At the end of the 70s, in the beginning of the punk era, an excellent group was born in the Basque Country, with clearly influences from progressive, folk, and jazz, the wonderful and inimitable Itoiz. As most of their contemporaries in the region, they sang in Basque, and they published their albums in local labels as Elkar or Xoxoa. The leading figure of the group was its singer (beautiful soft and elegant voice), guitarist and composer Juan Carlos Pérez.
The first three albums of the group ("Itoiz"-1978, "Ezekiel"-1980 and "Alkolea"-1982) are a pure delight, a gourmet dish for lovers of the more folkie progressive rock. In these albums, Itoiz displays a scorching imagination and an own sound impossible to copy, with influences of Fairport Convention, Renaissance or Incredible String Band, as well as multiple references to Basque folk music and jazz-fusion. You should not expect of Itoiz a resemblance to classic groups of the progressive genre, except maybe in some fragments a la Camel for the softness and elegance of the compositions. The lyrics of the albums, always sung in Basque, are clearly inherited from the surrealist movement (in fact, the translation of the lyrics of "Ezekiel" into Spanish are quite difficult to understand).
Later on, the band evolved at the beginning of the 80s into a soft and happier pop-rock with influences of reggae (London Calling of the Clash or Police) and soul that I particularly find boring, although surprisingly, the albums from that time were a real success in the Basque Country. After the disappearance of the group at the end of the 80s, Juan Carlos Pérez has continued in the music world, being devoted to compose classic music and sound scores.
Of the three classic albums of the more progressive Itoiz, the original vinyl release of which you can end up paying many thousand pesetas (although they have been reissued in CD by Elkar and Lost Vinyl in Spain in the last years), I have chosen to revise in detail my favorite, their second album "Ezekiel". The first "Itoiz" is another marvel, although in my opinion, somewhat less mature and creative and more rock, while "Alkolea" begins to show dangerous symptoms of their later change of musical direction).
"Ezekiel" is one of those albums I would carry with me to a desert island. In the progressive world, I would only compare its quality to "In the Court of " of King Crimson, "Heresie" of Univers Zero and "Hosianna Mantra" of Popol Vuh. The album is a joyful orgy for the senses, a concept album that recreates the existential doubts of a 17 year-old boy. In my view, the group is able to transmit a magic folk and progressive sound identity, with a smaller preponderance of rock sounds, and plenty of imaginative touches and variety, with a jazz and fusion angle. In this album the group included Juan Carlos Pérez (voice and guitar), Joseba Arteaga (flute), Antton Fernández (keyboards), Fran Lasuan (mandolin and bibolina), Mitxel Logaron (percussion), Carlos Jiménez (saxo and piano), and Shanti Jiménez (bass and voice), with the collaboration of the impressive singer Itziar Egileor and Joseba Beristain at the "cuatro".
The album starts with "Ezekielen Prophezia" (5.02) a prodigious piece that begins in a rock style, with an excellent guitar and a fabulous sax. Then we enter into the three vocal sections of the piece, a very soft first one, with Juan Carlos' beautiful voice, then a wonderful violin and flute passage linked to the second section, quicker, and finally a third vertiginous one. Then we move into an instrumental section of sax and repetitive guitar. The last fragment of the song, amongst children's voices in the school, is led by the flute and the guitar in a section that reminds me from Jethro Tull or my loved Tanahill Weavers, Labanda or Gwendal. As you see, a marvelous song, with different styles perfectly merged.
"Ezekielen Esnatzea I" (6.00) is a more folk-progressive piece, with a beautiful acoustic beginning, and with excellent rides of keyboards, pianos, and guitars that give an acid atmosphere to the song. It is worth highlighting an excellent display of power from the piper (very a la Tull) and the sax, completely worthy of the best seventies rock. One of the best pieces in the album, without a doubt.
"Ezekielen Esnatzea II" (4.34) presents an exquisite start based in Basque folk and medieval sonorities, with a wonderful vocal registration that slowly takes us to a jazz rhythm, with the sax in a fleshy sad ballad. We then move into another folk section led by the piper a la Incredible String Band, which concludes with the irruption of an incredibly well played acid hammond.
"Ezekiel" (2.53), the central piece of the album, begins as a soft acoustic ballad, with some wonderful guitars, to which an impressive choir of children intoning the word Ezekiel is added, amongst applause and whistling. Pure folk.
"Ezekielen Ikasgaia" (6.24) delights us with Itziar Egileor's wonderful feminine voice. The song starts as a sweet folk ballad of acoustic guitars and piano, goes into a fabulous intermediate bluesy section driven by Carlos Jiménez's hot sax in between flute notes and a nightly piano, above an excellent rhythm section, ending with the wonderful voice of Itziar torn between folk and jazz sounds.
"Ezekielen Ametsa" (6.05) is divided in two parts. The first features a delirium of children voices singing a school playground song amongst dissonant piano notes, in what becomes an excellent second section, with a progressive folk sound with exquisite violin, sax, and guitar solos over a beautiful mattress of keyboards, and with Juan Carlos Pérezs beautiful vocal intervention. The beautiful ending bars of the song show fusion sonorities again.
"Ezekiel: Ia maitasun kantu bat" (5.47) finishes the album, with the sound of a train that comes closer to the station, amongst the folk sound of a violin and a harrowing flute, progressive keyboards and guitars, and tribal percussion. The last part of the song is the best I have ever listened to, a perfect mixture of the specific Basque sound of the group with folk, progressive and acid, the union of witches and angels, of heaven and hell. Without a doubt, my favorite song of the album.
In conclusion, if you wish to discover a new, interesting, magic and fabulous world, you should buy the wonderful second album of Itoiz. Then, you will run like crazy to search for the two other classic albums of the group. If you want to know more about the discography of other groups in this style, look for the CD reissue of other Basque groups as Haizea, Errobi, Lisker. Izukaitz or Embor (I have not heard anything of other supposedly fabulous groups as Koska, Sakre or Itziar). Progressive Basque from the end of the 70s was one of the most interesting substyles in our favorite genre, and it deserves to be well remembered.