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Thursday, February 7, 2013

Banco Del Mutuo Soccorso: ...Di Terra


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.

Check "...Di Terra" (CD) on Amazon

4 comments:

  1. I find this album boring. If 'Garofano Rosso' was something like prog muzak adapted for some film, I'd call '...Di Terra' symphonic muzak.

    I have no problem with it being from 1978, but the problem is: If I want this kind of music, I'd rather put Rachmaninov, Mahler, or whoever created symphonies at the turn of the 19th to 20th century, before they died out as a relevant genre.

    Similar feelings I cherish toward a symphonic-prog band from this period (late 70s - early 80s), that most likely influenced this direction of Banco - namely, The Enid.

    Back to '...Di Terra', I find only the intro and outro somewhat exciting. I don't know where is Di Giacomo musically on this album, he is sneering with the rest of the crew on the cover. It is rumoured that the music is inspired by some poem of his.

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    1. You are describing my exact feelings upon the first listen to the album. However, while there is no arguing about whose work is more durable and rewarding - Rachmaninoff's or Banco's - "Di Terra" is really a synthesis. You won't get fusion or avantgarde jazz flowing in and out of classical themes in a Mahler symphony.
      True "symphonic muzak" is somebody like Nino Rota when he isn't writing catchy themes for Fellini movies. This stuff here takes more risks.

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  2. Sorry, this album doesn't cut the mustard. If composers of popular music are going classical (Jon Lord, rip, but it applied to you as well) I am going to compare with first rate composers. Then it appears that this album completely lacks identity. Nel Cielo is neo-romantic music, Terramadre has done better by Milhaud and the likes. Etc. etc.
    This is certainly not bad, as there are lots of interesting themes. But it is superfluous. Why would I listen to this if it has been done better previously? Indeed, about 60-90 years before? The result is pleasant, but nothing more. The best part imo is Nei Suoni, which remains closest to near contemporary rock esthetics. The classical element serves as the ice on the cake. At the other hand the second half of the closer Di Terra manages to combine the most trivial elements of both rock and classical .... bleh. Brothers Nocenzi, you have your own genius, not the one of Grieg.
    Now before I get accused of being a snob again (actually I'm a supersnob, looking down on snobs as I appreciate the simple approach as well) I'll give an example of a perfect crossover - I like this arrangement even better than the original:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5g5pWCfExbk

    This preserves the original kick ass element perfectly and adds the dynamics of a classical ensemble. Note the percussion - perhaps it's the essential element of hardrock after all!

    "This stuff here takes more risks."
    Well, yes. But taking risks doesn't guarantee success or Deep Purple's Concerto would be a masterpiece. All in all I am with Simplius here, but note that I appreciate another movement better than he does. So you may have a point after all, GS.

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  3. I wonder what the fascination with tomatoes was for prog rock bands in 1978. First Yes, now these guys. On top of it all, ELP dropped "Love Beach", which was promptly "rewarded" with a hail of tomatoes from critics and fans alike (or should have been)!

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