Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Giallo fever: part 4

Title: Les cauchemars naissent la nuit (Nightmares come at night)
Year: 1970
Composer: Bruno Nicolai

Bruno Nicolai was a long-time collaborator with Ennio Morricone conducting the orchestra and performing the organ on many of his scores. However he was a film composer as well and a frequent composer choice of the master of B films, Jesús Franco, whose biography also includes the erotic thriller Les cauchemars naissent la nuit. With the score Nicolai leads the listener into the world of nightmares, romance, sleaze and fear.

The beginning track Tra sogno e vita is assembled like an overture which introduces snippets of the material the score consists of. There’s the atonal string theme later developed in other similarly titled tracks, exotic percussion and excerpts of the dance music before the weird prepared piano playing and finally some romantic material amid a suspenseful string cluster. What a great summarization and opening!

Le streghe sounds rather pleasant at first but the harmonies and the saxophone solo seem a bit off all the time which may have something to do with the slight atonality of the music. The reprise gets even dreamier and rather romantic despite its strange harmonies. The actual main theme Tra sogno e vita is similarly structured. It doesn’t go into the craziest expressionistic atonality but finds a fine line where it is combined with tonality with some really unsettling results: it keeps the listener on the edge when he simultaneously tries to decipher if you heard the chord correctly or not. The piece itself revolves around slow moving string lines over a steadily beating bass rhythm. It’s easily recognizable on the album but not hummable by any means. The third reprise is more subtle and it’s one of the few times I’ve heard atonal music this moving in its melancholic nature. The finale has also an expressive viola solo developed on top of the previous versions. Nevertheless the most moving and romantic material is presented in Amori which is the only time the score allows the heart-wrenchingly beautiful Nicolai harmonies to shine through in an incredible composition dominated by the piano and warm organ layering.

Climax on the other hand is the first really challenging piece for possibly prepared or out-of-tune piano which rambles around for 6 whole minutes having barely any recognizable structure. It’s a rather fun piece to be honest because the sound is so unique but perhaps a bit too long. The same goes with Giostra which is a tedious merry-go-round tune that also seems to a bit out of tune but that just adds to the charm of it. Lo specchio is a suspenseful, subtle track with quiet twinkling effects and dark guitars.

The score has several long source music cues that are also filled with weird harmonies and that’s why they rise above the usual treatment these kind of scenes might get. Infrarosso is the first one and it just oozes with sleaze provided by the swaying jazz waltz groove and saxophone solo. Cocktail is by far the most entertaining source cue. It begins with a cheesy introduction for a strumming Spanish guitar that soon starts to accompany the funky electric guitar solo as the pace speeds up. This score overall is very different from Nicolai’s regular style but the keyboard moments in this track are clearly his style. The following track Verde selvaggio isn’t far behind though, as it also features the Spanish guitar this time with bongos and congas providing the rhythm and also the sleazy saxophone and the crazy piano of Climax making an appearance.

For me Nicolai was almost always known for his strong melodies even in his suspenseful writing (sometimes even outshining Maestro Morricone’s melodic abilities). However this sounds quite distant from his previous works. Here the blurred line between atonality and tonality is eminent in every aspect of the score, even the party music, which elevates the score above some of its peers. The instrumentation and orchestration are both exquisite and they provide a spectrum of different colours. Highly recommended but an occasionally difficult listen.

Rating: ****

1. Tra sogno e vita (01:52) *****
2. Le streghe (02:40) ****
3. Tra sogno e vita (04:25) ****
4. Climax (06:44) ***
5. Tempio (01:23) ****
6. Climax (01:14) ****
7. Giostra (06:21) ***
8. Tra sogno e vita (04:26) *****
9. Infrarosso (07:57) ****
10. Lo specchio (03:53) ***
11. Cocktail (05:11) *****
12. Verde selvaggio (04:55) *****
13. Le streghe (03:39) *****
14. Amori (03:39) *****
15. Tra sogno e vita (01:08) ****
16. Lo specchio (03:14) ***
17. Le streghe #2 (02:37) ****
18. Tra sogno e vita (04:05) *****

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