Ángel Ontalva & Vespero - Carta Marina

7 songs
60:29 minutes
***** ***


Half a year after Vespero’s latest and really great album Shum-Shir, the progressive psychedelic rock band from Southern Russia is back with a new collaborative album, Carta Marina, recorded together with Ángel Ontalva, who is best known as the guitarist of avant prog band October Equus who have released some well received records over the last ten or so years.

At times, such collaborative albums can be quite tedious, because both sides don’t know each other that well, but in this case, one can well claim that the final result might even be bigger than the sum of its parts. The music is not as brainy as what October Equus do, but also in a way more structured than the sometimes psychedelic outbursts of Vespero. Carta Marina, named after "Carta marina et descriptio septentrionalium terrarum", a map from the 16th century that first showed a detailed view of the Nordic countries, contains seven songs that make it to one hour of music. The album starts and closes with its two longest tracks, both running over ten minutes, where the artists can let it all out at their leisure. Especially the twelve-minute-long opener and title track works magic by starting rather slowly and then building into a mesmerising crescendo taking advantage of the excellent guitar and violin work, so that at times you might feel reminded of the Mahavishnu Orchestra. The centre piece Insula Magnetica is a nine-minute-long drony ambient exploration that is quite hypnotic if maybe a little on the long side. The four remaining tracks are shorter, although they still are between six and a half and eight minutes long. I especially want to point out Horrenda Charybdis Near Lofoten that starts weirdly enough but soon takes you to a place that sounds like forty-five years ago. Distorted organs, a wailing guitar and an overall mellow mood catapult you straight to the good, old days of the Canterbury scene, as if Soft Machine and Camel met for a secret jam session. The melodies are incredibly moving, the sound is vintage yet transparent and powerful, making this that one track that you absolutely should listen to.

The great thing about Carta Marina is that Ángel Ontalva and Vespero achieve the rare trick of sounding together unlike their music when played by themselves without the other party present. Fans of psychedelic progressive rock with impressive guitar skills and a certain knack for jazz fusion will be delighted by this quality hour retro feast. I must confess that I was afraid that this would turn out to be too much on the improvisational side, but the musicians were smart enough to put enough thought into the songwriting to allow Carta Marina to become an outstanding album!

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