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Thursday, May 2, 2013

Banco Del Mutuo Soccorso: Seguendo Le Tracce


1) R.I.P. (English version); 2) L'Albero Del Pane; 3) La Danza Dei Grandi Rettili; 4) Passaggio; 5) Non Mi Rompete; 6) Dopo... Niente E Più Lo Stesso; 7) Traccia II; 8) Metamorfosi.

Well, this totally makes sense: after almost three decades of waiting, finally release a live album from Banco's golden days. This particular show, played out at Teatro Verdi in Salerno on April 23, 1975, could easily have been a big hit in the old days, when double and triple live prog al­bums were steadily released on a monthly, if not daily, basis — and the excellent sound quality of the tapes would have made it a standout back in the day, too, so it is fairly odd that we only get official access to this as an afterthought. But a twenty-first century release, with progressive rock having largely regained its used-to-be-tattered reputation, is not that bad either.

As time goes by and chronology flattens out, this record is bound to become Banco's equivalent of Yessongs — capturing the band at their absolute creative peak, just before personal burn­out and changing fashion issues cause them to start faltering, and burning down the stage with abso­lute pride at their achievements. The setlist is predictably titanic, the playing is predictably tight and inspi­red, and the self-interpretations allow for variability, improvisation, and general freedom without demolishing the original constructions.

The only piece of bad news is that ʽR.I.P.ʼ is presented in its English version: with the band either working on or having just released their first English album (Banco) at the time, they were eager to try out at least one of the re-recordings, for which DiGiacomo offers the audience a blurry Italian apology post-factum. Not only that, but they also keep the loosened up, funkier rhythmic reinvention, missing a good chance to open the show with a tight, aggressive punch. A mistake, I think, echoing the even larger mistake of recording in English in the first place.

However, from then on, there are virtually no complaints. Apart from the obligatory ballad inter­lude of ʽNon Mi Rompeteʼ, one lengthy epic is played from each of their three major albums: ac­tually, ʽLa Danza Dei Grandi Rettiliʼ from Darwin! is transformed into an epic, stretched almost four times beyond its original length by means of free-flowing jazz breaks (with Maltese swit­ching to trumpet and doing his best Miles Davis impersonation) and Latin-colored percussion solos. Likewise, ʽMetamorfosiʼ gets an extra fifteen minutes to its already impressive original running time, with the Nocenzi brothers taking turns to prove us that they really need these extra fifteen minutes... not really sure about that, but they get into it with enough verve not to have me worrying all the time about pressing the fast forward button.

In other words, this here is live-and-breathing progressive rock the way we remember it — bold, ambi­tious, pretentious, self-indulgent, constantly plunging into «musical masturbation» with no respect for modesty and conciseness... and vindicated by superbly tight internal coordination and sheer technical mastery of everyone involved. Needless to say, the record is an absolute must-have for every progressive rock studioso — and an absolute must-avoid for everyone who still believes that a twenty-minute live phantasmagoria from, say, Ornette Coleman is «an inspiring feast of artistic liberty and inventiveness», whereas a twenty-minute live version of ʽMeta­mor­fosiʼ would be «a pathetically boring display of meaningless self-indulgence». Fortunately, Seguendo Le Tracce arrives at a good time for the genre, when the silliness of such oppositions becomes more and more apparent, and this brings on hope that my thumbs up for this record will not go completely unnoticed, either.

Check "Seguendo Le Tracce" (CD) on Amazon


  1. Love your comment on the hypocrisy of jazz fans vs rock and roll or prog rock specifically. I love jazz but don't consider it better than this stuff. Just different in approach. Keep up the good work.

  2. Good points. I like your revisionist attitude, George. It is high time to rewrite history of popular music narrated so far by corrupt journalists. For the last 50 years those crooks were paid to strangulate each musical genre every 5 years to make room for a new product on the market. Now as the music biz is toast they got hired elsewhere and we can finally put things straight. :)

  3. While Canto Nomade is the song that makes Banco a first rate progressive band this is the album that does so. It has móre to offer than Yessongs and Welcome back my Friends. Unlike Yes and ELP Banco manages to add enough to these live versions to make a significant difference with the studio versions. Yes never improvised and ELP only when Emerson went on the loose. Also Banco changed the arrangements, sometimes significantly, sometimes only bit; and almost every change is an improvement. Combined with the stage interaction (the main selling point of Yessongs, which prevents that album to become sterile) this means that Banco also has embraced Deep Purple's esthetical values. If you force me to include The Mule in my considerations I might even have to admit that Seguendo le Tracce is superior.
    The same applies to the first funk/dance influences. They do not replace the jazz, classical, Italian opera influences, but just add. As a result this version of RIP is the only one that impresses me. I disagree, the way the Italians apply funk only adds to its aggression. It's a perfect opener. Note how the coda seems to directly come from a Verdi finale.
    Another important point is that in 1975 DiGiacomo's voice is fully developed; it's as powerful as on the following albums, something I missed on the studio recordings.
    Yep, this is a must have. I will chase this album down and then I'll have to see which place it earns in my top 10. I'll end here, because a song by song consideration will make this comment four times as long as the entire review.

  4. Just two additional details:

    1) "RIP" is, in fact, only performed in English in its first half. The second half is performed in Italian; ironically, the audience gives loud ovations as soon as di Giacomo sings the first verses of the second part.

    2) The percussion freakout in "La Danza dei Grandi Rettili" actually is the last (uncredited) part of "Canto Nomade per un Prigienero Politico". The original "Danza" is actually the same length, except - of course - for the ferocious trumpet solo.

    Max Bolch