Monday, 26 December 2016

Exotic flavours: part 1

Title: Slalom (Snow job)
Year: 1965
Composer: Ennio Morricone

It’s Christmastime and I’m launching a new review series concentrating on scores that feature certain exotic or ethnic qualities. I’m using the title quite loosely and the first score I’m reviewing is actually from a spy comedy film Slalom that oozes with wintery landscapes contrasted with hints of Middle Eastern influence. The score is once again by Maestro Morricone and while he didn’t break any new ground, the CD still is an enjoyable spin.

The album I have has the score divided into two long suites called Concertino per una spia. There’s also an expanded version of the score floating around where the cues are individual short ones. The album begins with a bang by presenting the main title cue that has certainly a spy film swing to it. The bouncy melody is first introduced with the whistling of Alessandro Alessandroni before switching to the twanging electric guitar. There’s also singing from I Cantori Moderni choir who provide both rhythmic repetition of the film’s title and childlike la-las. The landscape changes instantly to a stereotypical Egyptian marketplace setting introduced by an Arabic flute melody. However after that we get a clear plagiarized version of the James Bond theme complete with the 4 note bassline and even a guitar solo. The similarity to the original composition is striking and whether or not it was used as a comical method or not, I’m still quite annoyed by the result. Next opens a scene of 1960s romantic fluff for soft strings and flutes that continues into a dinner party sequence accompanied by a slow drum set beat. The dreamy atmosphere is disturbed by menacing percussion and string clusters. This texture has to be one of my favourite parts of the score. The suite ends with an instrumental version of the main title track, reprise of the previous party music added with staccato strings and more pop music orientated guitar solo.

Sestriere is clearly a Christmas song if Morricone ever wrote one. That atmosphere is made possible by the wordless humming of I Cantori Moderni and ringing sleigh bells. The track is cheesy as hell but it establishes the location and feeling perfectly. The middle part of the piece however includes added weirdness that Morricone tends to add into his compositions this time by changing the longer choral lines into rhythmically comical duba-dus. The second version doesn’t really differ from the first one except it omits the previously mentioned comical section. The last track on the album includes another look to the piece because it is an instrumental version which really shows how great the backing orchestral arrangement is. The single version of the main title track Slalom includes added choral voices to the cue’s first half and it doesn’t end with a bang but just fades away.

The second suite is a whopping 18 minutes in length and it begins with the annoying Bond theme that fortunately is short-lived. The cheesy, fluffy 60s flutes return again and after a short moment of suspense we get another jazzy lounge piece this time concentrating on the vibraphone and high-register piano playing. The brilliant suspense textures from the first track return for a short while before changing into a comical sneaking around cue that is followed by more romantic fluff. The party theme from the first suite returns once more, this time with a sleazy electric guitar solo and staccato organ interruptions. Then we’re transported back to the marketplace with a piece of snake charming music with an accelerating percussive rhythm. There’s also the score’s only attempt at action music with a moment of rambling pianos and percussion. The rest of the suite however fades back into the romantic fluff and finally reprises the second track’s Sestriere arrangement.

If it feels like I’m describing just various moments, that’s exactly what the score is: just a series of short moments put together without that much cohesion. Though I find the album representation fascinating, I really don’t think that the two suites work that well creating a feeling of a symphonic poem for instance. The score isn’t nevertheless without its merits: the orchestration is really exquisite and beautiful, some of the suspense moments are really well done and the cheesy moments really put you into a holiday mindset. A great little album to listen to around Christmastime.

Rating: ***1/2

1. Slalom (Concertino per una spia) parte 1a (13:35) ****
2. Sestriere (end title alternative version) parte 2a (02:14) ****
3. Sestriere (end title original movie version) (02:28) ***
4. Slalom (original single edit) (02:20) ****
5. Slalom (Concertino per una spia) parte 2a (18:29) ***
6. Sestriere (end title alternative version orchestra solo) (02:22) ****

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