Forty years ago, I had my first musical encounter with Classic Italian Prog band Banco, when I bought their eponymous fourth album on vinyl, the English version (1975). I was blown away with hints of the seventies symphonic rock dinosaurs ELP, but presented with a pleasant variety of instruments, an eclectic musical approach and very crafted musicians. Especially legendary and charismatic singer Francesco Di Giacomo who impressed me with his powerful and emotional vocals. Unfortunately, in 2014 he died in a traffic collision aged 66. And now, April 2019, Banco surprises the progrock world with a new album, 25 years after their previous pretty disappointing studio-album entitled Il 13. The current line-up is very different and in my opinion only'good old' Vittorio Nocenzi remains a Banco member. And we welcome new singer Tony D'Alessio, he played in bands like Lost Innocence, Scenario, Guernica and Pozzo di San Patrizio, and can be found on the Banco 2-CD compilation Io Sono Nato Libero, with the 2017 CD La Liberta Difficile (6 tracks). In that year he joined Banco, with the other Scenario member Filippo Marcheggiani (guitars). An emotional note: Francesco knew Tony from his time in Scenario, he once said “Before I die, mark him as a hypothetical substitute for the band”. In the end Tony was asked to do auditions as the new Banco singer, among many good candidates. So finally, a dream became true because Tony has always been a huge fan of Classic Italian Prog, especially Il Balletto Di Bronzo, Osanna, PFM, Area, and Banco!
Listening to this new Banco album I am stunned by the huge variety, from modern prog to avant-garde, and from atmospheric to AOR, incredible, it sounds like Pandora's Prog Box! And new singer Tony does an excellent job, from tender to powerful, and from melancholic to expressive. He reminds me of the Italian vocals in Metamorfosi, Le Orme, Museo Rosenbach, and of course Banco, very passionate and inspired!
In many tracks the emphasis is on catchy beats, percussive keyboard sounds (great fat sequencer-like sounds), a propulsive rhythm-section and harder-edged guitar work. This is embellished with inventive and surprising breaks and shifting moods, like in these tracks.
L'Imprevisto: from subtle acoustic rhythm guitar and howling steel guitar to lush Hammond.
L'Assalto Dei Lupi : Il Balletto Di Bronzo-like “jazz meets rock meets avant-garde” with a virtuosic acoustic guitar part.
Eterna Transiberiana : in the end a very moving guitar solo with echoes from Andy Latimer.
The exciting and alternating I Ruderi Del Gulag : from swinging piano to awesome interplay between Hammond and a heavy guitar.
And Oceano: Strade Di Sale : catchy and accessible with Hammond and rock guitar, like Eighties Kansas).
Some tracks sound more laidback, like Campi Di Fragole: first dreamy with piano and acoustic guitar, then a slow rhythm with piano, warm vocals, a buzzing fretless bass and soaring keyboards, and finally sparkling piano work and fragile acoustic guitar with soaring keyboards. And Lasciando Alle Spalle : an atmospheric climate with tender piano and guitar, and a variety of keyboard sounds, like “classical meets electronic”.
La Discesa Dal Treno. First dreamy with piano and powerful guitar riffs and howling electric guitar runs, then passionate vocals and tender piano, this creates a great tension between mellow and bombastic. Next flashy synth flights and heavy electric guitar, and strong interplay. We can enjoy a surprising experimental instrumental part with jazzy piano, a catchy beat and echo guitar. Then melancholic vocals and tender keyboards and vibraphone, and finally heavy guitar riffs and percussive keyboard sound, what a hypnotizing sound.
Lo Sciamano. It starts with a spectacular synthesizer intro, like “Vangelis meets Keith Emerson”! Then a slow rhythm with distorted vocals, heavy guitar play and twanging guitar (King Crimson hints). Halfway a swirling Hammond solo in an ominous atmosphere. This is followed by a heavy guitar solo, outstanding acrobatic vocals, propulsive drumbeats, dazzling synth flights and heavy guitar runs, what a sensational prog composition, so varied and adventurous.
Il Grande Bianco. A mellow climate with repetitive twanging guitars (like Eighties King Crimson), soaring keyboards, a cello sound, soft bass and wonderful dreamy vocals, then lush Hammond and sparkling synthesizer flights. Now the music turns first into slow and bombastic with moving electric guitar and then into a catchy beat with a fiery guitar solo (“jazzrock meets metal”). Again, strong vocals, and delicate work on keyboards and guitar, topped with a powerful rhythm-section. Finally, a dreamy part with tender Grand piano and subtle electric guitar drops.
The two bonus tracks are recorded live in 2018, at the Festival Prog Di Veruno.
Metamorfosi (9.43) : A Banco classic, what a powerful and dynamic version featuring great work on keyboards, including virtuosic piano - and synthesizer play by good old Vittorio Nocenzi (one of the founding members) and a heavy guitar sound by Filippo Marcheggiani, adding a special flavour to the new Banco sound. In the second part Tony D'Alessio showcases his talents with a short rendition of R.I.P., a jaw dropping tribute to Francesco Di Giacomo (this part was his finest moment for me), goose bumps!
Il Ragno (5.42): A swinging rhythm with pleasant work on piano, keyboards and guitar, powerful vocals, topped with an inventive rhythm-section. This is Banco with chart potential.
To me this new Banco album sounds as 'modern progressive', from catchy and accessible to experimental and genuine progressive, it is fresh, powerful, adventurous and dynamic, a big hand for this new Banco!
**** Erik Neuteboom (edited by Dave Smith)
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