Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Banco Del Mutuo Soccorso - 1972 - Banco Del Mutuo Soccorso

Banco Del Mutuo Soccorso
Banco Del Mutuo Soccorso

01. In Volo (2:13)
02. R.I.P. (Requiescant In Pace) (6:40)
03. Passaggio (1:19)
04. Metamorfosi (10:52)
05. Il Giardino Del Mago (18:26)
- a. ... Passo Dopo Passo ...
- b. ... Chi Ride E Chi Geme ...
- c. ... Coi Capelli Sciolti Al Vento ...
- d. Compenetrazione
06. Traccia (2:10)

- Gianni Nocenzi / clarinet, piano, keyboards, piccolo, vocals
- Pier Luigi Calderoni / drums
- Renato D'Angelo / bass, guitar, electric bass
- Francesco DiGiacomo / vocals
- Vittorio Nocenzi / organ, clarinet, keyboards, vocals
- Marcello Todaro / guitar, vocals, chitarrone

One of the most important progressive rock bands to come from Italy, BANCO DEL MUTUO SOCCORSO, along with LE ORME and PFM are regarded as the big three of the RPI genre. This is not only because of their longevity and the level of success they achieved in their own country, but also because each were able to make considerable inroads abroad, something which didn't happen for most of their contemporaries.

Despite not releasing their first album until 1972, the band actually formed in 1969, their sound centering around the virtuoso dual keyboard work of the Nocenzi brothers, Gianni and Vittorio. The early line-up fluctuated with various members coming and going before any recorded output was released, including drummers Franco Pontecorvi and Mario Achilli, bassist Fabrizio Falco and guitarists Gianfranco Coletta (ex CHETRO & CO) and Claudio Falco. This early incarnation of the band did, however, record some material but this wouldn't surface until 1989 (see the "Donna Plautilla" album).

Joining the Nocenzi brothers for a more stable line-up in time for their first album was ex-FIORI DI CAMPO guitarist Marcello Todaro and three members of LE ESPERIENZE, vocalist Francesco Di Giacomo, drummer Pier Luigi Calderoni and bassist Renato D'Angelo. Their eponymous first album was a remarkably mature piece of inventive symphonic progressive rock with classical influences, featuring excellent musicianship and the emotionally charged vocal delivery of Di Giacomo. This was quickly followed up by the equally highly regarded "Darwin" and "Io Sono Nato Libero," forming a trio of albums that are essential listening for anyone with even the most casual interest in the RPI genre.

A change of guitarist followed shortly after the recording of "Io Sono Nato Libero," when Todaro left and joined CRYSTALS and was replaced by Rodolfo Maltese, formerly of HOMO SAPIENS. Around this time the band attempted to make inroads outside their native Italy and released the English sung "Banco" on ELP'S Manticore label. In reality this was largely a compilation, as it consisted of re-recorded songs from their first three albums with the exception of one track. To promote this they toured the USA and UK with limited success. "Banco" was followed in 1976 by the film soundtrack album "Garofano Rosso," and in the same year two versions of the same album, one Italian and one English, "Come In Un'Ultima Cena" and "As In A Last Supper" were released. 1978 saw the release of another all instrumental album ".Di Terra", this time incorporating the use of an orchestra.

"Canto Di Primavera" saw bassist D'Angelo being replaced by Gianni Colaiacomo, and after this the band entered a period that is probably of little interest to prog fans, moving in a more commercial pop direction. In 1983 Gianni Nocenzi was to leave the band, and the following years saw the coming and going of a number of musicians through a series of critically slated albums, at least amongst the prog community.

Signs that the band may be returning to their prog roots came in 1991 when the band re-recorded their acclaimed first album and "Darwin". The lightweight pop/rock of "Banco 13", released in 1994 showed however that it was a little early to celebrate. No studio albums have appeared since 1996 but the band continued with sporadic live activity and released a number of live albums. Perhaps the most interesting of these is "Seguendo Le Tracce", which captures a stunning concert from 1975, reminding us how great this band can be. The most recent of these live albums is ''Quaranta'', a 2010 recording previously released as part of the Prog Exhibition box set. The then line-up comprised of vocalist Francesco Di Giacomo, on keyboards Vittorio Nocenzi, guitarists Rodolfo Maltese and Filippo Marcheggiani, drummer Maurizio Masi, bassist Tiziano Ricci and on sax, flute and clarinet Alessandro Papotto (PERIFERIA DEL MONDO). Sadly, Francesco Di Giacomo died following a road traffic accident on 21st February, 2014.

