Monday, 24 July 2017

Need for drama: part 7

Title: Il relitto (The wastrel)
Year: 1961
Composer: Angelo Francesco Lavagnino & Armando Trovajoli

In my previous Lavagnino review I mentioned that I’m not the biggest fan of his bombastic film scores. Luckily Alhambra Records’ newest release in a series of unreleased Lavagnino titles is a fresh and emotional musical journey that avoids the clich├ęs with its subtle nature. The Cypriot-Italian production is a story about a man and his son who are shipwrecked and fighting for their lives on the open sea while reminiscing their past mistakes.

Main titles starts the score with a laid-back calypso tune that immediately reminds the listener of the film’s Caribbean locale. I haven’t heard this style of music from Lavagnino before, namely writing for a small scale jazz ensemble. According to the liner notes Maestro Lavagnino’s friend, a fellow film composer Armando Trovajoli, lended a helping hand uncredited on the source music cues. The second part of the track follows in the same vein with another simple, cheerful melody. The music has some wonderful flourishes especially from the piano but overall it goes by unnoticed. A longer 9-minute version of these two simple melodies is heard in track 18 which unfortunately can’t hold my interest for its whole duration because there is too much repetition and not enough variation.

From track 2 onward it’s mostly Lavagnino material albeit in a subdued fashion until the ending source cues. The thematic hints start to appear gradually during the score’s opening moments but take their time to fully develop. The devastation After the explosion isn’t met with horror but with slow realization of the situation. Musically this is achieved with a solo clarinet playing the first variation of the score’s gorgeous theme for the father and son over peaceful strings. Remorse on the other hand has a more sinister opening that introduces the first variation of the love theme hidden in its suspenseful strings. After a short quote of the father/son theme there is an absolutely delightful nocturne Stars in the night that is tear-jerkingly beautiful and easily one of the prettiest moments on the album.

The story is told mostly in flashbacks and the first example of this is Remembering Paris, a Parisian accordion waltz that sets the scene perfectly. It’s followed by In the restaurant, an even more restrained piece of lounge jazz for just the solo piano playing a catchy but perhaps quite anonymous tune. Once again it really isn’t a piece that I would associate with Lavagnino’s previous works but beautiful nevertheless. The first full version of the love theme is whistled at the empty city streets in the following cue. First meeting in Rome presents the love theme in an extravagantly romantic fashion with backing strumming mandolins. Soon the clear atmospheres of the open seas return and present a peaceful interplay between the two main themes.

As the hypothermia starts to sink in, the music also starts to become more distorted and cold. The first sign of this is Duncan’s jealousy that has a weird effect produced by an echo chamber that distorts the string sounds creepily. For a score that is over 50 years old, the manipulated sound is truly an interesting addition and preserved extremely well. The best example of this comes in Going back in time again where the effect is used for a sense of awe rather than terror. The storm and The shipwreck have a suspense motif that is the closest thing the score ever becomes to action music, with building intensity and eventually crashing cymbals depicting the explosion. Desperation goes even further towards the abyss with almost martial rhythms from the piano. Their reprise in Duncan reaches the shore offer the last bit of uneasiness before a victorious orchestral crescendo signaling the landing concludes the track.

Luckily in the darkness there are also glimpses of hope. Cam’s song is the first full performance of the father/son theme with warm and moving harmonies. This melody is by far the greatest asset the score has to offer. Though it’s just a simple major key composition, it never fails to momentarily lift the shrouds of desperation. Eventually it outgrows from its humble origins into a solemn anthem for the protagonists. For instance the score’s longest piece, track 13, has a distorted version of the melody at 2:30 mark and though the instrumentation is weird, it still sounds like a siren song trying to keep the main characters awake in the water. A more hopeful rendition returns at the end of the cue after a sinister variation of the love theme. Finale begins with just the strings that clearly search their tonal foundation just like the main characters realizing that they’re not going to die after all. When the realization finally sinks in, a glorious rendition of the father/son theme receives a warm but bittersweet sendoff.

The concluding source tracks follow in the lounge-inspired footsteps of tracks 1 and 5. Rock ‘n’ roll on the ship is a fun little number of 60s instrumental rockabilly music that fortunately isn’t too distracting and includes a great trumpet and sax solo. The greatest bonus track is the 6.5-minute Nightclub revue that begins with a cabaret band rendition of the accordion musette of track 4. That is followed by a muted trumpet solo and then a faster piano version and a fast solo sax improvisation based on that musette. Then the restaurant music of track 5 is reprised with a trumpet solo and accompanying jazzy piano and drumset. Blues is another slow version of that melody for a warm clarinet and small backing jazz ensemble. The last track is a fastening party tune that is a cheerful end to the bonus tracks.

It has been a while since I’ve been moved by a score this much. There are no flashing lights, no bombast. And yet it manages to reach the very depths of your heart with its stunning moments of pure beauty, tranquility and profound loneliness. The music really displays the emotions of somebody reflecting his life on the brink of death being stranded on an open sea. Luckily Lavagnino is able to show so much restraint with his compositions that the intimacy is nearly tangible. Another home run by Lavagnino and Alhambra Records!

