Thursday, November 5, 2009
In 1973 the Italian blues band turned progressive rock juggernaut released their third and final studio album, leaving behind nothing until Mellow decided to add a black eye to their rep with one of the worst demos of all time (from a far later period) and a balanced but perhaps slightly uninspired 1990 live show from when they opened for Magma and IQ, perhaps one of the first examples of a concert where two different audiences shared a venue. But with Vietato ai Minori di 18 Anni? the band left behind what is probably one of the finest testaments of the Italian progressive rock movement from the 70s. With an almost Dylanesque, poetic soul the band took their almost folksy song-oriented sound, already developed into progressive rock by the time of DNA, and made one of the most startlingly consistent yet experimental albums to come out of the scene. Where PFM were blazing pastoral Moodys and Crimsonesque soundscapes and Banco were almost turning classical music into rock opera, Jumbo were almost the perfect example of how you could throw almost everything else into the stew. Over and over again, fragile ranconteur-like songs, sung by a raucous, earthy bard explode into different directions, sometimes expelling the most incredible rock riffs, at others meandering dreamily into dissonant and swelling soundscapes, and sometimes even being bent Dali-style in the studio, as if the whole session was being operated by guest Franco Battiato. All of this is delivered in the rawest of emotions, an expressiveness that arises from gravel, rock, anger, rage, repression, viciousness and yet a basic humanity, a wistfulness like a wise old man retelling a life story. There's absolutely no note wasted on this, even on the experimental, tortured "Gil" one is rapt as the anguish is wrapped in layers of mellotron, spiralling VCS3s from Battiato and eventually an Aktuala-like tabla beat from Lino "Capra" Vaccina. It all reminds you that progressive rock will just never be the same again, as if modern music was just too self-aware or post-modern for there to ever be this combination of sheer naivete and musical brilliance again, as if a similar cornucopia of moods and styles would prematurely decay due to the looming fist of musical culture and reference and knowing mockery so prevalent today. What was once letting it flow is now chutzpah but here you have a jigsaw of original brilliance that actually centers on a rough blues singer strumming on an acoustic guitar, at its heart there's such a depth of soul that in the end it leaves you ragged and most importantly like you've traversed gigantic differences in only 40 minutes. And not only is the music cohesive despite it bringing so many strands together, but woven through are some of the most catchy and immediate riffs and themes ever produced by the style, the equal to the greats of the era without the mistake of overburdening the music with concept, musical egos and excessive sentimentality. At the end one can't help but think of the bard packing up his strings and walking to the bar for a mug already looking ahead to the next stop.