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) ****

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