La Magia della Luce - - Filmworks #1
Slasc(h) CDH741.2

Quite a change from his last major undertaking, WE DID IT, WE DID IT, a three-CD salute to Rahsaan Roland Kirk, which seemed to involve most members of the Italian musicians' union, this session presents a different, imaginative viewing of Milan-native Tiziano Tononi's considerable talents as composer and percussionist.

Partnered only by pianist Alberto Tacchini, the disc, recorded live at the Lodi (Italy) Città Film Festival reproduces Tononi's reimagining of music for three of the major films of Italian director Gillo Pontecorvo.

Pontecorvo, a Marxist, who spent the Second World War as a liaison between the Italian and French resistance and is best-known for his highly political The Battle of Algiers, was nominated for two academy awards, even though his 1960s movies were resolutely anti-capitalist and anti-colonialist.

Kapò (1960), which tells the tale of a young girl in the concentration camps who becomes a Nazi collaborator, is given a new minimalist, mechanized melody here with Tacchini — who also participated in WE DID IT — improvising inside and outside the piano. Encompassing a style that seems to rely in equal parts on resonating isolated phrases and packed note clusters, the pianist creates a muted soundscape, with only the odd melody line escaping until a protracted child-like air appears at the end. Some heavy-handed Keith Jarretisms mar that ending, though. Amplifying this quiescence, Tononi seems to do most of his work on oddball percussion as varied as scratched and resonated cymbals, shaken bells, tingled triangle and tuned drums bits.

Far better known, The Wide Blue Road (1957). It stars Yves Montand as a individualistic fisherman living on an island off Italy's Dalmatian coast who scorns his neighbors attempts at organizing a coop. Tononi's new score, imbued with free-flowing but repetitive liquid melancholy, is characterized most clearly by Tacchini's impressionistic Bill Evans-like pianisms as the theme. Retreating further into the background on this track, the percussionist confines himself to cymbal shimmers and tranquil snare and tom patterns, which give the proceedings more of a relaxed, club jazz feel.

Most celebrated of the lot, 1970's Burn! is a Viet Nam era parable starring Marlon Brando as a 19th century British spy who supports a Caribbean slave rebellion, only to violently put down the victorious rebels years later when they endanger English interests. Initially created with a haunting Ennio Morricone soundtrack, the percussionist's challenge was to replace that music with something equally memorable of his own. He does.

Using a variety of ethnic percussion, among which appear to be the tumbadoras, a mbira and a birimbau plus gongs, bells, congas, scrapers, maracas, different bongos, congas, and the like, Tononi illuminates a domain of deconstructed Latinesque and Caribbean abstractions. As his rhythms serve to personify the rebel islanders, Tacchini's piano does the same for the Europeans. Beginning with muffled, "prepared" keystrokes that could easily come from a toy piano, he soon slithers onto the full 88 keys, producing a theme of underlying menace. Parrying and thrusting with Tononi's bass drum-led West Indian sounds, a simple impressionistic melody finally emerges from the piano. Deferentially accompanied by the drum kit, it, like the colonialists in developing nations, finally subsumes the non-European percussion.

In attendance at Lodi, Pontecorvo himself was impressed with how these new scores complemented his films, while expressing the freedom of the musicians' thoughts. Lacking the visuals, we can only marvel at Tononi's — and Tacchini's — exceptional instrumental work.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Kapò 2. La grande strada azzurra (The Wide Blue Road) 3. Queimada (Burn!)

Personnel: Alberto Tacchini (piano, prepared piano); Tiziano Tononi (percussion)