Rating: ****1/2

1. Main title (Calypso) / The villa (03:32) ***
2. After the explosion / Clinging to the debris (02:25) *****
3. Remorse / Stars in the night (02:22) *****
4. Remembering Paris (Musette) (02:34) ****
5. In the restaurant (03:17) ****
6. Duncan whistles on the street (01:11) ***
7. Duncan's jealousy (02:32) *****
8. Cam's song (Instrumental) (00:46) *****
9. First meeting in Rome (Duncan and Liana) (03:22) *****
10. Duncan tells Liana about his mother (02:24) ****
11. The storm / Going back in time again (03:31) *****
12. Setting sail / The shipwreck (02:10) *****
13. The bottle in the ocean / Duncan's visions / Duncan's love for his son (05:44) ****
14. Desperation (02:51) *****
15. Blurred vision (01:54) ****
16. Close to death / Duncan reaches the shore (01:54) *****
17. Finale (01:58) *****

BONUS TRACKS (Source music)
18. Party music (Calypso) (09:21) ***
19. Rock ‘n’ roll on the ship (02:14) *****
20. Nightclub revue (06:48) *****
21. Blues (03:17) *****
22. Unused jazz track (01:02) *****

Friday, 30 June 2017

CrimeWaves: part 7

Title: La morte vestita di dollari (Dog eat dog aka When strangers meet)
Year: 1964
Composer: Carlo Savina

A story about three robbers received a score by Carlo Savina which bounces between two styles both brilliantly suitable for a crime flick. Jazzy swing cues represent the nightlife and alternate with more sinister moods for moments of action or suspense that take up most of the album’s duration. Sprinkled in between are also some other musical styles like classically inspired source music, religious organ playing and loungy sleaze for a restaurant setting. With such an array of contrasting styles you might think that the score might sound too disjointed. However both the album presentation and the bonus cues offer a great listening experience in which each cue flows beautifully into next one creating a cohesive narrative.

The album begins with a laid-back swing piece Swing frenetico with a walking bass backing, not nearly as frantic as the title might suggest but a great little opening. It is interrupted quickly though with Stasi which presents the score’s most prominent main motif, descending piano triplets with ominous piercing or stabbing string and piano chords in between. These stabbing chords also open Ritmi di latta which then takes a complete 100 degree turn into a fast, cheeky swing piece with a good sense of fun in the performance and solos for guitars, piano, percussion and vibraphone. Other jazzy melodies are heard in a honky-tonk/cabaret fashion in the pair of cues Piano and Piano src. The album ends with three Swing numbers that reprise the opening track’s melody and close the circle beautifully with just the swing beat remaining to play in the emptiness.

Atmosfera morbida has the descending notes of the suspense motif spaced much more sparsely for buzzing keyboards and in much slower tempo. However eventually the track develops from its sinister origins into a loungy jazz piece for muted trumpet and soft, nocturnal backing. Morte di un ladro offers other variations of the suspense motif extending it into a more long-lined melody, followed by Il dramma with a more straight-forward and aggressive version of the motif. Probably the best and fullest version of the motif is In giallo where it is played ultimately with a piercing solo saxophone before more variations provided by the bass clarinet appear.

The first real action cue on the album is Caccia spietata with brutal percussion section and strangely abstract string harmonies playing the tuning harmonies of a violin. The madness is combined to those icy cold piano chords that are often heard along with the suspense motif. The accelerating rhythm surely makes the listener’s heart race. There is a piano action motif in Agguato ed assassinio but unfortunately it doesn’t last that long but turns back to suspense as soon as possible. That motif is reprised in tracks 18, 19, 31 & 32.

Source cues include a classical pastiche Concerto romantico which is a great theme complete with a passionate piano solo taking inspiration from classical composers of the romantic era. Unfortunately it isn’t heard again if you don’t count a variation in the climatic track Sospensione which ends the original album with a dramatic bang. There are a couple of pieces for solo organ (6, 26, 27) that are religious in nature but not overly so, rather just peaceful breather cues among the suspenseful pieces. The last one manages to make me smile with its quotation of a certain well-known organ piece. Grottesco sounds exactly what the title says, a morbid waltz for comical wah-wah trumpet and solo violin over strange, atonal harmonies that lead to more variations of the suspense motif. Incerto candore opens with a solo flute that is both jazzy and oddly sinister before a gorgeous melody for a restaurant scene appears and concludes with a touch of sassy sax. The melody is heard again briefly in Candore. As with many film scores of the era there is also time for some experimental material and Ambient is this album’s version of that. It consists purely of electronic sound effects and signal noise which is absolutely unlistenable and might break your eardrums if you’re listening to it with headphones.

