Saturday, 3 February 2018

Exotic flavours: part 5

Title: The boy & the lion
Year: 2013
Composer: Stelvio Cipriani

Another Italian film music maestro still working today is Stelvio Cipriani. Unfortunately his current projects are very hard to find any information about, including the score we’re listening today: The boy & the lion from 2013. Apparently it is a TV production, and based on the track titles it tells a story about a friendship between a lion and a child. The music really doesn’t represent the wide fields of Africa but rather offers romantic fluff typical for the composer. The instrumentation includes an array of 90s synth elements including percussion, guitars and panpipes which hark back to a long gone nostalgic era. A small string section is also included which provides perhaps the most emotionally moving performances on the album.

The weirdly arranged album begins with 14 variations of the main theme. Usually this would be a tiresome way to start off but luckily the varied arrangements are quite lovely. The theme itself follows basic Cipriani harmonic structure but in the age of lackluster modern film music it is a true delight to hear. Some of the arrangements stand out more than others. The opening moves the melody nicely from instrument to instrument: panpipes to strings, synth oboe to tinkling harpsichord and so on while a cheesy drum beat rolls on underneath. Version 3 includes staccato lines from the strings which flourish along with a sweet solo piano while Version 6 is a more straightforward romantic string and piano duet with beautiful underlying harpsichord ostinato. Version 8 includes a new emotional prelude which then leads to a full, mournful performance of the theme. The problem I have with the string versions is that they sound just like demo recordings of the string sections used in the preceding cues and hence don’t work as well on their own because you’ve already heard how the experience is heightened with the use of solo instruments.

The main theme doesn’t fully disappear after those 14 cues but is featured later in Innocent joy which is a more mature version of Version 8 because the main theme sounds much older here when played by the low strings. Goodbye my friend is a full version of the main theme prelude with tinkling, warm synth textures which later reprise the theme as well as the ostinato. The beginning of the finale Across the land sounds pretty dated with its pop-sensibilities. However a surprise addition of a solo (non-synthetic!) saxophone appears out of nowhere and turns the track into something similar of Jerry Goldsmith’s The Russia house. While not as great as that score, it is certainly a powerful yet cheesy end to the album.

The second theme is called Lion’s waltz, a major key melody which is quite childlike and innocent with its cute synth elements. It’s a charming little tune but not as successful as the main theme. The same melody is turned into Animal’s march which is probably the most cheap-sounding cue of the score with horrendous synth drumkit and keyboard sounds straight out of a 90s children’s TV show. Running is one of the more serious cues on the album starting with the main theme ostinato but then developing into a nostalgic new tune based on the chord structures of both the previous themes. The end of the cue continues straight to Playing in the sun which is another innocent, summery waltz track. The two Jungle life cues are first real attempts of something exotic and wild with groovy basslines, tribal yet synthetic percussion and ghostly panpipes in the first version. The second one has only the percussion track and some soft synth pads which carry on tediously for 5 straight minutes. Eventually there are also some suspense cues like Fear in the jungle which quotes the main theme briefly but then turns into a synth pad stinger and Hiding in the jungle with more tribal percussion.

The boy & the lion is a nostalgic trip through 70s melodies and 90s TV score arrangements, an obscure combination with little to no relevance to the assumed subject matter. Nevertheless I hope Cipriani keeps making this kind of music since his own unique voice still shines through after decades of marvellous scores. For a better listening experience I would rearrange the cues and perhaps cut some of the purely string versions which aren’t as good as the ones with finalized orchestrations.

Rating: ****

1. The boy & the lion (02:58) ****
2. The boy & the lion (Alternative version 1) (01:19) ****
3. The boy & the lion (Alternative version 2) (01:19) ***
4. The boy & the lion (Alternative version 3) (01:08) *****
5. The boy & the lion (Alternative version 4) (01:09) *****
6. The boy & the lion (Alternative version 5) (01:37) ***
7. The boy & the lion (Alternative version 6) (01:20) *****
8. The boy & the lion (Alternative version 7) (01:20) ****
9. The boy & the lion (Alternative version 8) (02:51) *****
10. The boy & the lion (Strings version 1) (01:08) ****
11. The boy & the lion (Strings version 2) (01:20) ****
12. The boy & the lion (Strings version 3) (02:55) ****
13. The boy & the lion (Strings version 4) (02:51) ***
14. The boy & the lion (Piano version) (01:19) ****
15. Lion's waltz (01:43) ****
16. Lion's waltz (Alternative version 1) (00:44) ***
17. Lion's waltz (Alternative version 2) (00:44) ****
18. Lion's waltz (Strings version) (01:43) ****
19. Running (02:04) *****
20. Running (Alternative version) (02:03) ****
21. Playing in the sun (01:11) ****
22. Playing in the sun (Alternative version) (01:10)  ***
23. Jungle life (05:03) ****
24. Jungle life (Alternative version) (05:02) **
25. Animal's march (01:38) ***
26. Animal's march (Alternative version) (01:38) ***
27. Innocent joy (02:54) ****
28. Fear in the jungle (01:23) ****
29. Hiding in the jungle (01:29) ***
30. Threat in the jungle (01:26) **
31. Goodbye my friend (02:05) ****
32. Across the land (03:06) *****

