BANCO DEL MUTUO SOCCORSO: ...DI TERRA (1978)
1) Nel Cielo E Nelle Altre Cose Mute; 2) Terramadre; 3) Non Senza Dolore; 4) Io Vivo; 5) Nè Più Di Un Albero Non Meno Di Una Stella; 6) Nei Suoni E Nei Silenzi; 7) Di Terra.
If you are an old school progressive symph-rock band, and you want to avoid stagnation, and most of the world is divided into the New Wave and the disco camps and doesn't give a damn about academic approaches to popular entertainment, what do you do?
Well, normally you sell out, with faint hopes of gaining short-term advantages and avoiding long-term reputation loss, neither of which usually comes true. But every once in a while, just prior to selling out, you might make a startling, unexpected, out-of-time and out-of-touch move that will provide your future generation fans with a cool extra subject for discussion. Never be afraid of going «against the grain» — even if the results are awful, the very fact of your bravery will go down in the annals, and there will always be admiring fans who have a thing for bravery.
As you can already make out from the album sleeve, Banco Del Mutuo Soccorso have lopped the last three words from their name already in 1978. That «shortening», following in the wake of their colleagues in the business, Premiata Forneria Marconi, becoming simply «PFM», is sometimes associated with the band's transition from serious prog to cheesy pop — however, that is not accurate, since the first «Banco» album, ...Di Terra, is anything but cheesy pop: on the contrary, it is one of the most ambitious and «academic» projects the band ever came up with. A completely instrumental album, once again, but not a soundtrack like Garofano Rosso — this time, it is a full-blown seven-part symphony, recorded with the participation of the Orchestra dell'Unione Musicisti di Roma. A classical / jazz / rock hybrid that was arguably as far from «cool» with the critics in 1978 as... oh wait, I guess nothing could be farther.
Di Giacomo's absence from the album, this time around, is feebly compensated by naming all the tracks with lines from a puffed-up metaphysical poem he wrote — similar in style to Graeme Edge's poetry he wrote for the Moody Blues but, thankfully, only implied in the music, never sung or recited in itself. Still, it yields a certain hint — taken together with the grandiose pull of the arrangements, the title brings on associations with Mahler's Song Of The Earth, and even if the music itself has little (but not exactly «nothing») to do with Mahler, the ambitions are somewhat comparable. As a polyphonous, multi-theme, «sprawling» instrumental concept album by a nominally «rock» artist, ...Di Terra is sometimes compared with Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells, but the two are grounded in completely different traditions — Mike's magnum opus was, after all, far more indebted to Celtic folk and stuff, whereas the Nocenzi brothers' passions steadily remain rooted in late XIXth / early XXth century classical schools.
Anyway, the end results are impressive. Reviewing the separate movements of the piece is a task as arduous as reviewing the separate movements of a Bruckner (or, indeed, a Mahler) symphony, but a lot of well-schooled compositional activity has been invested here, with great care for dynamics and development. The «overture» (ʽNeil Cielo...ʼ), for instance, permanently pinned to a rising-and-falling string theme, gradually transforms from a «pastoral» setting to a «parade» one, as brass instruments overtake woodwinds. Then ʽTerramadreʼ leads us into fast-paced «modern jazz» territory, with rampant dissonance and atonality — replaced three minutes later by the odd mix of baroque influences, elevator jazz, and New Age-isms that is ʽNon Senza Doloreʼ. And so on and on, right down to the «galloping» finale of the title track, which combines most of the ingredients — a little spaghetti western, a little blues-rock, a little Tchaikovsky, you name it.
There is not enough power and muscle here — there probably could not have been, had they seduced Herbert von Karajan himself to direct the orchestra — to separate your lower jaw from the rest of your face, I suppose. But this is still a very good, and a very unusual, application of Banco's «synthetic» powers — all of those jazz and ambient elements that they mix in so freely with the classical make ...Di Terra a near-unique experience, and one that probably deserves much more publicity than it has among music lovers. I have no problem calling this their «last gasp of brilliance» or something like that, and a firm thumbs up is guaranteed. At the very least, it does sound like absolutely nothing else produced in the Saturday Night Fever era.