Lesser-Known Gem: Armando Tirelli – El Profeta

Artist: Armando Tirelli | Album: El Profeta | Genre: Progressive rock, Jazz-rock | Year: 1978

From: Uruguay | Label: SEM Label

For fans of: Rick Wakeman, Premiata Forneria Marconi

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It’s been a while since I posted a Lesser-Known Gem entry. There’s been a ton of fantastic music released lately, and I can’t keep up with all of it, but there have always been great albums that simply get missed. El Profeta is one of those records. Released in 1978, this album failed to get much traction outside of Uruguay at its release, or in following years.

Armando Tirelli, prior to releasing his solo album, was the keyboardist for the Uruguayan jazz-rock group Sexteto Electrónico Moderno. SEM was not a prog band, but there were ample classical and jazz influences. I’m no expert in South American music (so I can’t specify genres), but SEM also had a distinctly South American feel to their music. Tirelli would use a lot of that classical and jazz experience when composing El Profeta.

El Profeta is based on the book The Prophet by Khalil Gibran. It may have just been “inspired by” Gibran’s book—Internet sources are inconsistent in their phrasing. I haven’t read it, and my Spanish isn’t too great, so I will not be summarizing the album’s story. But between what Spanish I know and the large amount of narration, I feel confident in saying that this album tells a story.

The album opens with its title track, which is also the longest song on the album. Groaning synth bass and jazzy piano and guitar licks build before giving way to minimalistic piano, bass, and drums topped with dramatic narration. Spoken word usually comes off as grating and lazy, but the narrator’s voice has a great tone, and he sells his passion hard. Even after the narration ends, the music remains decidedly jazzy, with lilting flute and rich synth pads.

El Profeta is structured without gaps between its songs, so the transition to “Candombe Samba” is smooth. Flute, piano, and synthesizers dominate most of this instrumental cut. The song’s second half shifts from symphonic to something a bit more aggressive, and fuzzed-out guitar gets a chance to shine with a dramatic, Gilmour-esque solo.

Following “Candombe Samba” is a quartet of short pieces. “Barco de los Sueños” revisits a vocal melody from the title track amid a backing of space-jazz, and “Tema Central El Profeta” is a dramatic little instrumental led by glimmering synths. “El Momento de Partir” combines elements of both of the preceding short songs. “Amanever en Orphalese” is a short instrumental, but it packs a lot into two-and-a-half minutes, with mellow jazz, acidic psychedelia, and classically-inspired piano gymnastics all flowing together coherently.

“Hablanos del Matrimonio” begins with a slow, unassuming build-up. As elsewhere on El Profeta, piano is the backbone, with synthesizers taking the lead and guitar fleshing things out. This song, which opens side 2 of the album, works as something of an echo of the title track. Its structure and instrumentation are similar, with the narrator speaking over the song’s middle part before closing on sung elements.

“Hablanos de Dar” continues with the preceding song’s gentle atmosphere, but “Hablanos del Amor” opens on a more energetic note. The rhythm section is propulsive, and the main melody is a weird, twisting line with plenty of pep. The verses slow things down, but the instrumentation remains impactful.

“Los Ecos del Almustafe” synthesizes earlier themes from the album into something light and folky. The wordless vocals and walls of keyboard instruments interact wonderfully, and the flutework is especially praiseworthy.

El Profeta ups the tempo with nervous guitar strumming and driving drums on “Hablanos de los Hijos”. Narration again takes the lead before giving way to an organ solo that sounds like it could have been on Piper at the Gates of Dawn. This song is full of forceful riffs and serves as a fitting climax to the whole album. A pair of short songs follow “Hablanos de los Hijos”, acting as something of an epilogue. “Tocata Scarahuala” is 30 seconds of Tirelli showing off his instrumental chops, and “Tema Central El Profeta” is a reprise of the earlier song with the same name.

El Profeta was Tirelli’s only solo release, which is a real pity. There are certain musical parallels between this record and certain Italian prog acts, but much of that likely comes from Tirelli’s background in classical music. He crafted a unique album with a distinct timbre, a smooth integration of narration and singing, and a compelling dramatic progression.

Score: 92/100

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