I was originally going to write about about failure, about how 2022 basically ground me to dust and left me lost…a failure inside, weak in body and spirit, and sick. By giving myself writing goals and objectives and deadlines I turned this outlet, a channel for my passions and joy into just another job, and I don’t need that…don’t want that. It’s just one more thing that puts me further in the dark.
There. That’s the post. Now let’s just listen to an album and record some thoughts about it. And try it again the next day, and the day after that. I’d been meaning to get to the loads of Italian prog I had purchased over the last few months… my post on Arti + Mestieri was just the start of it. So why not kick off 2023 with an album celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, the third release from Banco Del Mutuo Soccorso, the complex bag of tricks known as Io sono nato libero.
Super brief history before jumping into the album proper. Banco Del Mutuo Soccorso roughly translates to “Bank of Mutual Aid” but I have no idea what that’s in reference to. What I do know is the band, formed in 1972 by brothers Vittorio and Gianni Nocenzi, was another discovery by way of Sea of Tranquility and their primer on Italian Prog. So if my wife is reading this you can blame Pete Pardo for the recordsand CDs laying all over the house. Inspired by the likes of Gentle Giant and Jethro Tull, the music is heavy on keyboards and sweeping orchestral passages, sans the actual orchestra: this is very music a progressive rock ensemble. Finding any vinyl by the band for a decent price was a Herculean chore, so I opted to go the CD route and found their first three classic albums for a damn good price. The band still seems to be going strong: although their dynamic vocalist Francesco Di Giacomo passed away in 2014, the band is still releasing music – their 2019 album Transiberiana is pretty damn good and available to hear on your streaming platform of choice. But let’s get into the meat of Io sono nato libero.
Opening with a bang is the 15-minute “Canto Nomade Per Un Prigioniero Politico” and it’s as much of a statement of intent for the band as anything else else in their discography. I’m assuming some political overtones as the song translates to “Song for a Nomadic Political Prisoner” but what’s important here is the music: the incredible moments of delicate percussion that pervade every moment of the track. The gradual introduction of electronic, almost noise elements as the song progresses in its final moments. The lengthy passages of straight up keyboard-led progressive rock, with all that you would imagine it to be without even listening. My first run through my brain focused on two things: the incredible piano and synth work from the Nocenzi brothers, and the incredible vocals of Di Giacomo. They form the bedrock of the music, and it’s impressive how heavy they can get: check out the repeating bass and piano figure around the 7:30 mark for proof of a band that is fully capable of slaying you without the use of copious guitar pyrotechnics.
If the opening track goes in a dozen different directions, “Non Mi Rompete” is content to sit in more idyllic waters, the acoustic guitars of Marcello Todaro and Renato D’Angelo bouying the Yes-like harmonies layered out of Giacomo’s vocals. It’s a short but effective piece, and despite its lack of overt prog complexity might be my favorite track on Io sono nato libero. “La Città Sottile” returns to the percussive pop of more relatable prog, but the fact that it’s filtered through the lens of people with their own rich musical traditions brings a uniqueness to the music that – to my ears – immediately distinguishes it from the scene that was going on in the UK and other more popular prog breeding grounds. My ears pick up Tull, Yes, and even moments of King Crimson, but like Italian cinema there’s something distinct that blocks any attempt at straight imitation. Can I do without the spoken word piece at the end? Sure, but it’s a small crime when you think about some of the horror perpetrated by the giants of the genre.
“Dopo…Niente È Più Lo Stesso” returns to more epic waters, offering a more dramatic vocal turn and pronounced synthesizers punctuating the track, matching the intensity of what I’m guessing is another political track (the song translates to “After…Nothing Is the Same Anymore”). Instruments are detuned, falling into a pit before piano and ethereal keys lift it above the earth. As I listen I realize that one of the things I really appreciate about the music of Banco Del Mutuo Soccorso is that sense of the alien, of the otherness…it’s so completely different from what my limited scope of music has framed as “70s prog” and yet the touchstones are there, just enough to cling to in a storm of musical ideas I have yet to fully acclimate to. When the full band kicks in at the four minute mark it’s a return to more familiar tides. It’s here where the bass work of D’Angelo really makes itself known as well – there isn’t a lot of showboating on the album; the band members are content to really craft songs rather than solo and wheedle to their heart’s content. But I’ll readily admit I’m still slightly flummoxed (though no less enamored) at all the spoken word sections, telling a story I can only guess at.
By the time the keyboard extravaganza of “Traccia II” – the companion piece to the closing track on the band’s debut (I promise we’ll get there) – fades out I’m left in wonderment at the broad world of music I have yet to discover. Is language truly an impediment when the music carries the message this way? Am I making any sense? Getting any closer to a sense of what I want – out of this music, this site, this life?
It remains to be seen, I guess.