Peppino De Luca’s L’uomo dagli occhi di ghiacchio may be one of the craziest giallo score ever written, which is saying quite a bit when the genre’s got Bruno Maderna’s bizarro Death Laid an Egg, itself filled with most peculiar vocal effects, bossa nova guitar, and weird avant garde elements that make for something close to unlistenable.
Maderna’s score is both an acquired taste (and for connoisseurs, a guilty pleasure), whereas De Luca’s L’uomo is a brilliantly nutty yet sophisticated, and apparently written with a dry sense of humour, if not an awareness of the giallo’s unique conventions: nudity (er, sleaze), exoticism, violence, seething jealousy, and dark secrets withheld until the twist finale. Ennio Morricone’s take during the seventies mixed the sacred (child lullabies) with the profane (avant garde weirdness, sometimes extrapolated from his membership with the Nuova Consonanza), whereas De Luca opted for something much more upbeat, writing a breezy Bossa Nova score with a magnificently addictive main theme.
The title track efficiently sets up the score’s entire elements, because De Luca quickly extrapolates its rhythmic line for action scenes; the breathy flute motif for moments of curiosity, puzzlement, and mystery; and harmonic line transposed to a bass line, from which he crafts a fast-action theme, but rarely is anything repeated verbatim.
The title track also contains alternating male & female voices that culminate in a trippy echoplexed marriage, and the Bossa Nova rhythm is performed in a rock style, with hard hits and large brass fanfares. That special fusion also gives the score tremendous energy, and the second cue – “I tre messicani” – is its best, simply due to its brilliant use of rhythm, colour, and an allusion to a galloping horse.
Built around the short flute motif, De Luca begins with a Spanish acoustic guitar, adds the galloping rhythm and wooden rattle. Slowly creeping strings set up an eerie mood, and De Luca brings in the flute to iterate the short, fluttering motif. A bass drum establishes a heavier gallop, and De Luca accentuates the progression of the screen movement by applying alternating triplets on electric bass, shifting notes to trace a fast-moving subject getting closer... and closer. The cue then culminates with brass fanfares that flame out, much in the way Henry Mancini would end jazzy cues by having his brass play their final notes in a state of total exhaustion.
The score also includes an obligatory lounge version with very slight female vocals by the obligatory Edda Dell’Orso, and the iconoclastic singer also croons the goofily wistful “Unisex” Bossa confection with warbling organ, and a short orchestral lounge version.
In subsequent cues, the main title’s opening bars are also given a funky rock extrapolation, a repetitive bass / drum / piano ostinato, and a stripped-down bass pulse with echoplexed wooden taps – each offering distinct dramatic versions of the same thing.
What’s nice about the album representation is the gradual shift to more dramatic cues, and De Luca shows great skill in sustaining tense moods, not to mention the effective (albeit ) short final cue where pulsing bass and drums are contrasted with shrill high register strings. De Luca only scored a handful of films after an early stint in TV, and while L’uomo and his prior Dorian Gray [M] ought to have ensured a lengthy career as one of Italy’s emerging film music talents, cancer killed the brilliant mind at the age of 38 in 1974.
L’uomo was performed by some of the musicians from I MARC 4 [M], a quartet of jazzmen who also did session work on a variety of soundtracks, and one of the group’s members, Carlo Pes, also had a short career scoring films, mostly between 1967-1973,
Little of Pes’ 8-film output has appeared in complete form on CD or LP, and GDM’s decision to double-bill L’uomo dagli occhi di ghiacchio (1971), on which Pes played, with Pes’ own Un uomo dalla pella dura (1972) on this limited disc is a smart move. Dura is a natural B-side to De Luca’s little masterwork, and Pes’ score is a much more somber affair, given it deals with the troubles of a boxer and unwanted crime elements.
The short main theme (“Tough Guy”) is a slow, pensive work where Pes marries male vocals with brass, and a funky, softly-played rhythm with muffled bongo hits. It’s an effective hybrid of bossa nova and Italian lounge, but deliberately tailored for a jazz rock ensemble, as evidenced in “Tough Guy (versione lenta)”, with a more robust orchestra.
The Love Theme is a gentle variation of the title piece, which Pes offers in several distinct guises: an instrumental rock ballad with keyboards and mixed vocals (one wordless, the other with full English libretto) is a bit cloying, but a small orchestra rendition with solo violin on the left channel and strings on the right is tender and very affecting, as well as the super short “Good Girl” with sad acoustic guitar.
Pes also wrote an amusing country ballad (“Driving on the Freeway”) crooned in English by very Italian singers, a country rock ode (“American Country”), and the toe-tapping “Harem Club” source. There’s also a swell Bossa Nova theme variation performed by an intimate jazz combo with great improv on piano that pushes the cue to just over the 3 and a ½ mark, and is close to Pes’ roots as a talented jazz guitarist.
There are few dramatic-sounding cues in Dura, but a few notables include “Morte di un hippie” with an intense screaming voice, bongos, fuzz guitar, and chiming bass notes on piano; a bluesy improv with strumming guitar and knife-like squeals; and “The Riff,” which consists of a repeated 3-note climb on a blues guitar and rock beat – the album’s rather abrupt closing cut.
Whereas De Luca’s score seems to have been mastered from a good vinyl source (boasting strong dynamics), Pes’ score comes from a much more pristine tapes and features the close-miking and immaculate Italian engineering of the era. Edited by the venerable Claudio Fuiano, this is a superb giallo-crime double-bill worth hunting down.
© 2012 Mark R. Hasan