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Disco Recharge: Tantra The Collection Andy Thomas , July 25th, 2013 08:20

The Disco Recharge series has already featured many of Celso Valli’s arrangements and productions, be it Macho’s ‘I’m a Man’ or Passenger’s ‘Hot Leather’. As any Italo Disco connoisseur will tell you though Valli’s true works of genius were with Azoto and Tantra. The latter’s classic ‘Hills Of Katmandu’ finally gets a re-issue next to two of his other LPs, Tantra II and Mother Africa.

Like other Italo Disco legends such as Claudio Simonetti, the Bologna born producer’s musical roots were in the prog rock scene that was sweeping across Italy in the early 1970s.  After enrolling in the Giovanni Battista Martini Conservatory at the age of 16, he joined the band Ping Pong working alongside future Tantra lyricist Alan ‘Plug’ Taylor from England. His break from prog came in 1977 with ‘Pasta & Fagioli’ certainly the only disco tune dedicated to this famous Italian dish. But it was his incredible version of ‘Havah Nagilah’ under the name Azoto in 1978 that signalled the arrival of a major figure in the nascent Italian disco scene. It was around this time that he assembled the five session players of Tantra eager to push the boundaries of disco. As Alan Jones' sleevenotes explain, “in a period when casual musical observers never recognised disco to begin with and thought it was already dead, Valli reconfigured the parameters once more.”

Released in 1979 in the wake of the electronic/orchestral progressions of fellow Europeans Cerrone and Giorgio Moroder, ‘Hills Of Katmandu’ remains a unique and progressive slice of Italo Disco, even within the annals of this most  futuristic genre - much of that had to do with Valli’s conservatory training coupled with his deep knowledge of world music.

The result was a complex, trippy suite of music that stretched out over 16 minutes, making it perfect fodder for the more heady dancefloors of The Loft and The Saint in New York and Baia Degli Angeli in Rimini. Speaking about another Italo classic Riz Ortolani’s ‘Il Corpo Di Linda’, DJ Benetti referred to the Moroder-on-steroids bassline, and that could also be used to describe the pulsations of ‘Hills’ as the first section of the track builds.

A slightly menacing female vocal entices you in before the first of the guitar riffs stabs at your cortex. Warbling synths create the exoticism matched by the lyrics (“Soft winds and sunsets, that lead to some mystery, sweet smelling substances, liberate fantasy”) that somehow manage to be more touching than annoying. You can imagine the response on the lysergic-fuelled dance floor at David Mancuso’s Loft when dancers first heard the drop at six minutes, a magical break full of childlike wonder and a worthy accompaniment to another Prince Street classic, Chuck Mangione’s ‘Land of Make Believe’.

As if that wasn’t enough, this compilation also includes the unreleased Patrick Cowley Megamix, a work of genius that somehow manages to better the original. The other LP track ‘Wishbone’ mines Valli’s collection of Eastern LPs on a 15-minute cosmic disco ride full of killer breakdowns.

Shifting his focus to another continent, Mother Africa never really hit the leftfield heights of ‘Hills Of Katmandu’. On ‘Su-Ke-Leu’ (another big Afro tune at Baia Degli Angeli) the African and Latin influences are a little too forced  while the relatively straight ahead disco of ‘Hallelujah’ and Hi-NRG of ‘Get Ready to Go’ sound quite tame next to the exotic excesses of his previous LP. The title track did however reach the ears of Frankie Knuckles who made it a staple at Chicago’s Warehouse whose dancers would have appreciated the jungle break.  

Two years later Valli returned to wild exoticism on ‘A Place Called Tarot’ from Tanta II. A suite in four parts this epic slice of space disco continues where ‘Hills’ left off, exchanging Tibetan mysticism for tarot reading. Alan Jones puts it well: “Valli and his co-producer Antonio Cocco conjugate all the similar bells, whistles, and electronic echoes of hypnotic tapestry that barnstorms the subconscious into trance like status.”  As if you need convincing of Valli’s genius the CD also includes eight bonus tracks. Out there space disco from one of the true pioneers.