As you can see from my star rating, the original album clearly had all the highlights but nevertheless it was nice to have the extras because the score is relatively short. The short duration of the cues and the lack of an identifiable main theme might also alienate some listeners. But for Savina fans this is a must buy because there are touches of his unmistakable style especially in the suspense scoring, however the jazzy cues sound really fresh even by his standards. The complaint I have with the Kronos Records release is once again that the album tracks don’t match the written tracklist. The actual tracks heard on the album are on an alphabetical order like in my written tracklist below and their original places in the ( )s. A nice little score nevertheless.

Rating: ****

1. Swing frenetico (01:19) *****
2. Stasi (01:07) *****
3. Concerto romantico (01:29) *****
4. Ritmi di latta (02:29) *****
5. Atmosfera morbida (02:17) *****
6. Suona un organo (01:48) ****
7. Morte di un ladro (02:51) ***
8. Il dramma (01:01) *****
9. Caccia spietata (02:57) *****
10. Grottesco (01:54) *****
11. Delitto (01:00) ***
12. Incerto candore (02:04) *****
13. Agguato ed assassinio (01:15) ****
14. Atmosfera sospesa (01:07) ****
15. In giallo (02:02) *****
16. Ritratto di signora (01:28) ****
17. Sospensione (00:54) *****

18. (20.) La morte vestita di dollari - Seq. 3 (Agguato) (01:10) ****
19. (21.) La morte vestita di dollari - Seq. 4 (Agguato ed assassinio - lungo) (01:50) ***
20. (33.) La morte vestita di dollari - Seq. 16 (Ambient) (02:57) *
21. (19.) La morte vestita di dollari - Seq. 2 (Annuncio) (00:27) ***
22. La morte vestita di dollari - Seq. 5 (Candore) (00:28) ****
23. La morte vestita di dollari - Seq. 6 (Consquenze) (01:05) ****
24. La morte vestita di dollari - Seq. 7 (Drammatico 1) (00:11) **
25. La morte vestita di dollari - Seq. 8 (Drammatico 2) (00:43) ****
26. La morte vestita di dollari - Seq. 9 (Organo) (00:32) ****
27. (18.) La morte vestita di dollari - Seq. 1 (Organo) (02:00) *****
28. (27.) La morte vestita di dollari - Seq. 10 (Piano) (00:27) ****
29. (28.) La morte vestita di dollari - Seq. 11 (Piano src) (00:41) *****
30. (29.) La morte vestita di dollari - Seq. 12 (Seduzione) (00:15) ****
31. (30.) La morte vestita di dollari - Seq. 13 (Suspense 1) (00:50) ***
32. (31.) La morte vestita di dollari - Seq. 14 (Suspense 2) (01:49) ***
33. (32.) La morte vestita di dollari - Seq. 15 (Suspense 3) (00:37) **
34. La morte vestita di dollari - Seq. 17 (Swing 1) (00:16) ****
35. La morte vestita di dollari - Seq. 18 (Swing 2) (00:26) *****
36. La morte vestita di dollari - Seq. 19 (Swing 3) (00:52) ***

Monday, 29 May 2017

Need for drama: part 6

Title: Padre Pio – tra cielo e terra
Composer: Ennio Morricone
Year: 2000

Maestro Morricone is no stranger to scoring films featuring religious figures. In the 2000s he composed the music for three TV movies about two popes: John Paul II and John XXIII. However the first project of that nature in the new millennium for him was the music written for a TV miniseries about a monk called Padre Pio who, among other things, exhibited stigmata and was later canonized by the Catholic Church. The music offers a kind of religious quality that Morricone has provided to many films over the years. No matter the connotations, it is a pleasant and beautiful listening experience in any case.

The score begins with an absolutely stunning performance of the title theme. The A section of the melody is built around a rising hopeful tune reaching for the heavens and written in the composer’s typical style discussed above. Surprisingly it is followed by a short victorious brass fanfare that is sadly never heard again before the B section melody begins along with heavenly choral voices. This section reminds me of the main theme of The mission with similar harmonies and simplicity of the melody. Eventually the moods that started the piece bring it to a peaceful close. The main theme is reprised in La croce della gloria with another Morricone favourite, a solo oboe not far from the one played in that other religious film. The cue’s ending takes a darker turn to a more sacred direction with melodies and harmonies clearly inspired by ancient Latin hymns. Nel silenzio offers a more playful variation of the B section melody over a pizzicato bassline and an occasional bed of warm strings, eventually performed by the chorus in unison. Some textures heard here remind me of another Morricone score from 2000, Mission to Mars. It’s strange how Maestro Morricone can make similar moods work in completely different film genres. The last full reprise of the theme is for solo organ and strings in track 7 and though the organ sounds somewhat synthetic, the backing strings are at their most moving here.

