Monday, 24 July 2017

Need for drama: part 7

Title: Il relitto (The wastrel)
Year: 1961
Composer: Angelo Francesco Lavagnino & Armando Trovajoli

In my previous Lavagnino review I mentioned that I’m not the biggest fan of his bombastic film scores. Luckily Alhambra Records’ newest release in a series of unreleased Lavagnino titles is a fresh and emotional musical journey that avoids the clich├ęs with its subtle nature. The Cypriot-Italian production is a story about a man and his son who are shipwrecked and fighting for their lives on the open sea while reminiscing their past mistakes.

Main titles starts the score with a laid-back calypso tune that immediately reminds the listener of the film’s Caribbean locale. I haven’t heard this style of music from Lavagnino before, namely writing for a small scale jazz ensemble. According to the liner notes Maestro Lavagnino’s friend, a fellow film composer Armando Trovajoli, lended a helping hand uncredited on the source music cues. The second part of the track follows in the same vein with another simple, cheerful melody. The music has some wonderful flourishes especially from the piano but overall it goes by unnoticed. A longer 9-minute version of these two simple melodies is heard in track 18 which unfortunately can’t hold my interest for its whole duration because there is too much repetition and not enough variation.

From track 2 onward it’s mostly Lavagnino material albeit in a subdued fashion until the ending source cues. The thematic hints start to appear gradually during the score’s opening moments but take their time to fully develop. The devastation After the explosion isn’t met with horror but with slow realization of the situation. Musically this is achieved with a solo clarinet playing the first variation of the score’s gorgeous theme for the father and son over peaceful strings. Remorse on the other hand has a more sinister opening that introduces the first variation of the love theme hidden in its suspenseful strings. After a short quote of the father/son theme there is an absolutely delightful nocturne Stars in the night that is tear-jerkingly beautiful and easily one of the prettiest moments on the album.

The story is told mostly in flashbacks and the first example of this is Remembering Paris, a Parisian accordion waltz that sets the scene perfectly. It’s followed by In the restaurant, an even more restrained piece of lounge jazz for just the solo piano playing a catchy but perhaps quite anonymous tune. Once again it really isn’t a piece that I would associate with Lavagnino’s previous works but beautiful nevertheless. The first full version of the love theme is whistled at the empty city streets in the following cue. First meeting in Rome presents the love theme in an extravagantly romantic fashion with backing strumming mandolins. Soon the clear atmospheres of the open seas return and present a peaceful interplay between the two main themes.

As the hypothermia starts to sink in, the music also starts to become more distorted and cold. The first sign of this is Duncan’s jealousy that has a weird effect produced by an echo chamber that distorts the string sounds creepily. For a score that is over 50 years old, the manipulated sound is truly an interesting addition and preserved extremely well. The best example of this comes in Going back in time again where the effect is used for a sense of awe rather than terror. The storm and The shipwreck have a suspense motif that is the closest thing the score ever becomes to action music, with building intensity and eventually crashing cymbals depicting the explosion. Desperation goes even further towards the abyss with almost martial rhythms from the piano. Their reprise in Duncan reaches the shore offer the last bit of uneasiness before a victorious orchestral crescendo signaling the landing concludes the track.

Luckily in the darkness there are also glimpses of hope. Cam’s song is the first full performance of the father/son theme with warm and moving harmonies. This melody is by far the greatest asset the score has to offer. Though it’s just a simple major key composition, it never fails to momentarily lift the shrouds of desperation. Eventually it outgrows from its humble origins into a solemn anthem for the protagonists. For instance the score’s longest piece, track 13, has a distorted version of the melody at 2:30 mark and though the instrumentation is weird, it still sounds like a siren song trying to keep the main characters awake in the water. A more hopeful rendition returns at the end of the cue after a sinister variation of the love theme. Finale begins with just the strings that clearly search their tonal foundation just like the main characters realizing that they’re not going to die after all. When the realization finally sinks in, a glorious rendition of the father/son theme receives a warm but bittersweet sendoff.

The concluding source tracks follow in the lounge-inspired footsteps of tracks 1 and 5. Rock ‘n’ roll on the ship is a fun little number of 60s instrumental rockabilly music that fortunately isn’t too distracting and includes a great trumpet and sax solo. The greatest bonus track is the 6.5-minute Nightclub revue that begins with a cabaret band rendition of the accordion musette of track 4. That is followed by a muted trumpet solo and then a faster piano version and a fast solo sax improvisation based on that musette. Then the restaurant music of track 5 is reprised with a trumpet solo and accompanying jazzy piano and drumset. Blues is another slow version of that melody for a warm clarinet and small backing jazz ensemble. The last track is a fastening party tune that is a cheerful end to the bonus tracks.

It has been a while since I’ve been moved by a score this much. There are no flashing lights, no bombast. And yet it manages to reach the very depths of your heart with its stunning moments of pure beauty, tranquility and profound loneliness. The music really displays the emotions of somebody reflecting his life on the brink of death being stranded on an open sea. Luckily Lavagnino is able to show so much restraint with his compositions that the intimacy is nearly tangible. Another home run by Lavagnino and Alhambra Records!

Rating: ****1/2

1. Main title (Calypso) / The villa (03:32) ***
2. After the explosion / Clinging to the debris (02:25) *****
3. Remorse / Stars in the night (02:22) *****
4. Remembering Paris (Musette) (02:34) ****
5. In the restaurant (03:17) ****
6. Duncan whistles on the street (01:11) ***
7. Duncan's jealousy (02:32) *****
8. Cam's song (Instrumental) (00:46) *****
9. First meeting in Rome (Duncan and Liana) (03:22) *****
10. Duncan tells Liana about his mother (02:24) ****
11. The storm / Going back in time again (03:31) *****
12. Setting sail / The shipwreck (02:10) *****
13. The bottle in the ocean / Duncan's visions / Duncan's love for his son (05:44) ****
14. Desperation (02:51) *****
15. Blurred vision (01:54) ****
16. Close to death / Duncan reaches the shore (01:54) *****
17. Finale (01:58) *****

BONUS TRACKS (Source music)
18. Party music (Calypso) (09:21) ***
19. Rock ‘n’ roll on the ship (02:14) *****
20. Nightclub revue (06:48) *****
21. Blues (03:17) *****
22. Unused jazz track (01:02) *****

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