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

WTF (Weird tho' fabulous): part 6

Title: N.P. – Il segreto
Year: 1971
Composer: Nicola Piovani

Nicola Piovani is an Italian composer whose works I haven’t been liking all that much. I mean his works are fine, but perhaps too light-hearted and ‘simple’ for my taste. I purchased this Music Box records album at a sale and it is a fairly enjoyable experience with two quite different scores 10 years apart from another.

The first one, N.P. – Il segreto is a film about a dystopian future society with state control and despotic leaders. The main theme is surprisingly happy given the subject matter. It’s a version of Niccolò Paganini’s Caprice no 24 but turned into a psychedelic 70s beat track with harpsichord, surf guitars, organ and so on. It’s similar to what Morricone did with Dies irae for the film Escalation. Eventually more orchestral elements are added along with a nod to the original composer with a short solo violin passage. The final track includes a la-la choir which is just so fun that you have to start humming along. It’s the highlight of the whole album for me.

Speaking of Morricone, Strike #1 is straight out of his works for political thrillers with steady piano rhythms and weird harmonies with hints to the Paganini melody. It’s a cool little cue but pales in comparison to the brutal force perhaps needed for a political setting. Strike #2 is more aggressive arrangement of the same material and includes even some distorted electronic guitar notes to disturb the mood. Butterfly introduces two recurring melodies. First a semi-religious string melody with unexpected chord progressions, later sung by a choir in track 7 with a sweet accompaniment, the most sincere moment on the album. The second one just wanders on mournfully without that much variation and just repeats itself on and on. That same tune is reprised in Prophet by a solo accordion and viola and finally in Transformation by a marching band which gets unfortunately very tedious with the endless repetition. We return to the martial feel in Montage which begins with just the drums on top of which harpsichord lines and sharp piano notes are then played. Again, it’s more comedic in tone than suspenseful but I’m impressed how entertaining it is with so few instruments.

The score is just under 30 minutes long but even for that amount the material seems enough. Unfortunately there isn’t enough variation and most of the cues are just repeating a short tune with little changes in the orchestration. The main theme and its applications in the two Strike -cues are the highlights and the main reason for further listens.

Rating: ***1/2

Title: Il minestrone
Year: 1981
Composer: Nicola Piovani

The main theme for Il minestrone is a polar opposite in tone to N.P. – Il segreto. The film is a comedy about a group of scoundrels trying to eat for free in restaurants by committing scams. Well this time the melody is dead serious, folksy mandolin tune reminiscent of Italian rural melodies or even Italo-schlager harmonies. This juxtaposition of the subject matter and the music makes it comedic and a delight to listen to. Snippets of the main theme appear frequently for instance at the end of Promenade by a marching band, and in a very silent film like piano/harpsichord duet Food fight which just keeps the mad pacing going. Dog eat dog combines the fastening pace with the nostalgic strings and some marching band creating an entertaining moment.

Most of the album’s other melodies are in the same style as the main theme, sounding pretty much Italian traditional music, a style which Piovani does very well and I’m most familiar of him doing. However many of these melodies are more light-hearted than the actual main theme. There is straight up restaurant source music for either mandolin or viola backed by a strumming guitarist in Invisible meal, Jaunty source and Rich meal.  It’s appropriate scoring but unfortunately the cues start to run into each other and you again start to wish for some variety. A new arrangement by a Strauss-melody Die Fledermaus is written in that same restautant-like way.

Piovani also wrote his own slower Alpine, Strauss-inspired tune which is introduced in Wandering, then heard along with a lonesome trumpet playing the main theme in In the mountains and in its sweetest form in After the storm. Some straight marching band tunes are heard in Marines and eventually in Finale which is an extended treatment of the previously mentioned Alpine tune along with snippets of the main theme. A very beautiful solo piano piece Il maestro is a nice change of pace and highly moving with its simple, descending chord progressions, a clear highlight for sure.

Of the two scores, Il minestrone perhaps is the more approachable one but the material is even more monotonous. If you can’t stand Italian traditional music with emphasis on mandolin, then I advise you to stay away from this one. However I have to admit that the main theme is actually pretty infectious especially when the pace gets going.