La sofferenza introduces a different long-lined melody, another one that brings tons of others by Morricone to mind. Yet it is just so delicately gorgeous with its presentation and viola solo, that the familiarity doesn’t ruin the overall experience. The reprise of that theme in Dolore come amore is written just for the strings which have such a wonderful echo that makes the sounds float straight down from above. Yet another solo string piece La verita’ nelle stimmate is clearly a sacred composition that doesn’t reach the heights of the previous themes but is still gorgeous with its somber tone. 10-minute Sia fatta la sua volonta takes the minimalism of the album’s beginning to new directions and features a simple harp tune that plays over and over on top of rather abstract string harmonies which are slowly building up with intensity towards an unseen closure. At 6.5-minute mark however the mood warms up to the glorious strings which guide the cue back to a safe haven. Though there seems to be not that much happening, the cue is all about textures and moods that for me depict spirituality through music. It could be either a moment just before sunrise and the first rays of emerging light or a soul ascending through a layer of clouds depending on what you believe in. Nevertheless its beauty is undeniable. La casa della sofferenza brings a smile to my face because there is a direct quote of Gabriel’s oboe’s opening line hidden in the passionate woodwind solo that plays over the harmonic base of the main theme.

There are a few exceptions to the overall free-floating nature of the cues. Il dolore e l’ira is another version of the doomsday hymn Dies irae, this time performed with a harpsichord over rather pleasant harmonies. As the tune gets going, it also gets brisk accompanying staccato chords that add a sense of lurking danger. 7 raccordi is clearly this album’s version of the trademark long suspenseful track. However this time there is just something about the playing which reveals a spectrum of different moods in addition to suspense: terror, agony and perhaps even remorse or reflection. It’s hard to describe but compare it to other straight up Morriconean suspense cues and hear what I mean. For instance the last two sections feature the hymnal quality heard previously at the end of track 3. Those moments are obviously darker than the other material but far from suspenseful. The album ends with Solo voci which is the most sacred cue of all featuring just the acapella choir singing in Latin. Though there are melodic quotes to Dies irae, it is an original composition that doesn’t sound like a composer trying to imitate a sacred sound but a piece of genuine church music. The modern harmonies are soothing with their meditative quality and the piece is a perfect way to end the album that in itself already consists of mostly slow-moving cues.

Even though I’m not a religious person I can still appreciate what Morricone has created here: a true work of beauty that transcends all prejudices one might have with a title like this. No matter if you are a believer or not, there is no denying that this music truly reaches the very depths of the within. Whether you call it a soul or just emotions, you’ll know after listening to this album.

Rating: *****

1. Padre Pio tra cielo e terra (04:18) *****
2. La sofferenza (04:10) *****
3. La croce della gloria (03:24) ****
4. Il dolore e l'ira (03:46) *****
5. Nel silenzio (05:10) ****
6. La verita' nelle stimmate (02:27) ****
7. Tra cielo e terra (03:25) *****
8. Dolore come amore (04:12) *****
9. Sia fatta la sua volonta (09:56) *****
10. La casa della sofferenza (03:20) *****
11. 7 raccordi (10:55) ****
12. Solo voci (05:54) *****

Monday, 1 May 2017

Goblin's "Roller" (and "Chi?" single)

Title: Roller
Year: 1976
Composer: Goblin

This time I’m reviewing a studio album by the band Goblin who also wrote film music. The album is written in their usual instrumental prog-rock style and should please anyone who’s a fan of their film scores. However the album let's them loose from the constraints a film score might have and gets to show their versatility as an actual band. The version I own is a part of the 6CD compilation album The awakening from 2012 which also includes two bonus tracks, namely a single release of music from a TV series called Chi? also from 1976 which I couldn’t find any information about.

The opening Roller is very similar to Goblin’s Profondo rosso with its irregular staccato rhythms, church organ and groovy guitar solo playing the main melody. The overall mood isn’t as menacing as its inspiration but rather playful and extremely fun. Once again the track ends with a giant organ conclusion to a glorious major chord that sends shivers down my spine. A brilliant opener! The following Aquaman opens in a much more restrained manner with sounds of waterdrops and otherworldly, echoy synth melodies which slowly make room to a mellow, improvisatory electric guitar solo over the established base. Eventually the cue’s starting sounds make a return bringing it to a perfect circle.

Snip-snap is a complete departure from the previous two tracks. It reminds me of funky riffs artists like Herbie Hancock would create. The sound is typical for the era and doesn’t really bring anything new to the table. It isn’t bad by any means but unfortunately not that memorable either. Il risveglio del serpente begins similarly to Aquaman with surprisingly jazzy harmonies and progressions for a clear piano solo. It’s probably the most accessible cue on the album and offers a nice breather between the more experimental tracks. The short addition of a saxophone at the cue’s last portion is a nice one too.

Enormous 11-minute Goblin starts the album’s latter half with sound effects resembling flames. Then a piano ostinato appears which then turns to the cue’s main melody, easily the best one on the album. It begins with a longlined synth tune whereas the B section is more mischievous with its irregular rhythms and odd synth sounds. From that on the ostinato and main melody start to appear in short snippets through the controlled chaos of different musical soloists. From the 5-minute mark the cue cools down to moods similar to tracks 2 and 4 but the soundscape is more outer space than underwater. As the end draws nearer the track gains momentum through those funky riffs of Snip-snap before the main melody returns with a glorious final rendition after a long drum solo. Compared to the previous cue, Dr. Frankenstein is a bit of a letdown. The ominous starting sounds are quite fun though and sound like a part of a Goblin film score. The problem is that the track isn’t able to form a memorable melody and hence sounds more like a filler than a closing cue. The last 2-minutes of the track try to redeem it with much faster, absolutely bonkers synth sounds and renditions of the beginning’s melodies but it’s a bit too little too late and the sounds are so out-there they actually become somewhat irritating.

