Jazz has a great track record when it comes to film scores. Standouts include Miles Davis' soundtrack for Louis Malle's Ascenseur Pour L'échafaud (1958), Charles Mingus' for John Cassavetes' Shadows (1959) and Krzysztof Komeda's for Roman Polanski's Knife In The Water (1962). There are dozens more, particularly from the 1950s and 1960s, before rock became the go-to directorial choice for instant street cred.
Curiously, given the many movie masterpieces shot by Italian directors, the country has produced few jazz or jazz-related soundtracks of note. Piero Umiliani's score for Franco Rossi's Smog (1962), featuring Chet Baker, is an exception. Jazz-based saxophonist and composer Alessandro Meroli's Notturni would certainly be another except for one thing: it is an audio album with no film attached. It is, however, an audio album crying out to be a soundtrack. Ideally this would be a visual tone poem along the lines of director Godfrey Reggio's collaboration with Philip Glass on Koyaanisqatsi (1982), for Meroli's music needs neither dialogue nor a vocalized narration to tell a story.
Notturni conjures atmospheres ranging from crepuscular romance through Edward Hopper isolation to Albert Hitchcock nightmares before ending, seventy-three attention-holding minutes later in the hope-filled dawn of a new day. Meroli says the music was partly inspired by Frédéric Chopin's "Nocturnes" and Louis-Ferdinand Céline's 1932 novel "Journey To The End Of The Night." Other inspirations seem to be Duke Ellington, David Axelrod, Albert Ayler, Yusef Lateef, Ravi Shankar, Pink Floyd and alto saxophonists including Johnny Hodges and Art Pepper and Paul Desmond. One of the tracks is dedicated to Bernard Herrmann.
The story starts with the scene-setting "Nightfall" and "Evening Lights," which suggest an imminent romantic assignation. These are followed by the Hopperesque "Where Are You?," a nine-minute alto saxophone-led blinder. Then comes the brassy "In The Middle Of The Darkness," hurtling along like a small-hours car chase. The sixteen-minute "Triptych Of The Deep" is disturbing going on nightmarish (its three sections are subtitled "Last Lover's Night," "Liz's Nightmare" and "The Tears Of Those Who Stay"). Alberto Capelli's guzheng and Meroli's flute bring us back from the edge on "At The End Of Night," a soft landing continued by Nico Menci's twinkling acoustic piano on "Morning Star." Capelli's veena wraps it all up on "Dawn," a sunny Bollywood take on a morning raga.
Meroli's mix of jazz, psychedelia, electronica, Bollywood and classical-contemporary would could be dubbed a long-form acid-jazz flashbackand it is no coincidence that Notturni is released on the new imprint Space Echo, a sister label of Milan's Schema, the home of Nicola Conte since his acid-jazz masterpiece Jet Sounds in 2000.
Nightfall; Evening Lights; Where Are You; In The Middle Of The Darkness; Triptych Of The Deep; At The End Of The Night; Morning Star; Dawn.
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