Rating: ***1/2

1. N.P. - Il segreto (Main theme) (03:36) *****
2. N.P. - Il segreto (Strike #1) (01:56) ****
3. N.P. - Il segreto (Butterfly) (03:37) ***
4. N.P. - Il segreto (Montage) (03:53) ****
5. N.P. - Il segreto (Prophet) (01:25) ***
6. N.P. - Il segreto (Strike #2) (02:31) ****
7. N.P. - Il segreto (Choir) (02:32) ****
8. N.P. - Il segreto (Transformation) (04:25) ***
9. N.P. - Il segreto (Main theme - choral) (03:38) *****

10. Il minestrone (Main theme) (03:47) *****
11. Il minestrone (Invisible meal) (02:01) ****
12. Il minestrone (Promenade - 1st version) (02:51) ****
13. Il minestrone (Food fight) (02:23) ****
14. Il minestrone (Wandering) (00:53) ***
15. Il minestrone (March) (00:59) ***
16. Il minestrone (Jaunty source) (01:09) ***
17. Il minestrone (Dog eat dog) (02:00) ****
18. Il minestrone (Rich meal) (01:32) ***
19. Il minestrone (Promenade - 2nd version) (02:34) ***
20. Il minestrone (Il maestro) (02:06) *****
21. Il minestrone (Die Fledermaus) (01:47) ***
22. Il minestrone (Marines) (02:51) ***
23. Il minestrone (In the mountains) (01:22) ****
24. Il minestrone (After the storm) (02:14) ****
25. Il minestrone (Finale) (04:21) ***
26. Il minestrone (Main theme - alternate version) (03:11) *****

Friday, 24 November 2017

CrimeWaves: part 8

Title: L’assassino (The assassin)
Year: 1961
Composer: Piero Piccioni

L’assassino was one of cult director Elio Petri’s first films. It is about a man who is incarcerated for killing his wife. For a title as flashy as this, Piero Piccioni’s score paints a whole different picture. It’s a very subdued work which probably works well underscoring the investigation scenes and nostalgic reminiscing of the past. The score for the film could easily be disgarded as mere source music. However there are clearly definable themes that appear constantly throughout the score. The small ensemble of brass, keyboards and percussion forms the core with only a handful of other additional instruments, which just adds to the nightclub like nature of the music.

Piccioni assembled a 5-track EP programme at the time of the film’s release presented as the first five cues on the album. The main theme is heard in Titoli, a darkly intriguing cue which borrows from the jazz music of the era. However there is something mysteriously seductive about the tune and sultry sax performance which lifts it above a standard restaurant source cue. Momento d’amore is the love theme which in a usual fashion for the composer doesn’t stick with you during the first few listens but when you get it memorized, you’ll realize how beautiful it truly is. That first version isn’t really memorable on the long run though but luckily there are several moments of that melody to come. A low sax chorus similar to the main theme forms Notturno but it’s more menacing with its delivery. I get some callbacks to Henry Mancini’s compositions with this cue. The most hopeful tune of the score, Attesa blues is another romantic piece highlighting mellow and jazzy, surprising chord progressions. The last cue of the EP is a chase cue with fast drumset and that crime flick sax section playing in a forceful manner along with trumpet flourishes.

A complete presentation of the score follows and it’s built around the EP material with only a few moments deviating further. Though this might create a somewhat redundant listening experience, luckily there is enough variation to keep things interesting. Notable highlights are for instance two longer versions of Attesa blues with echoy vibraphones and delightful little solos changing from an instrument to another, a harpsichord version of the love theme (tracks 13, 20 & 25) bringing to mind Piccioni’s Emily Jane’s theme from The light at the edge of the world or an extended main theme treatment of tracks 19 and 30. Those new moments I mentioned are Momento misterioso and Indagine both of which are variations of the main theme and feature avant-garde, cold, low rumbling bass and percussion which creates a creepy atmosphere for nocturnal stalking, and Atmosfera sensuale, a new variation of the Attesa blues melody for a wonderful flute solo.

L’assassino isn’t one of the most essential Piccioni scores, but it’s another fine rescue from the golden age of Italian cinema by Quartet Records. If you enjoy laid-back tunes with occasional darkness for small ensembles, this score is just up your alley.

