I first came across Squadra Omega earlier this year when reviewing the latest In Zaire album, ‘Visions of the Age To Come‘, when I was seeing what else Ricky at Sound of Cobra had to offer. I came across the band’s brilliant double album ‘Altri Occhi Ci Guardano’ there and immediately ordered it. This also prompted me to put together a playlist of Italian psychedelia, something I’d been wanting to do for a while. ‘Altri Occhi Ci Guardano’ arrived this week and I was blown away by it all over again, and I was amazed to find that in the time between me ordering it and receiving it, Squadra Omega had announced not one but TWO new releases. Something that I had to cover straight away.
‘Nervosa’ and ‘Materia Obscura’ are both different to ‘Altri Occhi Ci Guardano’, and to each other; highlighting the range of this band as well as the depth and breadth of their ideas. The band describe themselves as “a psych/avant/kraut rock collective devoted to free improvisation, psychedelic jams and mind blow ups”, which is a pretty accurate description; although I would add a certain jazz sensibility to this (if this is not implied in the ‘free improvisation’). In short if this sort of thing is your bag then you need to be checking out the Squadra Omega oeuvre at your earliest opportunity.
I would probably say that ‘Altri Occhi Ci Guardano’ is the best place to start with this band, because of the amazing range displayed over that double album. Having said that either of the two being considered here will take you off somewhere really interesting. Taking ‘Nervosa’ first, so named because the band were apparently apprehensive about going into a studio and recording a series of free improvisations in one take. They need not have been because what they have produced is two tracks that, while less accessible than some of their other output, are nevertheless wonderfully deep and intense jams that unfold in your brain the more you listen to them. These are the sort of spontaneous recordings that really do capture a moment in time, they capture an energy that is unique to that moment… it is arguably a good thing that Squadra Omega were apprehensive, because they have turned that energy into a stream of sonic consciousness that remains open no matter (I suspect) how many times you listen to it. Of the two tracks here I prefer the second one (see below) with it’s rich jazz flourishes (‘Nervoso I’, is probably the more difficult of the two tracks… but may well prove to be the most rewarding over time), but in reality both provide me with an inspirational sonic backdrop for sitting with my thoughts.
In contrast to the free improvisation of ‘Nervosa’, ‘Materia Obscura’ (Dark Materials), is a far more considered piece of work. That is not to say that elements of improvisation are not there, but there is greater evidence of meaning and purpose here. This is underlined in Squadra Omega’s press release which gives us a good impression of what the band were about when recording this music:
[Materia Obscura] offers a glimpse at the same time the soil of the “rock” matter as well as the alien, seen from multiple points of view, neighbors and materials distant and mysterious. Three tracks that stretch their eyes at Orient or Africa as well as into the depths of the cosmos, landing on the side of the art-rock of the ’70s and towards some psychedelic, visionary, cinematic drives then explode into a real ecstatic trip.
This is certainly the case with opener ‘Massa Mancante’ with its sultry beginnings that open out into a psych/ jazz jam that gradually, almost imperceptibly, begins to disintegrate and morphs into something more electronic and abstract. There’s a real skill in the way this is achieved and sets out the band’s ambitions for this album very well.
Next up is ‘Mondo-Brana’ which, from the very opening bars, is a a track of (a love) supreme beauty. For me there is a lovely interplay of coherence and exploration here, the band finding something of a sweet spot between the two. There are times when you can feel the band going ‘off piste’ to traverse other sonic avenues while somehow appearing to stay on course throughout the number. I’m perhaps not explaining this very well (listen to the link below to see what I mean), but it’s like listening to an accomplished jazz improvisation that wants to burst out of its genre… achieves it… but still sounds like an accomplished jazz improvisation. Either way it’s a superb track borne of skill and inventiveness…
Taking up the whole of the second side is ‘Le Oscillazioni dell’Universo Giovane’, is a long stretched out jam that, like all Squadra Omega really, is just bristling with ideas. Opening with a spacey cacophony the track settles down into a dank section which suggests that we are about to embark on a journey. The sounds are synaesthesic as you feel you very being crawling with the obscurely eclectic melange of sounds seemingly fighting for supremacy. There’s something quite enthralling about this, I felt I was really just at the beginning of the track but checked and was already eight minutes in, such is the density of the sound and the concentration required to listen to it. Make no mistake this is a challenging sonic experience, but totally rewarding if you want to buy into it. It is also music, and I think this is true for a lot of this band’s output, that is about the journey not the destination. This is music that accompanies you in your thoughts and, as I already mentioned in relation to ‘Nervosa’, can inspire you.
Here are two albums that in many way complement each other. They show two sides of Squadra Omega as respectively a band who can improvise and jam in a way that many bands can just dream of. In ‘Nervosa’ they have produced an album that is a sophisticated as many studio albums with their over-dubs and corrections. On the other hand, they also show how accomplished the band are at putting down a more considered album while still maintaining the spirit of improvisation. With these. and my aforementioned delivery this week, Squadra Omega have hit a real high point of my musical year so far; and I’ve only just started exploring their sound.
‘Nervoso’ is released by Holidays Records, limited to a black pressing of 250; see here for details.
‘Materia Obscura’ is released by Soave Records and is available on a limited edition of 100 on coloured vinyl, as well as a more widely available edition on black vinyl.