The CD ends with two bonus tracks for a TV series. I’m not sure whether Goblin wrote more music for the series but judging by the single I would certainly hope so. Chi? part 1 begins with mysterious tinkling guitars before the main melody is introduced. It sounds like a cop show theme from the 70s complete with those signature staccato brass chords. Eventually the mysterious opening sounds sneak in underneath the main melody and end the track into a menacing note. Part 2 is even more threatening once again returning to the style of Profondo rosso with rhythmic synth textures and a more longlined main melody that is played on top of it and then reprised with an organ and guitar solo. Though the melody isn’t as memorable as in Profondo rosso or Roller it’s again nice to hear a cue like this which is both menacing and quite beautiful at the same time. If there are more cues from the series somewhere, I would certainly like to hear them based on this marvelous single.

Roller is a bit uneven album because the abundance of contrasting styles can be quite distracting at times. Nevertheless it shows great versatility of the musicians and is a must buy for the fans of the band. I also love the additional EP-release which luckily resurrects the CD from the letdown of the actual album’s closing track.

Rating: ****1/2

1. Roller (04:38) *****
2. Aquaman (05:22) *****
3. Snip-snap (03:37) ***
4. Il risveglio del serpente (03:27) *****
5. Goblin (11:10) *****
6. Dr. Frankenstein (06:00) ***

Bonus tracks:
7. Chi? part 1 (single A) (03:15) *****
8. Chi? part 2 (single B) (03:20) *****

Saturday, 29 April 2017

WTF (Weird tho' fabulous): part 5

Title: L’harem (Her harem)
Year: 1967
Composer: Ennio Morricone

Another obscure project from the 60s for Maestro Morricone. The film is about a woman who starts her own harem of men and at the end things turn deadly. The score is a unique one and showcases once again Maestro’s chameleon like ability to adapt to any film or situation.

The score was previously paired up with Maestro’s score to Il ladrone but luckily Beat Records released a longer version in early 2017. It’s still a very short one and presented here in a suite clocking just over 30 minutes and divided into 5 sections. But for me it’s the perfect length to discover this hidden gem.

The score consists of two different themes highlighting two extraordinary musical artists, Gato Barbieri on saxophone and Bruno Battisti D’Amario on guitar. These two really are the soul of the score which is otherwise scored for a very small amount of other instruments. This chamber ensemble approach nevertheless works and creates a wonderful feeling of sensual isolation for the film’s remote locale.

A solo saxophone opens L’harem primo and slowly chimes, woodblocks, percussion fills and nostalgic Morriconean high strings enter along with delicate brass chords. The real star is the saxophone which develops from the main melody into more improvisatory verses before returning to the original melody and then moving to another developmental section. The atmosphere lingers at the border of atonality and tonality which gives the cue some needed edge and hence prevents it from becoming boring. The solo sax version of the opening is exactly that, just a 10-minute sax solo in the emptiness. On paper it sounds ludicrous and I wonder who would even manage to listen to it completely. But right from the first notes I was hooked. The intense performance goes through so many emotions and the wonderful echo of the recording elevates it even further. At times the sax sounds like it’s part of a sensual bar scene, sometimes like a soundtrack to some film noir flick and sometimes like a screeching animal howling at the moon. L’harem secondo is built like the opening cue but there is an added woodwind layer in the orchestral section and the brass chords become more prominent as the cue progresses resembling Maestro’s signature ‘urban chords' depicting city life. The atmosphere however stays at a comfortably low-key level and ends the score with mysterious atmospheres and some wonderfully unresolved tension.

D’Amario’s showpiece is called Sei corde (lit. ‘Six strings’) which actually has some Middle-Eastern influences that the film’s title might suggest. It begins rather slowly along with some pounding percussion backing and then turns into a furious dance for the solo guitar and percussion. It’s an extremely groovy yet brutal track which differs completely from the meditative nature of the saxophone-heavy cues. You almost forget you’re listening to a film score rather than some ethnic folk group just jamming in their pagan rituals. The reprise in track 4 skips the cue’s slower opening and goes straight into the dance sequence that doesn’t hold anything back and goes even further into the violent madness. The album ends with a source cue from another Morricone score Menage all’italiana (1965) which is a great, fast party cue complete with twanging surf rock guitars and some needed attitude to end the album with a more positive note.

During the first few listens I had some difficulties with getting into the essence of this score. But the more I listen to it, the more I love it. It just floats so beautifully from one atmosphere to another and then being temporarily disturbed by the ethnic dancing. It might not be for everyone though since some might discard the meditative quality of the music and consider it as boring. A top-quality score by the Maestro and a great addition to your collection if you can bear his writing for smaller ensembles.

