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Daniel Luppi: An Italian Story

Emily Sogn

Daniel Luppi

An Italian Story

Label: Rhino
US Release Date: 2004-02-24
UK Release Date: Available as import

An Italian Story, is a record that was made by a film lover for film lovers luxuriating in those fleeting moments in film history when both cinematic and musical excellence unite on screen giving spectators a glimpse of complete aural and visual sublime. Members of the class of cinephiles who appreciate this kind of sensory synthesis should love this collection of instrumental songs meant to both emulate and pay homage to some of the most memorable soundtracks in film history.

Luppi is a classically trained pianist and composer whose love for catchy soundtracks was formed during the heyday of Italian La Dolce Vita film in the '60s and '70s. This movement centered around Rome's Cinecitta Studios where composers like Ennio Morricone, Nino Rota, and Armando Trovajoli provided spirited musical accompaniments to a slew of movies that showcased a booming postwar Italy where decadent fantasies converged with an increasingly hopeful reality. Obscure but much-loved films directed by legends like Frederico Fellini and Sergio Leone portrayed exotic celluloid worlds where color saturated landscapes provided gorgeous backdrops for countless oversexed, hyper-violent, and overwhelmingly compelling scenarios.

The glossy liner notes to Daniel Luppi's record An Italian Story are generous, 18 pages long to be exact, and illustrated with grainy black and white photographs. One of these is of Luppi himself, looking like he just stepped out of one of the movies he is so intent on glorifying, leaning against a motorcycle, decked out in tight pants, turtleneck, and shades with a thick moustache that completes the look. The rest of the photos depict the session musicians who played with him on the record, some taken during the heyday of the film boom, some that were taken quite recently and the text tells the story of the recording of An Italian Story, a kind of Buena Vista Social Club for bygone Italian film soundtracks.

Luppi, who has been working and living in the United States for the past few years, came up with the idea for the project which he intended to be a series of compositions that utilized the styles and instrumentation of the Italian film soundtracks he loved so much. After doing some research, he realized that there was a common element that united many of the best soundtracks of the era. A group of four session musician that he calls the Italian "Wrecking Crew" brought to life many of his songs of his favorite film composers and also by themselves in a band called the Marc 4. This cinematic super-group included bassist Maurizio Majorana, organist Antonello Vannucchi, percussionist Roberto Podio, and guitarist Carlo Pes. A few well placed inquiries alerted Luppi to the fact that although these musicians were retired, with the exception Pes who passed away a few years ago, all of them were still alive, and Luppi decided immediately that he had to have them for his project. After some work tracking them all down, all of the musicians agreed to get together to record Luppi's compositions.

The sessions took place at Telecinesound, a fabled analog studio in Rome's historic Quartier Prati neighborhood owned and run by Majorana. Luppi prepared for the recordings by hunting down vintage instruments that he considered essential if they were to recreate the funky sounds that made the music of the time so unique. Consequently, the record reverberates with noises that sound like they have been unearthed from a long buried time capsule. Joyfully hooting Farfisa, whirling Hammond and crackly fuzz and wah wah pedals punctuate the twelve instrumental songs that make up An Italian Story breathing new life into classic jazz chord progressions and bossa-nova tempos.

The recordings are uniformly stylish and fun, balancing gracefully on the border between appropriation and interpretation. Deliciously retro without ever taking a tongue-in-cheek posture, Luppi recreates the carefree sounds of La Dolce Vita film with an ease impressive for a man who was only a child when the movies graced the big screen.

"Fashion Party", the first track on the record stands out among the songs for its overt catchiness, conjuring up an image of a glamorous '60s party scene complete with beehived beauties, sugary cocktails, and a booming hi-fi. This song retains a special significance to Italian film over and above the arrangement, employing Allessandro Alessandroni, a.k.a. "The Whistler", famous for providing the forlorn whistling melodies which accompanied Charles Bronson's shoot-ups in Sergio Leone's epic Spaghetti Western trilogy. "Photochic" is similarly spirited, led by Vannuchi's twirling organ in a composition that was written as an unabashed homage to Marc-4's many discotheque backgrounds. The spooky Moog that appears in the intro to "Nightclub" and reemergence periodically throughout the song accentuates the track's fun, vaguely sci-fi atmosphere. The title track is also a gem, with "The Whistler" providing a sweet melody over Marc-4's breezy background. "Free Love Sequence" and "Fetish Quartet" are both hilarious takes on the horror and erotic films of the '60s and '70s overflowing with spaced-out guitar-riffs and strutting bass lines. "Free Love" even uses a droning gong to drive home the point, because Luppi states in the liner notes, "it's the most obvious instrument they {film composers} would have chosen to denote an altered state of mind."

Overall, An Italian Story simply is what it is -- a loving tribute to the golden era Italian film and its sultry soundtracks. Like the popular soundtrack to the Kill Bill series, Quentin Tarantino's homage to slasher and kung-fu flicks of the '70s, the collection will either be a long awaited treasure to those who harbor similar cinematic tastes for these forgotten opuses, or a substantial introduction to those as yet uninitiated.

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