LP REVIEW: Jazz in Italian Cinema
(Jazz On Film Records JOF003. LP review by Andrew Cartmel)
Not content with providing definitive boxed-set CD collections, the Jazz on Film label have now branched out into vinyl with an impressive first LP release. As the title implies, Jazz in Italian Cinema – (Spreading new sounds from the Big Screen 1958-62) is an overview and since it consists of one 33 rpm record, it’s a sampler, dipping into a number of film scores. It makes for a dense concentration of dazzling music.
First up is Piero Umiliani’s music for I soliti ignoti, an Italian phrase with shades of ‘The Usual Suspects’ or ‘Persons Unknown’ — the English language title of the film is in fact Big Deal on Madonna Street (1958). On the track Blues for Gassman Part 1 a gong cues an insistent shuffle with noir overtones provided by the dark pumping of Gino Marinacci’s baritone sax, closely tracked by the trombones of Mario Midana and Bill Gilmore (valve). Drummer Roberto Zapulla’s use of brushes and Umiliani’s melodic piano are also highlights.
Although not as well known as Umiliani, Armando Trovajoli was another master of both Italian jazz and film scores. The score in question here is from il Vedovo (‘The Widower’). On Oscar is the Back (sic) the personnel is hazy but that’s either Chet Baker or Oscar Valdambrini on trumpet and nothing is lost either way. There’s no ambiguity about who’s playing on Relaxin’ With Chet, which is taken from Audace colpo dei soliti ignoti (1959) — roughly the ‘Daring Heist by the Usual Suspects’ and, as you will have guessed, a sequel to the earlier film and again an Umiliani score. Despite the laidback title of Relaxin’, it is with this number that the LP really starts to cook, surging forward as Baker’s cascading phrases fall like onrushing waves amidst an elite ensemble. Gilmore and Marinacci are back and Marcello Boschi on alto sax and Livio Cervellieri on tenor have been added to the equation. Boschi’s alto is a particularly exquisite bonus.
Piero Piccioni was the third great exponent of Italian jazz and film music. A marvellous musician, his life was like something out of one of the movies he scored — a lawyer himself, he was a suspect in a scandalous, high profile murder case in 1953. His main title theme for L’Assassino (1961) manages to be simultaneously breezy and menacing and is a classic example of the thriving 1950s genre of ‘crime jazz’ (notable examples include Henry Mancini’s Peter Gunn themes). This track has a clean, liquid sound and the vibes are especially impressive. Sadly the player is unknown, as is everyone here except Piccioni on piano, who has evidently been listening to his Ellington collection, and Marinacci playing his characteristically virile baritone and providing an agreeably dark foundation for the proceedings. Also by Piccioni, Finale is taken from the 1960 film Adua e le compagne (‘Adua and Her Friends’). Once more the details of the personnel are lost to history, which is particularly a shame in the case of the wonderful saxophonist.
The soundtrack for La Notte (‘The Night’; 1960) is Giorgio Gaslini, a new name to me. The featured track here is Blues All’Alba and when you hear Eraldo Volonté’s roughly caressing tenor on it you will begin to realise what a thriving and healthy jazz scene Italy had in the fifties and sixties. So it comes as a something of a surprise to learn that the music for Una storia Milanese (1962) was written by none other than John Lewis of the Modern Jazz Quartet. The Belgian Bobby Jaspar (Blossom Dearie’s husband) is responsible for the delightful, probing, delicacy of the flute on Lewis’s In a Crowd, which is also notable for countrified violin from Giulio Franzetti and Enzo Porta, and loping guitar by René Thomas (who co-led a quintet with Jaspar). Lastly we have another Italian composer, Sandro Brugnolini with his music for Gli arcangeli (‘The Archangels’; 1962). The track Robert’s Idea features bold, robust trumpet by Cicci Santucci.
There is no shortage of Italian film/jazz reissues on the market today but this is a particularly fine example. The audio quality is poised, clear, and articulate and the 180 gram vinyl pressing is immaculate and free of any flaws (which is far from always the case). I doubt this music has ever sounded so good before. The package also includes excellent, authoritative notes, both on the back of the album cover (by Francesco Martinelli) and on an attractive insert sheet (by Selwyn Harris). The only shortcoming with this record is that you’ll wish there was more of the music. But if all goes according to plan, there will indeed be a follow-up box set of CDs from Jazz on Film, addressing exactly that problem.