Rating: *****

1. L'harem primo (07:06) *****
2. Sei corde (05:21) *****
3. L'harem primo – solo sax (09:55) *****
4. Sei corde (#2) (02:45) *****
5. L'harem secondo (06:26) *****

6. Bonus track: Fermateli! (boutique scene source music) (02:45) ****

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Nella fantasia: part 3

Title: Ursus nella terra di fuoco (Ursus in the land of fire)
Year: 1963
Composer: Carlo Savina

Ursus, sometimes renamed as the son of Hercules, was another character who appeared in several Italian films in the 60s. A third film in the series forces him to face several enemies in order to save a princess. As the name suggests, the film has associations with fire and Carlo Savina’s score reflects these connections as well. He composed a score which differs a lot from his American contemporaries as it’s clearly inspired by the techniques of the 20th century classical composers.

This is most apparent by the use of texture rather than melody. The only traditionally melodic aspect of the score is the rarely heard love theme but otherwise the score consists of challenging rambling orchestral sounds and moods which offer barely any time to breathe. However that doesn’t mean there are no recurring melodies, but they are motivic in nature and not easily recognizable if you don’t pay attention.

Titoli sequence establishes the bleak mood immediately with menacing brass fanfares and later with the use of cymbals and timpani resembling the sound of thunder. There’s also an introduction to the most abundant motif, a horn-call that begins with a tritone which also opens the following Seq. 2. That latter cue also ends with a victorious motif, one of the only moments when the score gets some playing in a major key. This motif is reprised in Seq. 3 with a more thunderous accompaniment before the horn-call signals a change into more mysterious moods created with brilliant harp arpeggios. Seq. 4 begins with another recurring motif, a devastating and dramatic melody which drains every possible grain of joy surrounding it. A more subtle string version of that very motif ends the following cue Seq. 5.

The score has also time for a few source-music like cues. The first one is Seq. 6 which has slightly Middle-Eastern harmonic base and an excellent, seductive bass clarinet solo creating a sort-of court dance. Seq. 12 on the other hand is a piece for a solo harp, an actual moment of sentimental beauty. The score’s nostalgic love theme is first heard at the end of Seq. 10 but abruptly interrupted by the brass fanfares. Another version of the melody starts Seq. 17 but that moment is short-lived too turning instead to a brutal slave-motif complete with clanging anvils. Another romantic melody is present in Seq. 24 based on the victory motif but later changing to the love theme performed by the full string section.

As the score progresses, the action tracks get even more furious. Seq. 7 and 9 are like a growling beast of the underworld. The massive layers of timpani-playing and thunderous cymbals dominate Seq. 11 before it cools back down to the mystery. The victory motif plays momentarily in Seq. 15 and 18 and tries to break through the banging of cymbals and dangerous horn motifs but fails. The slow-burning tension of Seq. 22 and 23 is once again created with massive percussion writing on top of which the horn-call motif gets a full rendition concluding to a chaotic crescendo. In Seq. 25 the brass writing is just ugly with its brutality before ominous moods for electric organ take over the track.

More subtle suspense is written for a ghostly saw playing on top of a base formed by buzzing electric organ chords, a trademark instrumental choice by Savina. These are present for instance in Seq. 9 and 27, latter of which features the aforementioned slave-motif on a low-key piano and ends with the devastating string motif and a short reprise of the love theme.  Seq. 14 and 16 turn a bass clarinet into a horror instrument which creates eerie, abstract moods along with high register organs and quiet timpani hits. Seq. 19 and 26 instead create these abstract unmelodic moments with just the percussion section, or combined to the organ in Seq. 21.

The score reaches its climax from Seq. 29 onward. The first sign of this is the full appearance of the victory motif which then turns to the suspenseful harps and later to menacing organs and slow-building dramatic chords for full orchestra. The following Seq. 30 reprises the ghostly saw playing along with timpani hits that shake the room, later returning to one of the biggest statements of the horn-call motif. A more hopeful, major key brass fanfare is heard in Seq. 31 whereas Seq. 32 is dominated by gloriously victorious orchestral chords. They continue to the sublime Finale cue which ends the score with a massive orchestral rise first to the love theme and then momentarily back to the menacing fanfares but at the last moment turning back to a bright major key closure.

Savina’s score surely is a challenging but highly rewarding experience once you get familiar with the different motifs and realize how cleverly they are utilized within the score. Some listeners accustomed to the American film scores from the same era might find the experimental musical techniques alien. For me they offer a new viewpoint on how to score a film like this and hence create a unique listening experience.

