Writer/director Roberto Faenza's weird anti-capitalist drama of a father who indoctrinates his rebellious son into becoming a sublime businessman was given a suitably strange score by Ennio Morrcione, which begins with a benign, cheerful little theme with soothing harmonics from gentle strings, harpsichord and oboe, supported by wordless vocals reminiscent of the composer's spaghetti westerns.
The album's second cue takes a darker turn and introduces the score's regular thematic motif, the liturgical Dies Irae, performed by chorus and rock ensemble (itself quite reminiscent of Morricone's rock ode that plays in the drug club in Mario Bava's Danger: Diabolik). Morricone arranges the pieces around three verse recaps, using the chorus as a matrix to join each half of the orchestra which separately emphasize Gregorian formalism with brass and organ, and modern rock with drums and electric guitar.
Classical form also dominates the lofty “Collage N.1,' with cheerful male and female vocals, harpsichord, and Beethovian fugues. The cue quickly shifts to a gloomy midsection, with a semi-tragic vocal finale.
“Luca's Sound” is perhaps proof that if Morricone was floating in the Atlantic in a small dinghy, he'd still be able to create music by snapping elastic cords, tapping rubber surfaces, and squeezing air from the inner tubing to create some screechy tones. Using echo-processed mouth popping, “Luca's Sound” is probably the oddest cut on the album, but most of Escalation ignores stylistic formalism.
“Luca, Casa Londra” is free-form sitar, whereas the intersecting vocal textures in “Matrimonio” recall the girls chorus in Morricone's Who Saw Her Die? / Chi l'ha vista morire? (1972) After a chirpy first half, Morricone reduces the vocals to ambient tonalities much in the way he frequently takes banks of strings and layers them to create a cyclical stream of rising, piercing harmonies.
The brevity of “Primo Rito” hardly reduces the composer's inventiveness in crafting a bizarre, primal percussion track. Morricone takes an extremely sparse collection of instruments and plays with a rigid stereo separation where wordless chorals and a saddened recorder play on the left side, while plucked electric guitar and drums on the right side propel the cue. “Secondo Rito” is equally impressive (and happily much longer), because it involves vocalists singing a quasi-aboriginal melody, and rusty string instruments bowed to emulate a de-tuned sitar (unless it's a de-tuned sitar in the first place). The track just builds as drummers play an 8-beat ascending pattern with a deliberate stumble on the seventh beat, and then quietly just fades out.
Other tracks include Dixieland jazz in two versions of “Funeral Nero,” and a recap of the main theme reduced to a mere echo as most of the prior instruments in the title track have been cast aside in favour of a vocalist and a handful of ambient instruments.
“Escalation (shake 2)” features a prog-rock beat with a screaming vocalist, and recalls one of the source cues the band in Dario Argento's Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1972) records on-camera, although here the cue is more experimental: non-melodic piano and squawking trumpet are heavily used, and the cue starts and stops without any provocation.
DigitMovies' CD is expertly mastered from very clean sources (apparently this is the score's debut stereo release, with 50% more music as well), and the booklet features a lot of the film's arresting (and sexy) art with actress Claudine Auger (Thunderball, Bay of Blood) in various states of undress and bodypainting (with each breast graded "100," whatever that means).
The weird collision of styles in this dynamic album will definitely make one curious to check out Faenza's film, but like so many of the works whose soundtracks are being rediscovered on CD, the films themselves are still restricted to Italian-only video releases or TV broadcasts, leaving many fans hungry to see exactly how Morricone's music fit this oddball movie.
© 2007 Mark R. Hasan