Rating: ****

1. L’assassino (Titoli) (02:44) *****
2. L’assassino (Momento d’amore) (02:57) ****
3. L’assassino (Notturno) (02:21) ***
4. L’assassino (Attesa blues) (01:39) ****
5. L’assassino (Inseguimento) (01:35) *****
6. L’assassino (Titoli slow) (01:33) *****
7. L’assassino (Inseguimento) (00:22) ****
8. L’assassino (Momento d’amore) (01:27) ****
9. L’assassino (Attesa blues) (01:41) ****
10. L’assassino (Notturno) (01:07) ***
11. L’assassino (Attesa blues) (02:23) *****
12. L’assassino (Notturno) (00:58) ***
13. L’assassino (Momento d’amore) (01:05) *****
14. L’assassino (Sospetti) (00:19) ***
15. L’assassino (Atmosfera di sogno) (00:27) ****
16. L’assassino (Momento d’amore piano solo) (02:24) ****
17. L’assassino (Inseguimento) (01:33) ****
18. L’assassino (Momento d’amore) (00:57) ****
19. L’assassino (Titoli slow) (02:59) *****
20. L’assassino (Momento d’amore) (02:34) *****
21. L’assassino (Sospetti) (00:47) ***
22. L’assassino (Momento misterioso) (02:02) *****
23. L’assassino (Indagine) (01:42) ****
24. L’assassino (Attimo sensuale) (00:17) ****
25. L’assassino (Momento d’amore) (00:56) *****
26. L’assassino (Atmosfera sensuale) (01:12) *****
27. L’assassino (Momento d’amore) (02:45) ****
28. L’assassino (Finale versione lunga) (00:45) ****
29. L’assassino (Attesa blues alt.take) (02:24) *****
30. L’assassino (Titoli slow alt.take) (02:52) *****
31. L’assassino (Finale versione corta) (00:26) ****

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Need for drama: part 8

Title: La lupa (She-wolf)
Year: 1996
Composer: Ennio Morricone

The last title I reviewed was for Maesto Morricone’s 90s score for Wolf. Based on the title I assumed that She-wolf would be similar to that film but instead of a werewolf flick it is a psychological drama about a woman who seduces younger men, based on a short story written in the 1800s. The two scores are very similar in tone and the score for La lupa would easily pass as the sequel score to Wolf.

One thing I have to warn first is that the score is mostly monothematic and if you don’t like the main theme, you’re not going to enjoy this album. That theme is also very slow-moving so the tracks involving it tend to be quite long. I happen to like the theme. It reminds me of the main theme of Wolf because it too has some darkly tragic qualities while oozing with underlying sexual tension. La lupa adds a classical guitar into the orchestration which brings some rural feel to it. The theme is first heard on staccato high strings and later moves to another instrument associated with the film’s 19th century setting: a recorder. At the end of the cue there is also a short waltz variation, later developed further in the macabre Triste notte featuring church bell tolls. The great thing is that the melody has great variation in the orchestration. Al fiume reprises the theme with the recorder, judgmental distant drum hits and slowly building pace whereas Cartezza di amare has some sort of swirling figures. Track 10 is the most romantic version thus far but later has a sinister bassline that twists the harmonies around into more suspenseful territory. The final version in La lupa doesn’t deliver a romantic conclusion but ends in some annoying suspense material which is just a disappointingly weak end to the album.

Besides the main theme statements there are cues that break the mold. Jarufalu pumpusu is performed in Italian by the film’s main actress Monica Guerritore in a powerful folk music like vocal performance. The backing orchestral music by Morricone is disturbing suspense material which really gives the cue an unsettling feel. The delivery of both the vocals and the backing also has some Middle Eastern qualities which is an odd choice but works brilliantly. The following La fine continues with the disturbing orchestral material in a short burst of screeching atonality but soon moves back to the main theme with a rather uninteresting version of the melody. The Middle Eastern aspect continues in La mietitura, a weird melody for woodwinds and a keyboard bouncing between a more hopeful horn theme that’s one of the score’s highlight moments. Like track 2 it’s a unique listen and pleasant to hear because of its surprising manner. The great major key theme is reprised in Notturno e alba but instead of balancing with the Middle Eastern melody it features a keyboard version of the main theme. The last odd yet charming moment arrives in La masseria, a medieval or gypsy -inspired dance for ethnic flutes and a tambourine and even an unexpected variation of the main theme.

Very high atonal strings start Notte oscura, notte chiara like a wind moving through a dark forest before a sinister lower string line appears underneath along with some lonely brass. Though a challenging listen it is actually better than the horror music in an real horror film, Wolf. More of that straight-up horror starts Disperazione that also bares some similarities with the main theme but then moves to complex atonal chords with bubbly pizzicato strings on top of which horns play snippets of the main theme. That moment is just ugly because of how shocking it is, but unfortunately the ending with an added drumset and the eventual main theme reprise flatten the mood. Nel profondo is another suspense cue that’s rooted in the main theme but unfortunately it just doesn’t get under your skin like some of the other tracks. Luckily at the end there is some genuine action music to be heard with screeching woodwinds and primal rhythms provided by the pounding percussion. Infatuazione, Diabolica passione and Veglia are the most tedious suspense moments on the album in which almost nothing of interest happens. Luckily Veglia reprises the shocking suspense of Disperazione in a decent final showdown.