BANCO DEL MUTUO SOCCORSO, particularly the first three albums, is an essential early port of call for anyone looking to discover the RPI genre.

"Present and yet remote, a living vision of that which has already been left far behind by the flowing streams of Time". Well, Tolkien wrote these words to describe Lady Galadriel in "The Lord Of The Rings", but I think that the same words could be used to describe the debut album of BMS. This work is a melting pot of classical influences and progressive sounds where the musicians try to find a personal way to express their ideas with music and suggestive lyrics hanging above past and present, fantasy and reality.

"Loose your hippogriff's bridles, Astolfo / And fly wildly where man's work is more brisk / But don't deceive me with false images / And let me see the truth / So that I can touch what's fair". The short opener "In volo" features sounds effects, choirs and flute giving it a kind of "Middle-age flavour" while the melody and the recitative vocals seem to come out from the "streams of time". Well, actually the lyrics are vaguely inspired by the work of the Italian poet Lodovico Ariosto and not by Tolkien, but in my opinion it doesn't matter very much whether they come from the "Middle-age" or from the "Middle- earth". "From here, sir, we overlook the valley / What you can see is real / But if the picture is thin to your eyes / Let's go down to look at it from a lower point / And we'll glide down in a winged gallop / Into the crater where time gurgles". An amazing prelude for the following track!

With "R.I.P. (Requiescant In Pace)" rhythm goes up bringing echoes of war, while the lyrics and the peculiar vocals of Francesco Di Giacomo draw the gloomy landscape of a battle field. "Horses, bodies and broken spears are getting red / Laments of dying people without a Christ nearby / Huge pupils turned up to the sun / Dust and thirst / In every moment you can feel the death's breath on you / But you'll never know why. Rest in peace!". The music is powerful with keyboards and piano in the forefront. "On heaps of dead corpses you built up your glory / But the blood you spilt has felt back on you / Your war has came to an end, old soldier". Then the storm calm down giving way to a delicate piano part that leads to a struggling and melodic elegy. "Now the wind sit down / Your glance is still hanging from the sky / Your eyes lay in the sun / In your chest there's still a dagger / And you'll never shoot your spear anymore, trying to wound the horizon / To push yourself further / To discover what God only knows / Nothing will be left of you but the pain and the cry that you gave / To push yourself further / To discover what God only knows". "A living vision", a bitter reflection about the inhumanity and uselessness of war and glory, "present and yet remote".

A sound of steps, a man approaching an old harpsichord, the sound of the instrument and the voice of the man drawing a melody. This is "Passaggio", just a short bridge that leads to "Metamorfosi", a long track, almost completely instrumental, with many changes of rhythm and mood melting in the short conclusive singing part where "opera like" vocals seem to claim the need of a never ending change. "Man, I don't know if I resemble to you / I don't know, nevertheless I feel that I wouldn't like / To mark my days with yours".

"Il giardino del mago" (The wizard's garden) is a long and complex suite, dark and dreamy. "When I was a child I used to ride the horse with the head bent down / I used to gallop without a noise / The wooden hoofs that flew over the flowers didn't waste the colours". Lyrics are about the contrast between dreams and reality and the music seems to underline this contrast. Who is the wizard? Well, maybe the wizard is Atlante, another Ariosto's character but that doesn't really matter; here the wizard's garden is just a place in your mind where reality has no room and where you can find a shelter. "With my hair blowing in the wind / I rule the time, my time / There, in the spaces where death has no power / Where love crosses the borders / And the servant dances with the king / Crown without vanity / The road that goes is never-ending". The final track "Traccia" is clearly classical inspired. Hints of Bach and Beethoven blended with progressive rock with an astounding result.

"Present and yet remote, a living vision of that which has already been left far behind by the flowing streams of Time". One of the milestones of Italian-prog and a must- have for every prog collector.


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  2. So happy to see the blog is back "Drago".

    Thank you for this amazing blog!