

Where clarinet is also a lead instrument in Compassionizer, Roz Vitalis is happy to stick to guitars and keyboards. However, there are other instruments here, many of which get moments to shine on Bait of Success, which often feels like a round robin giving each of them a chance to play with the core riff. It's played on guitar and it's played on keyboards, of course, in a variety of different ways. However, it's also played by flute and also on trumpet, which adds something new to the sound. Flute and trumpet lead the way on Daybreaking for quite a while and it's delightful.

I've liked each of the Compassionizer releases I've tackled thus far, but it was clear from the very first track of the very first album that they have no interest in being like anyone else. That was an entirely new experience for me, introducing me to chamber prog, and it's fair to say that they're a prog fan's prog band. I don't want to call Roz Vitalis commercial, because they're still doing their own thing, but they are far more accessible. Most of this music flows, sometimes very organically in a Philip Glass-esque way on Bait of Success. Much of it is up tempo and highly engaging. Sure, a part of the musical audience isn't going to go for instrumental music or for prog in particular, but it's easy to imagine a random fan coming into this blind and skeptical and leaving a clear fan, especially with songs like Daybreaking and Wides.

It gets more challenging eight songs in with The Man Whose Wings Were Cut Off, which is many of the things the album was up until that point but also a lot more. It's happier to be jagged at points, playing with less obvious rhythms and flows. It features heavier drums and some heavier guitar, but also drops into very delicate ethnic instrumentation, like rubab and doira with a harpsichord backdrop, because this is one of those songs with the whole of Compassionizer on it, even though most members of Roz Vitalis are still here too, bass player Ruslan Kirillov excepted.

Premonition is the epic of the album at just over nine minutes and it's a good track, but The Man Whose Wings Were Cut Off does more in under eight. It's far less accessible but it's also teasingly complex after listening to so many smoother, less challenging songs, and we almost pay attention all the more because of that. Beautifulness is a midway point, half challenging and half accessible, with obvious moments for Leonid Perevalov's bass clarinet, but it doesn't seem to have as much of a coherent identity. Moments strike me but I keep returning to The Man Whose Wings Were Cut Off instead.

While I've heard a lot of Rozmainsky's work in Compassionizer, this is my first experience of what I guess is his primary band, Roz Vitalis. I like this a lot, but it's easy music to like. It's a different side to Rozmainsky and he's often dominant, but Semenov is just as often dominant on guitar and I'm drawn to that. I believe Alexey Gorshkov is a guest here, but his trumpet stood out for me too, as a wonderful additional voice in this instrumental mix. It's been five years since the previous album from Roz Vitalis, presumably to give Rozmainsky time to build Compassionizer and they've never gone that long between albums before, so I'd guess we'll see another one sooner than 2029.

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