Though there are some stellar cues at the first part of the album, the disappointingly dull last third ruins the listening experience for me. The sense of dread is palpable throughout and luckily some of the suspense material is just thrilling. La lupa isn’t one of the classics and the depressive nature of the constant onslaught of minor chord after another won’t make you want to return to this very often.

Rating: ***1/2

1. La lupa (04:05) ****
2. Jarufalu pumpusu (03:07) *****
3. La fine (04:15) ***
4. Notte oscura, notte chiara (02:58) ****
5. Al fiume (02:52) ****
6. La mietitura (03:02) *****
7. La masseria (02:21) *****
8. Sui campi dolorosi (01:49) ****
9. Certezza di amare (02:24) ****
10. La lupa (03:44) ****
11. Notturno e alba (04:41) ****
12. Disperazione (06:25) ****
13. Nel profondo (05:07) ***
14. Infatuazione (04:18) **
15. Diabolica passione (03:56) **
16. Triste notte (03:34) ***
17. Veglia (04:29) ***
18. La lupa (02:12) **

Monday, 30 October 2017

Oh, the horror: part 12

Title: Wolf
Year: 1994
Composer: Ennio Morricone

Wolf is a modern retelling of the classic werewolf story and stars Jack Nicholson as the protagonist. The score was made by Ennio Morricone at the time when he was attached to many American projects as well as European ones. The score juxtaposes two different musical styles: the  tragic love story with nostalgic, lyrical romance writing, and the animalistic side with urban noir elements and primal percussion.

The opening presents the film’s dramatic main theme that has some tragic romanticism to it. It’s played by the horns over beautifully lush string harmonies and tinkling electronic effects. However in a Morriconean fashion there is also a frantic electric harpsichord ostinato appearing every now and then in a completely different tempo and key that I remember many film music fans hating at the time of the soundtrack’s release. They’re distracting for sure but for me they do depict the animalistic nature of the beast within, waiting to get unleashed. The barn is a more traditionally romantic, beautiful love theme for saxophone and warm strings. The same melody is heard along with crashing percussion and the harpsichord in Laura and Wolf united in a unique track that could only come from the pen of Maestro Morricone.

The first sings of distraught come through in The dream and the deer which begins with the main theme and then starts its developmental section for suspenseful wandering high strings followed by several mournful reprises of the main theme. The harpsichord ostinato also rushes through the nostalgia warning the listener of what is to come. Around 5-minute mark a descending suspense motif appears along with some noirish trumpet playing that comes to play a bit later. From 6-minute mark we’re introduced to fast percussion grooves, woodwinds resembling the forest birds and the mad ostinato running on top of everything. It all builds towards a victorious set of chords but comes crashing down with the suspense motif and final howling brass. An absolutely sublime, descriptive cue! The moon continues where we left off with quieter suspense motif variation along with some main theme that unfortunately then moves to low-key suspense that isn’t as interesting as its predecessor. Luckily at the end some bubbly madness is heard once again. Laura goes to join Wolf includes sparse individual chords which don’t form a coherent narrative.

From track 7 onwards the suspense rises to the main element. The three Transition cues and Laura transformed are all pretty slow-moving, at times tedious experiments in atonal suspense, familiar to the usual style of Maestro Morricone but done better in other projects.  The howl and the city begins with weird trumpet manipulation heard first in track 3 that sounds like some sort of animal howl. It harks back to the 60s with Maestro’s past in avant-garde group Nuova consonanza. Low-speed action follows then with the pounding percussion combined to staccato chords and sleazy saxophone bringing that urban atmosphere. A reprise of the love theme arrives in Animals and encounters that then turns sour with some excellent action writing covering many sections of the orchestra, even some rhythmic harp ostinatos, not a usual instrument for momentum. Wolf on the other hand returns to the main theme riddled with sadness after a horrific orchestral shocker.

Chase is sure to make you wake up in case you found the preceding slow horror boring. It has all kinds of screeching brass and woodwinds and combines them to low piano and percussion that really keep the pace going. Occasionally even the jazzy saxophone comes through the overall chaos. It’s one of the most exciting and brutal Morricone action cues I can think of and really makes your heart race. The abstract main theme variation at the end is just the icing on the cake for me. Unfortunately more slow music follows in Confirmed doubts that tries to bring out the horror but I find it rather tensionless to be honest. The talisman has some fascinating swirling textures that have almost ethnic qualities with effects resembling the Indian sitar and then closing with a twisted major key variation of the main theme. The last two cues return to the darkly romantic material first with the most romantic version of the main theme in Laura and Will which can’t stay away from the suspense and just has to have some of it at the end ruining a perfectly fine moment. Luckily Laura fixes that problem and ends the score with a powerful main theme statement that offers no hope for our main characters and closes the album on a somber note.