Rating: ****

1. Ursus nella terra di fuoco (Titoli - Seq. 1) (02:10) ****
2. Ursus nella terra di fuoco (Seq. 2) (01:47) *****
3. Ursus nella terra di fuoco (Seq. 3) (01:37) *****
4. Ursus nella terra di fuoco (Seq. 4) (01:15) ***
5. Ursus nella terra di fuoco (Seq. 5) (01:15) ****
6. Ursus nella terra di fuoco (Seq. 6) (01:30) *****
7. Ursus nella terra di fuoco (Seq. 7) (01:36) *****
8. Ursus nella terra di fuoco (Seq. 8) (01:30) ****
9. Ursus nella terra di fuoco (Seq. 9) (01:32) ****
10. Ursus nella terra di fuoco (Seq. 10) (02:05) *****
11. Ursus nella terra di fuoco (Seq. 11) (02:00) ****
12. Ursus nella terra di fuoco (Seq. 12) (01:00) *****
13. Ursus nella terra di fuoco (Seq. 13) (01:29) ***
14. Ursus nella terra di fuoco (Seq. 14) (02:49) *****
15. Ursus nella terra di fuoco (Seq. 15) (01:30) *****
16. Ursus nella terra di fuoco (Seq. 16) (01:11) ****
17. Ursus nella terra di fuoco (Seq. 17) (01:16) *****
18. Ursus nella terra di fuoco (Seq. 18) (01:32) *****
19. Ursus nella terra di fuoco (Seq. 19) (02:24) **
20. Ursus nella terra di fuoco (Seq. 20) (01:48) ***
21. Ursus nella terra di fuoco (Seq. 21) (01:20) ***
22. Ursus nella terra di fuoco (Seq. 22) (01:44) *****
23. Ursus nella terra di fuoco (Seq. 23) (02:29) ****
24. Ursus nella terra di fuoco (Seq. 24) (01:55) *****
25. Ursus nella terra di fuoco (Seq. 25) (01:39) ****
26. Ursus nella terra di fuoco (Seq. 26) (01:14) ***
27. Ursus nella terra di fuoco (Seq. 27) (02:34) *****
28. Ursus nella terra di fuoco (Seq. 28) (02:38) ****
29. Ursus nella terra di fuoco (Seq. 29) (03:38) *****
30. Ursus nella terra di fuoco (Seq. 30) (03:05) ****
31. Ursus nella terra di fuoco (Seq. 31) (00:52) *****
32. Ursus nella terra di fuoco (Seq. 32) (01:15) *****
33. Ursus nella terra di fuoco (Finale - Seq. 33) (01:30) *****

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Exotic flavours: part 4

Title: Maciste nelle miniere di Re Salomone (Maciste in King Solomon’s mines)
Year: 1964
Composer: Francesco De Masi

Maciste was an Italian Hercules-like strongman character who first appeared on the big screen during the silent film era and later was resurrected by the peplum films of the 60s and 70s. This time he has to save a village from working as slaves in a gold mine. Only a few tracks from the score by Francesco De Masi have survived to this day and they were released along with two other short scores in 2010.

The ominous opening cue Outline of history has De Masi’s typical dramatic orchestral writing that unfortunately isn’t that interesting until the end when a short fanfare is introduced probably depicting the hero himself. Disappointingly that heroic mood is short-lived because the continuation in Mystery in the mines is just dull suspenseful music that has barely any melodic hooks to grab on. Some of the woodwind lines are rather nice but they’re overshadowed by the surrounding dullness. Maciste and the King offers more uninteresting drama before the pace fastens and menacing brass fanfares build into a brief action statement that again dissolves before developing into something more meaningful. The score is at its loudest in Destruction of the mines however I once again find myself being bored by the supposed bombast that seems to lack any thematic thought behind it. Judging by the title I would imagine this cue to be the film’s final action scene, but judging by the music it never reaches the right scope. The short finale cue builds into a typical hopeful orchestral crescendo that would be better if only some of the thematic material heard here would have been present in the preceding tracks.

The lack of a hummable melody and feeling of emptiness behind even the larger action statements make this score quite forgettable. It is by no means unbearable but just falls flat compared to the other two scores on the album.

Rating: **1/2

Title: La rivolta delle gladiatrici (The arena)
Year: 1974
Composer: Francesco De Masi

The second score featured on the album is from a gladiator/exploitation flick about slave women who have to fight for their freedom in a gladiator arena. A great action ostinato opens the score after a cool brass fanfare on top of which the film’s main theme is heard on the woodwinds. This surprisingly emotional melody is heard in full in Le gladiatrici with another surprising addition, a mournful humming choir which disappointingly is never heard again. The lullaby-like nature and the romantic harmonies nevertheless build into an extremely moving and nostalgic piece of music that showcases De Masi’s stellar thematic writing.

Unfortunately this score suffers from the same problems as Maciste. You see, many of the cues can’t hold the listener’s interest because they offer barely anything to hold on. Sfida nell’arena for instance has only sparse brass fanfares over a slow, meandering bassline again missing any thematic threads. Combattimento tries to amp up the atmosphere with percussive action writing but the overall minimalistic approach and the questionable quality of the brass bursts just doesn’t work. Luckily the main theme returns in a subdued version in the cue’s latter part Desolazione. Morte nell’arena returns to the duet of percussion and brass which probably is suitable for the scene in question but really doesn’t musically depict the threat of a gladiator battle. Even the main theme can’t save the dullness of the following cue that probably should be one of the film’s climatic action sequences but just fails musically. The last cue doesn’t offer anything new and even the short quote of main theme starts to sound uninspired. There’s no big resolution either but everything just fades away in a quiet and beaten down manner.

