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Translated and adapted by Vlad Borlea
In the opinion of this review's author, the double LP "Cantofabule" is, along with the other two Phoenix releases, "Cei ce ne-au dat nume" & "Mugur de fluier" and "Zalmoxe" by Sfinx, one of the greatest Romanian rock albums."Istoria Ieroglifica" / Dimitrie Cantemir - one of the oldest writings in Romanian
The progressive page, this reunites Nicolae Covaci - lead guitar, vocals, acoustic guitar, double six, blockflote, Iosif Kappl - bass, vocals, violin, blockflote; Mircea Baniciu - vocals, guitar; Ovidiu Lipan - drums, bongos, tympani, gong, chimes, tambourine and Gunter Reininger - piano, electric piano, synthesizer, celesta, electronic organ (now as a full-time member; he had appeared as guest on the previous album). Reciting lyrics written by Serban Foarta and Andrei Ujica (1-14) on "Invocatie" (1), Florian Pittis completes the picture of those who took part directly in the making of this album.
One of the strong points Phoenix always had were the lyrics, which, in this case, are inspired from Dimitrie Cantemir's "Istoria Ieroglifica". A generous starting point, it allows the band to show its compositional and interpretational talent, moving up on the road they had set on with "Ce ce ne-au dat nume", in the beginning of the '70.
As "Cantafabule" is, no doubt, one of the most complex and well-received LP's in Romanian music, its value cannot be questioned anymore, especially that time confirmed the above-mentioned. In the following, I have applied a method of analysis by comparison.
The album begins with "Invocatie"(1), one of the best Romanian progressive pages. Extremely complex, it represents the perfect prologue for "Cantafabule", introducing the listener to its special atmosphere. I have listened many materials by folk or progressive rock bands from Europe, Asia (Japan) or from the two Americas and I can say that through its ideological coherence this album is one of the greatest in its field. The best resmbling band is Malicorne, which, after three albums of acoustic-medieval-folk, begins heading more and more towards progress. Those who haven't listened to Malicorne may have difficulties in finding other references regarding Phoenix; their music could be placed somewhere between Jethro Tull and Gryphon. "Invocatie" is a unique in Romanian music. "Norocul Inorogului"(2) is a logical sequel of "Invocatie". Sung in old French and Romanian, it is close to the Malicorne creations. We are dealing with the most "medieval" song on the album, coloured by the blockflote line, resembling somewhat "Om bun" by Dan Andrei Aldea. All four sides of the album have a song from "out of their league". I consider that, musically speaking, "Scara scarabeului"(3), Beatles-like song, is a sort of recoil of the first one. The others are, in my opinion, "Uciderea balaurului(5)", "Pasarea Roc...K And Roll"(11) (the worst song, maybe the only one in their whole career) and Zoomahia"(13), an interesting song, which, beside the fact that it resembles a piece from Byrds ("Eight miles high"), also develops a theme that Phoenix had used before in "Omule, Cine Esti Tu?" (the music of a film called "Parasutistii").
The second side shows pieces of greater complexity, such as "Delfinul, dulce dulful nostru"(4), "Stima casei"(6), "Pasarea Calandrinon"(7), where inspiration, compositional and interpretational talent make themseves noticed. The piano, the violin, and the blockflote insert a specific charm in songs that remember of a medieval bestiary. "Uciderea .." has an entertainment function. "Stima Casei" is a short, nice song which, by its channel processing, remembers another top realization of the band, "Mugur De Fluier". I think that "Pasarea Calandrinon", along with "Invocatie" is the best song of the album.
The third side is more rock-oriented. "Filip si cerbul"(8) and "Vasiliscul si aspida"(9) build a hard-rock like moment, as "Dansul codrilor" did on the previous release, "Mugur de fluier". Another special piece follows, "Sirena"(10), one of the public's favorites in concerts at that time. "Pasarea R..." was included, I believe, due to commercial reasons. It can be considered either a musical joke or a show song (in its pejorative meaning).
The fourth side opens with a piece sung in Aromanian, "Cantic-lu a cucuveaua-liei"(12), belonging to the same family as "Anule Hanule" from the previous album. After "Zoomahia", which generates an atmosphere of the whole, follows the album's final song, "Phoenix" (14), which was anticipated by "Invocatie". Music is signed by Phoenix (1, 13), Nicolae Covaci (2, 3, 4, 6, 12, 14) and Iosif Kappl (5, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11).
These considerations were written to orient the reader towards a (re)audition of "Cantofabule", not to offer the answer to subjective questions. We could have an endless talk over the subject, but I believe the most important thing is to put the problem in the right way, that is to evaluate the album in the universal progressive-rock context, leaving the charming particularities (which are also important) on the second plan.
On some of my travels through Europe and over the ocean I took with me the Phoenix albums. When I had the opportunity, I asked different people (interested in music) for opinions about them and, so, I was able to gather some objective impressions. The main barriers that stand in the way of this album over the borders are the relatively low quality recordings (and sound processing) and the fact that it is not sung in English (or in a wider circulating language). Musically speaking, I say that the album stands out!
Note: Same as on "Mugur de fluier", the lyrics are folklore inspired, and thus mostly intranslatable. Here are some equivalents:
"Invocatie" - "Invocation"
"Uciderea Balaurului" - "Slaying of the dragon"
"Pasarea Roc...K And Roll" - "The Roc...K and Roll Bird"
"Om bun" - "Kind Man"
"Omule, cine esti tu?" - "Who are you, man?"
"Parasutistii" - "The sky divers"
15 Mai 2003
The name of the album Cantofabule/Cantafabule is nowadays a reason of confusion. Nowadays, because since its release and up to the 1990s, when it was reedited for the first time, it was called Cantofabule, regardless of its authors' intentions. This is the name printed on the LP's cover, an LP which had a wide circulation, although the number of illegal copies made by Electrcord employees was probably much bigger. If it's a printing house mistake, a confusion or one of the absurd censorship "moments" from the time the material was released, it is undoubtfully regretable. Nevertheless, the name under which the album was known by the public is the one printed on the first official cover. This case has been encountered at several points in the history of music, the most representative for this situation being "Deep Purple" - Deep Purple, the cover of which, released with a black and white printing mistake, became the "final variant". Still, however long we may debate over the subject, the confusion exists and there will always be the "unsatisfied".
30 Septembrie 2004
Ovidiu Crisan (ovidiu_crisan @cluj.astral.ro)