Wolf is best at its romantic material and especially in the brutal action cues that aren’t heard that often in Maestro’s overall repertoire nowadays. However where it falls is the middle section and the slow-moving suspense that can’t make the listener feel the desperately needed chills. Hence I recommend approaching this one with caution. However Maestro has cleverly assembled the album to an order that best presents the music and offers a fine listening experience.

Rating: ****

1. Wolf and love (03:32) *****
2. The barn (01:59) *****
3. The dream and the deer (09:15) *****
4. The moon (05:28) ****
5. Laura goes to join Wolf (02:20) **
6. Laura and Wolf united (01:24) *****
7. First transition (01:28) **
8. The howl and the city (03:21) ****
9. Animals and encounters (04:37) *****
10. Laura transformed (03:36) **
11. Wolf (02:48) ****
12. Second transition (01:17) ***
13. Will's final goodbye (01:31) ****
14. Chase (05:43) *****
15. Confirmed doubts (03:41) ***
16. The talisman (03:27) ****
17. Third transition (00:57) ***
18. A shock for Laura (02:43) ***
19. Laura and Will (02:26) ****
20. Laura (02:36) *****

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Oh, the horror: part 11

Title: Suor omicidi (Killer nun)
Year: 1979
Composer: Alessandro Alessandroni

Alessandro Alessandroni was most well-known as the whistler and guitarist on many spaghetti western scores and the founder of the choir I cantori moderni, also a frequent addition to the Italian film music scene. However he wrote over 20 film scores many of which haven’t had a release. A 1999 Beat records release included 3 horror scores by him which cover a number of different styles and moods. The first film, Suor omicidi seems to be just your average euro-shlock exploitation film and the score is as over-the-top cheesy as the film’s premise of a killer-junkie-lesbian nun would suggest.

I cantori moderni begins the score with the complete Dies irae melody with deep descending keyboard lines that are joined by a beating drumset. It’s clichĂ©d for sure but it works, however it won’t cause any chills in the audience. The reprise in Seq. 8 doesn’t variate the material in any way. Fortunately Seq. 2 has more interesting textures for recorders and flutes over sparse piano chords, further explored in Seq. 7. It sounds like music that would fit for instance to an opium den. Later some cheesy synth chords appear with thunder-like rattles. Then out of nowhere appears a waltz melody that couldn’t be farther from the preceding material.  It’s probably the most unique cue on the album along with Seq. 4 that has some really interesting guitar textures similar to Morricone’s Two mules for Sister Sarah and a highly groovy bassline with some wind-like sound effects and eventual cool electric organ chords. It captures that folky hippie vibe and combines it with straight-up horror brilliantly. The additional church organ at the end just sends shivers down my spine. A less successful electric organ moment tries to convey a sense of dread in Seq. 6 but fails to find a proper direction.

There is a romantic theme as well heard in Seq. 3 with echoing electric guitar effects probably played by the composer. It’s an inoffensive melody, just a bit of that late 70s fluff. In another weird twist that same melody is turned into a cringy end title love song for the choir singing in English. It does feel quite dated and for some reason it seems like the singers aren’t even in tune. Similar cheesy fluff in a more orchestral manner with pop-music like percussion appears in both Seq. 5 and Seq. 9, latter in particular is just lovely in its melodic galore complete with a key change in the middle.

I almost don’t know what else to say, but it certainly is the product of its time. There is no suspense, no real horror here. Apart from the absolutely sublime Seq. 4, the rest of the score is rather bland but passable effort that seems to have some tongue-in-cheek attitude to it, which the project probably needed badly.

Rating: ***1/2

Title: Lo strangolatore di Vienna (The mad butcher)
Year: 1971
Composer: Alessandro Alessandroni

For a tale about a butcher who accidently kills his wife and gets rid off the body by making sausages Alessandroni provided another score that was more cheesily comical than scary. The film takes place in Vienna and this must have served as the inspiration because the melodies have been influenced by the classical waltzes and galops etc. A clear example of this is Seq. 1, a dance-like main theme that’s weirdly written for a saloon piano which does remind me more of westerns. However after a few key changes a small string orchestra also brings it that classical flavour. A charming yet uninspired waltz tune written for similar instrumentation is heard in Seq. 2 later presenting material familiar to Morricone’s scores like the Investigation of a citizen above suspicion or Il gatto. There’s also a comical tango of Seq. 3 that turns pure jazz at the end.