The opening action and brilliant main theme could have resulted in a much more thrilling listening experience but unfortunately the minimalistic approach for the moments of action just doesn’t work without the visuals. Probably due to budgetary reasons especially the brass section sounds very small hence creating a very thin sound. Taken all this to account the score unfortunately feels like a missed opportunity.

Rating: ***

Title: Il figlio dello sceicco (Kerim, son of the sheik)
Year: 1962
Composer: Francesco De Masi

By far the best score on this release is the last one, Il figlio dello sceicco. The film about two rivaling brothers who are battling for the domination of the desert received a colourful score by De Masi filled with a vast contrast of styles ranging from Middle-Eastern moods, brutal action setpieces and a few lovely romantic passages.

Probably after the previous dull cues the beginning, Aurora sul deserto sounds just like a breath of fresh air. But also by itself it’s a magnificent composition that prepares the listener for the wonders of the Middle-East. The main theme introduced here draws inspiration from oriental atmospheres but the harmonic touches are pure De Masi. I also love how seemingly simple the melody is but when you listen closely you realize the underlying changing time signatures and rhythms. A nostalgic love theme is heard in Trionfo dello sceicco before an earth-shatteringly majestic rendition of the main theme ends the cue in a glorious orchestral crescendo. La tenda dell’odalisca is the score’s most romantic cue which bounces between the love theme and the main theme but has also surprising bursts of suspense heard previously in Mistero fra le sabbie. Love theme returns also in Verso l’oasi before turning into a dramatic action cue with Middle-Eastern brass fanfares and menacing low piano lines.

The abundant action writing is very brutal compared to the romantic moods. Combattimento nel deserto has menacing brass fanfares amid rhythmic string writing and bursts of larger orchestral forces clearly signaling a large-scale battle sequence. A driving rhythm continues in Galoppo e attesa over which the majestic main theme receives a heroic rendition. The previously mentioned action fanfares are heard in a major key arrangement at the beginning of Agguato alla carovana which return after a short moment of sneaky suspense blasting through a wall of sound produced by the massive percussion section. After another recurring descending action motif of Introduzione e angoscia the mood cools down momentarily reprising the action statements in a more peaceful manner. Mistero fra le sabbie goes even further offering nocturnal mysterious tension that is just a joy to listen to due to De Masi’s clever and colourful orchestrations. These moods open also Battaglia fra le palme which then develops into another massive action cue with occasional glorious main theme statements signaling the victory for our heroes. But it’s not the complete victory yet because eventually the tension and drama return again. Wretched variations of the main theme and action fanfares are heard in L’imboscata dello sceicco which later features more furious action that continues into a more laid-back yet menacing caravan cue Pericolo nella Casbah that momentarily changes to a more hopeful mood before returning to the drama. The final two cues feature similar action music heard in the other cues but the overall mood is more hopeful though still very dramatic. Unfortunately there is no big finish but the score just ends abruptly with no clear musical clue whether or not the hero won.

The score feels a bit like one long action cue which showcases some of De Masi’s greatest orchestral writing. However the brutal nature may be off-putting for some listeners and the lack of a proper resolution also diminishes the listening experience a little. Nevertheless it’s the score to return to on this release due to the great melodic moments and in-your-face attitude presented throughout.

Rating: ****1/2

“Maciste nelle miniere di Re Salomone”
1. Outline of history (02:40) ***
2. Mistery in the mines (03:29) **
3. Maciste and the King (02:53) **
4. Destruction of the mines (03:17) ***
5. Maciste and the glory (01:26) ****

“La rivolta delle gladiatrici”
6. Azione e suspense (02:03) ****
7. Sfida nell'arena (03:21) **
8. Le gladiatrici (03:32) *****
9. Combattimento e desolazione (02:48) ***
10. Morte nell'arena (03:16) ***
11. Preparazione all'agguato (02:32) **
12. Azione misteriosa (03:09) ***

“Il figlio dello sceicco”
13. Aurora sul deserto (02:49) *****
14. Combattimento nel deserto (03:18) ****
15. Galoppo e attesa (00:53) ****
16. Agguato alla carovana (03:13) *****
17. Lo sceicco in azione (01:20) ***
18. Introduzione e angoscia (02:28) ****
19. Mistero fra le sabbie (02:20) *****
20. Trionfo dello sceicco (01:38) *****
21. Battaglia fra le palme (03:24) *****
22. La tenda dell'odalisca (03:54) *****
23. Verso l'oasi (02:06) ****
24. L'imboscata dello sceicco (02:30) ****
25. Pericolo nella Casbah (02:27) *****
26. Inseguimento tra le dune (02:06) *****
27. All'ultimo sangue (02:01) ****