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Banco Del Mutuo Soccorso - Banco Del Mutuo Soccorso CD (album) cover


Banco Del Mutuo Soccorso


Rock Progressivo Italiano

4.31 | 951 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
4 stars 11/15P.: an acquired taste: spectacular, unique, exhausting, but sadly under-produced

This album's quite difficult to digest in my book. Usually, when you think of Italian prog music you are reminded of pastoral folk sounds, of "Trespass" and "In The Court of the Crimson King" revisited in a more Mediterranean manner. But when you think it over, the Italian music scene is more radical and more avant-garde than many of their English fellows; for instance, listen to Area's Arbeit macht frei, Osanna's Palepoli and Il Balletto di Bronzo's Ys in succession. The only popular Italian bands I know on the softer side of progressive rock are actually PFM (partially) and Celeste - even the works of the two famous Italian songwriters Angelo Branduardi and Fabrizio de Andre (with his awesome record Rimini) are not as simple as they might seem to be!

Banco, in their best years, have been one of the more eclectic groups from Italy, fusioning Italian folk, free jazz (listen to the live album "Seguendo le Tracce"), neo-classical music and avant-garde soundscapes with rapid and unpredictable rock rhythms, led by Francesco di Giacomo's plaintive voice, the frequent shrieking clarinet interludes and the dueling of the piano and the Hammond organ.

On this record the band is still searching their definitive style - and their definitive sound. And this is the big criticism which this recording draws: the drums and the electric guitar are mixed awfully. I mean, really awfully. I think they didn't record the guitar by playing it through an amp and recording the amp with microphones, but by directly inserting the amp signal into the soundboard. The guitar covers pretty much everything, but sounds much too flat. The drums sound hollow and boring as well, which makes the parts of the album where Hammond organ, piano or acoustic guitar are in the spotlight become most spine-tingling and enjoyable.

Ironically, the three short pieces (ranging from one to two minutes) leave the listener more perplexed than the three longtracks. The album starts off with In Volo, in which a deep Italian voice recites a poem or something like that to the backing of swirling Hammond organs (full V3 vibrato) mixed with acoustic guitars and flutes, sounding like a Medieval Italian madrigal revisited in the psychedelic age of the 1970s. Passagio, the second of the three short songs on this album, is similar in its nostalgic feeling, but is played on a Renaissance-like sounding harpsichord accompanying sombre wordless scatting. Strangely, more than one half of this piece consists of the sounds of the harpsichord player going to the instrument and leaving the room afterwards. Traccia is the most frantic piece on this recording as it dashes through a high-speed 6/8 with complex harmony vocals and unisono piano-organ-runs which leave your finger muscles aching. Think of the 2:38 part of Focus' Questions Answers Questions which sounds completely different, but which is as manic and which has the same instrumentation (organ, bass, guitar, drums).

When Deep Purple used their classical influences rather sparingly in favor of more blues soloing, Banco recorded their own Highway Star with Requiescant in Pace. Don't worry, Banco maintain their 100% individual sound on this piece, but the rapid drum rhythm and the roaring Hammond organ share the energy and strength with Deep Purple's work. Again, there is a great mixture of different genres here. The stanzas, for example, sung forcefully by Francesco di Giacomo, sound vaguely like church music (with towering Hammond organs in the second stanza) while the middle of the song features outstanding jazz improvisation on Hammond organ and electric guitar, accompanied by Bartok-like percussive piano riffs. After 3 1/2 minutes stuffed to the gills with great ideas the song continues, but in quite a different manner. The speed slows down, and the electric instrumentation makes way for a ballad which can only be composed by Italians: sparkling piano runs, lamenting vocals, a restrained flute setting counterpoints and well-dosed bombast which gradually enters the piece until the end when Hammond organ and harmony vocals join in.

Metamorfosi is the piece which would in its structure be later rearranged as La Conquista della posizione eretta. It is, indeed, a rather unorthodox structure which in spite of this works out very well: eight minutes of instrumental tour de force with several more or less distinct parts leading into a 2 minute vocal finale. It's in this track where some of the most beautiful solos appear. Gianni Nocenzi, the band's pianist brings in a gorgeous neo-classical composition at 0:50 after an intense, swinging tutti beginning. This part offers enough substance to be varied in the next minutes, in different metres, with different instruments and different phrasings. Inventive work which is a sheer pleasure to listen to, especially the part at 4:20 where the motif is taken over by Hammond organ and guitar which echo each other's melodies on a really mean bass ostinato. A film-music-like part with creeping Hammond organs leads into the big finale, in a way a sequel to RIP Pt.2, but more on the majestic than on the balladesque side.

Il Giardino del Mago is Banco's longest studio track they have ever recorded and the time is used very economically. It's impossible to sum this piece up because so much happens here, but the big advantage of it is that the different themes that enter, i.e. the creepy opening theme, the melody of the first stanzas (in part one, ...passo dopo passo...) or the emotional melodies around 7:30 are related with each other or are combined with other themes during the track. The really emotive parts are especially the moments in which Marcello Todaro uses the acoustic guitar. Here, the Italian flavour appears again in a stark contrast to the heavy moments of the piece where the electric guitar cuts through the riffs like a saw.

All in all, this album is hard to rate. On the plus side there are the great compositions, the beautiful melodies, the raw vigour and strength which dominates this album (and also the fine sound of acoustic guitar, vocals and piano) and the independent, distinctly Italian sound. However, the minus side weighs quite heavily since the nonprofessional production of the electric guitar and the drums, instruments which sound bad although they are performed with virtuosity and are omnipresent on this record. I must admit that by now I prefer listening to Darwin!, but Banco's debut album has always inspired me as a keyboarder and the material is top-notch.

So, a weak 4 star rating from my side, which could well be a good 4 star rating if the production was better.

Einsetumadur | 4/5 |


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