A bit of horror is heard in Seq. 4 with dooming piano notes balancing with the laid-back electric guitar version of the main theme. A surprising, fun action track Seq. 5 follows with a fast piano ostinato, martial drums and electric guitar and organ which turn the cue into cacophony of sounds eventually. A twisted version of the previous waltz appears in Seq. 6 before some beautiful nightclub jazz for solo sax breaks the mood. Seq. 7 is a full cue written in that comical Investigation… style which also has some suspenseful tremolo strings intensifying the atmosphere before the last midnight version of the main theme performed by the piano at the corner.

The score is pretty descriptive in bringing mental images of the city streets and pubs to mind. However there is quite a little of substance to the music and nothing special to grasp on. It probably fits the film like a glove but on its own it just doesn’t hold up.

Rating: ***

Title: Lady Frankenstein
Year: 1971
Composer: Alessandro Alessandroni

For the last score Alessandroni took a complete turn compared to the two others. The music is serious, suspenseful yet beautiful where it needs to be. The film continues the story of Dr. Frankenstein where his daughter carries on his work and creates a new monster.

Right from the get-go a bleak tone is established with atonal harmonies and dramatic high string melodies with condemning low-key piano. After a while it cools down and leaves room for flutes, glockenspiel and a fastening piano-ostinato which leads the cue into a horrific conclusion. Seq. 2 includes the similar wind sound effects heard in Suor omicidi and combines them to faint electronic organ, flutes and the same piano melody from the last cue which rolls on with movement. Seq. 5 returns to the horror with crackling electric guitar and string chords, later presenting electronic manipulation perfectly suitable for a 70s mad scientist set. The last powerful horror statement comes in Seq. 7 which includes an array of orchestral devices to create a dooming atmosphere, however unlike the other cues it doesn’t really go anywhere.

Luckily there are also moments of beauty on the album. Seq. 3 begins with another chilling horror cue though but middleway turns into a fragile lament for just the strings including a rising longlined minor key melody that is sure to make your eyes water especially at the end with tremolo string backing. Seq. 4 is the film’s romantic main theme in major key with similar old-fashioned string section, added wonderful piano flourishes and jazzy chord progressions. It’s more hopeful than the preceding cue and not as overblown like the romantic material for instance in Suor omicidi. In Seq. 6 the melody is reprised but then flute continues it over a backing track which gets more and more suspenseful as the cue progresses ending with another dramatic string moment. The final strings only version is heard in Seq. 8 with some flute at the end and a proper conclusion to the melody. The last cue is probably for the running credits. It has a very pop-music like descending chord progression later with added light percussion which reminds me of Morricone’s main theme for Il clan dei Siciliani. It’s nothing special but a suitable end to the album for sure.

Luckily they saved the best for last. Lady Frankenstein has a lot of variety, genuinely chilling suspense that is intersected with romantic interludes. The composer passed away this year so hopefully his memory will be respected with new releases of his unreleased scores (here’s hoping for La spacconata in particular).

Rating: ****

1. Suor omicidi - seq. 1 (04:00) ***
2. Suor omicidi - seq. 2 (05:02) ****
3. Suor omicidi - seq. 3 (01:41) ****
4. Suor omicidi - seq. 4 (04:49) *****
5. Suor omicidi - seq. 5 (01:29) ****
6. Suor omicidi - seq. 6 (01:57) ***
7. Suor omicidi - seq. 7 (03:37) ***
8. Suor omicidi - seq. 8 (03:56) ***
9. Suor omicidi - seq. 9 (02:09) *****
10. Suor omicidi - seq. 10 (03:10) ***

11. Lo strangolatore... - seq. 1 (01:53) ****
12. Lo strangolatore... - seq. 2 (01:31) ***
13. Lo strangolatore... - seq. 3 (01:49) ***
14. Lo strangolatore... - seq. 4 (01:36) ***
15. Lo strangolatore... - seq. 5 (02:42) ****
16. Lo strangolatore... - seq. 6 (02:07) ***
17. Lo strangolatore... - seq. 7 (03:02) ****

18. Lady Frankenstein - seq. 1 (02:58) *****
19. Lady Frankenstein - seq. 2 (02:47) *****
20. Lady Frankenstein - seq. 3 (03:00) *****
21. Lady Frankenstein - seq. 4 (02:01) *****
22. Lady Frankenstein - seq. 5 (03:15) ***
23. Lady Frankenstein - seq. 6 (03:17) ****
24. Lady Frankenstein - seq. 7 (03:21) ***
25. Lady Frankenstein - seq. 8 (01:53) *****
26. Lady Frankenstein - seq. 9 (03:50) ****

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Giallo fever: part 10

Title: …e poi, non ne rimase nessuno (Ten little Indians aka And then there were none)
Year: 1974
Composer: Bruno Nicolai

An adaptation of Agatha Christie’s classic novel moves the events from an island to a secluded hotel in the Iranian desert. Ten strangers who have committed crimes for which they haven’t been punished, are gathered there and then killed off one after another. The film included an international production team and cast and the score was written by Bruno Nicolai. No score release was available though and it was one of the most requested works from the composer before finally receiving a limited release in 2009 which quickly sold out.

