Looking back, I see now that I spent my mid-90s university years in Colchester buying excessive amounts of music as a defence against a largely miserable existence. My spending was hardly discerning, and that’s how ‘Ma, Dolce Vita’ by Italian synth player Giuseppe “Baffo” Banfi came to be in my collection. It was purchased from a charity table-top sale that I chanced upon one Saturday morning.
Nothing about this record should have appealed to me at the time, but I bought it regardless. Looking back, I’m not sure what I disliked the most. I was programmed to abhor anything with printed liner notes as I detested being given someone else’s opinions before listening (strangely ironic given that I now write music reviews myself) and I found the picture of Banfi in 1970s garb really cheesy. I think I ultimately bought it because it listed the synths that Banfi used, and I also liked Ezio Geneletti’s sleeve. It suited the pretentious, artsy air I was (unsuccessfully) cultivating at the time.
‘Ma, Dolce Vita’ was released in 1979, Banfi’s second album following the split of his previous band, Biglietto Per L’Inferno, in 1975. The record was produced and mixed by Klaus Schulze and released on Schulze’s Innovative Communication label. Entirely instrumental apart from some vocoder effects, it affixed classical structures to clanking rhythms and what I thought was a proggy sense of self-importance. It was clearly part of the German synth legacy, only delivered with an Italian sense of style.
I played it once, felt queasy like I’d eaten a huge bag of sweets and filed it away, annoyed with myself for wasting the money. Having grown up with electronic music, the album represented the worst excesses of 70s synth music. It seemed to be trying too hard to humanise the electronics and play traditional music using new technology. Despite five house moves, some 20 years later ‘Ma, Dolce Vita’ remains in my collection, unplayed save for that first time. It was only when I started the sacrilegious process of selling vinyl that I rediscovered it.
My musical tastes have evidently evolved. A recent immersion in fusion jazz, where synth solos are nothing short of Wakeman-esque, made me appreciate the virtuoso playing that Banfi delivered so effortlessly on this LP. I can now also appreciate the depth and resonance of his percussive compositions, and Schulze’s masterful production, that my arrogant younger self had no patience for.
‘Ma, Dolce Vita’ might possess a forgivable period charm, but I now can hear it for what it is – an excellent, mysterious, inventive instrumental album by a cult figure that the storied history of synth music has sadly overlooked.