Thursday, 3 November 2016

CrimeWaves: part 1

Title: La legge dei gangsters (Gangsters’ law)
Year: 1969
Composer: Piero Umiliani

Piero Umiliani was one of the most famous Italian film music Maestros. He was probably most well-known for his piece Mah-nà mah-nà which was actually written for an Italian-Swedish mondo film Svezia, inferno e paradiso before being popularized by the Muppets. Due to his background in jazz, his scores always revolved around a rich and vivid harmonic language. Nowhere is this more apparent than in his score to La legge dei gangsters which is among the all-time greatest crime scores.

Every single track oozes with that 1960s class and coolness. This is already evident in the opening track Crepuscolo sul mare which is a mysterious acoustic guitar solo depicting the rolling waves of the sea accompanied by soothing strings. The jazz flavour is immediately introduced in the 12-minute Genova p.zza de Ferrari dale 2 alle 7 which is pure jazz and starts with a vibraphone solo that is then given to the electric guitar. The smoky jazz club feel is maintained during the track’s whole duration and it moves through several improvisatory solo performances providing perfect atmosphere for the gangsters’ hideout. However during the last 3rd the track transforms first into a jazz waltz and then into a fast-paced brassy big band piece. Swing come sempre continues straight from where the previous cue left off with fast drumming, a warm saxophone solo and rhythmic brass stabs. The title track La legge dei gangsters introduces a slightly mad 7/8 groove with impressive and demanding trumpet solos. It’s soon discarded though and replaced with a jazz waltz where the flute work reminds me of something John Barry might have composed during his prime years.

Episodio is similar to the opening but this time the melody is heavily rooted in folk music harmonies with some jazzy touches. The orchestration is to be admired here because it just warms my heart how beautifully all the instruments dance along with the cue’s waltz rhythm. The first real gangstery action track is Very fast that consists of brassy cacophony over some exhilarating drum and trumpet playing. Lui e lei reminds the listener of Umiliani’s vocal writing inserting cheeky scat voices to interplay with each other and harmonize over a smooth latin flavoured rhythm. Tema dell’addio is a nighttime organ solo with descending basslines and another waltz groove. More orchestral bliss is provided in Disgelo with delicious piano and violin flourishes.

The score continues on the second disc with another seaside fantasy Alba sul mare. This exquisite composition is again a waltz scored mostly for strings and harp which really captures beautifully the seaside imagery. Epilogo reprises the seedy nightclub atmosphere with an emphasis on lush Hammond organ grooves. Its reprise in track 9 is a richly orchestral version featuring fluttering flutes and mysterious tremolo strings. Pure jazz continues in Sei ottavi in blues which at first changes between walking bass bliss and jazz waltz grooves before settling to the latter. Apertura in jazz includes an array of different woodwinds and brass instruments but isn’t as interesting as some of the preceding material. The score doesn’t feature that many cues that could directly depict gangsters lurking around but Spiaggia deserta is one. The sassy saxophone plays over an ominous bassline and then the melody is taken over by a muted trumpet solo. The film score aspect is taken further in Sequence ritmiche whose aggressive sax solos and relentless percussion could probably sound fabulous accompanying a chase sequence. The cue’s end reprises the theme heard in Epilogo with an almost undistinguishable brass version. The score ends with an original song performed by an unnamed female singer in English. Here the brass writing really reminds of a James Bond song and the percussion has a certain machine gun effect Maestro Morricone utilized in his crime scores as well.

The previous album presentation of the score was but onto a single massive 70-minute album. This Beat records album includes though 3 previously unreleased original songs that are a good addition among the instrumental tracks. Ira’s Cosa mai sarà is the weakest of the songs even though the bossa rhythm is captivating but the melody isn’t memorable enough. Luckily she has a chance to prove her credentials in Inutili parole which was written by a fellow film composer Mario Bertolazzi. It’s a glorious 60s power ballad with an emotional and expressive performance. The last new song Vieni a dirmi ciao features Franco Morselli as the vocalist and it’s a 60s go-go shake track that probably works better in the film than on the album.

I almost run out of complementary words and phrases for this score. It’s just that good. Along with Morricone’s Il bandito dagli occhi azzurri it represents the best use of jazz in a film score I’ve possibly ever heard. Every single track feels different and fresh and the performances are sublime throughout.

Rating: *****

1. Crepuscolo sul mare (02:43) *****
2. Genova p.zza de Ferrari dalle 2 alle 7 (12:29) *****
3. Swing come sempre (02:46) *****
4. La legge dei gangster s (07:35) *****
5. Episodio (02:37) *****
6. Very fast (02:17) *****
7. Lui e lei (02:32) *****
8. Tema dell'addio (02:30) ****
9. Disgelo (02:27) *****
10. Cosa mai sarà (02:34) ****

1. Inutili parole (02:58) *****
2. Alba sul mare (03:10) *****
3. Epilogo (04:32) ****
4. Sei ottavi in blues (03:33) *****
5. Apertura in jazz (03:53) ****
6. Vieni a dirmi ciao (03:38) ****
7. Spiaggia deserta (06:13) *****
8. Sequenze ritmiche (06:18) *****
9. Epilogo (03:02) *****
10. Gangster's song (03:36) *****

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