For the film Nicolai composed two nostalgic, lyrical themes while the rest of the cues are devoted to mostly atonal mystery writing. Seq. 1 presents the main theme, the more melodic of the two with a flute solo that is then joined by the orchestra. The backing drumset and bass bring it that laid-back giallo flavour while the harpsichord is more suitable establishing the film’s aristocratic aspects. A reprise of the theme is heard in Seq. 10 where it transforms into a sweet elegy for the dead, however there is some added uneasiness with the fighting harpsicord notes that fall out of the familiar chord pattern. Beautiful stuff nevertheless. The final version in Seq. 18 starts with the slow version and then moves to the more mobile performance for the end credits.

Seq. 4 is the introduction to the second melody which has similar feeling to the other one but it’s performed by a solo trumpet and it has a hint of darkness and mischievous intrigue to it. The B section, aka a descending harpsichord line is heard in Seq. 7 bringing it more of that nostalgic flavour of the main theme. In Seq. 13 the melody seems like it has been beaten down by the killing spree but a final reprise in Seq. 16 brings that lounge instrumentation back again providing a more energetic sendoff to the melody.

The first suspense cue Seq. 2 includes the drumset and bass beating in a more sinister fashion, later changing into the main suspense motif for jazzy bass, abstract strings and harpsichord. There is a certain feeling of claustrophobia and unease with the music that’s just perfect for the subject matter. Seq. 3 is actually the same suspense melody heard in Ennio Morricone’s Il gatto a nove code, yet there is no acknowledgement in the liner notes for this. Nevertheless the cue is as weirdly suspenseful as it was in that score so I don’t mind the direct copy. The 8-minute showcase Seq. 5 includes elements from both of the previously mentioned suspense cues with emphasis on the percussion and bass again before the solo flute enters along with dark organ chords. This cue serves as an inspiration to moods heard later in the score, for instance in Seq. 11 and 12. After a hair-rising development section for strings, high organ notes and banjo (?) the pace thickens again offering some brilliant, spooky chase music. Seq. 6 continues directly where it leaves off with more of that chase style music before quieting once again to strings and floating plucks in the darkness that are also present in Seq. 8. Interesting flute textures filled with cluster chords and steadily beating rhythms are heard in Seq. 9 that lead to a devastating horror stinger. The weirdly comical suspense motif returns in Seq. 14 and 17 ending both times with chilling horror material. That same motif starts Seq. 15 but slowed down so that it’s almost unnoticeable then developing into another long-lined, slowly intensifying suspense moment.

The score brings nothing new to the world of giallo music but it’s a highly attractive piece of music nevertheless. In mood it’s very similar to Maestro Morricone’s Il gatto a nove code which is one of my favourite giallo scores by him. The two main themes are stellar, the suspense music, though mostly atmospheric and slow-moving, is interesting, oddly charming and never unlistenable. A little more punch would be needed for it to rise among the very best but it’s still a pleasant experience in its entirety.

Rating: ****1/2

1. ...e poi, non ne rimase nessuno - seq.1 (03:04) *****
2. ...e poi, non ne rimase nessuno - seq.2 (03:58) *****
3. ...e poi, non ne rimase nessuno - seq.3 (03:47) *****
4. ...e poi, non ne rimase nessuno - seq.4 (01:52) *****
5. ...e poi, non ne rimase nessuno - seq.5 (08:15) *****
6. ...e poi, non ne rimase nessuno - seq.6 (03:01) ****
7. ...e poi, non ne rimase nessuno - seq.7 (02:36) *****
8. ...e poi, non ne rimase nessuno - seq.8 (01:22) ***
9. ...e poi, non ne rimase nessuno - seq.9 (01:55) *****
10. ...e poi, non ne rimase nessuno - seq.10 (03:17) *****
11. ...e poi, non ne rimase nessuno - seq.11 (02:27) ****
12. ...e poi, non ne rimase nessuno - seq.12 (01:33) ****
13. ...e poi, non ne rimase nessuno - seq.13 (02:06) ****
14. ...e poi, non ne rimase nessuno - seq.14 (02:07) *****
15. ...e poi, non ne rimase nessuno - seq.15 (03:49) ****
16. ...e poi, non ne rimase nessuno - seq.16 (02:00) *****
17. ...e poi, non ne rimase nessuno - seq.17 (02:31) ****
18. ...e poi, non ne rimase nessuno - seq.18 (03:56) *****