A new tribute album captures the lyricism of the Italian composer’s music
By Mike Hobart
April 1, 2021
Italian composer Ennio Morricone’s 400-plus film and TV scores range from pulp fiction and spaghetti westerns to The Mission — the ballad “Gabriel’s Oboe” from the score to that 1986 film is this tribute album’s penultimate track. But though Morricone’s legacy is stuffed with catchy tunes, strong harmonies and gripping narratives, it remains largely unsung in jazz, though two albums stand out.
American avant-jazz composer John Zorn’s 1986 album The Big Gundown re-cast Morricone’s music as feedback and phonics, influenced more by the blood splatter depicted on the screen than his music. In contrast, Italian pianist Enrico Pieranunzi’s two volumes of Play Morricone from the early 2000s drew on the pastel shades of impressionist piano-trio jazz.
Italian saxophonist Stefano Di Battista takes the more orthodox path of a theme and variations format and sets Morricone alongside the great composers of the American songbook. Di Battista captures the lyricism of Morricone’s music with warm-toned alto and soprano sax and the light-touch rhythms of his solid piano trio support. Solos by pianist Fred Nardin and Di Batista deliver romantic tension, Italianate harmonies and narrative drive.
Album cover of ‘Morricone Stories’ by Stefano Di Battista The album opens with a springy piano riff setting up “What Have You Done to Solange?” and continues with a menacingly whistled “Peur sur la Ville”. Di Battista, playing soprano on both, follows the form and rises to a peak. “La Cosa Buffa” comes next, imbued with bittersweet romance, and then the light samba warmth of “Veruschka”, from Franco Rubartelli’s 1971 documentary of the European supermodel.
Better-known scores include the stately “Deborah’s Theme” from the 1984 film Once Upon a Time in America and the rippling arpeggios of the baroque-flavoured “Apertura della caccia” from Bertolucci’s epic 1900. The winsome ballad “Flora”, a personal gift from Morricone to Di Battista, gets its public debut here.
The set ends with the jackal-inspired hoot and shrill climax of “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”, Morricone’s best-known theme, played out over a surge of modal jazz.
Trailer link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6iaO-pHNJkk