CD REVIEW: Piero Umiliani – Intrigo a Los Angeles



Piero Umiliani – Intrigo a Los Angeles
(Beat. BCM 9514. CD review by Andrew Cartmel)


Chet Baker resided in Italy from 1959 until 1964 — including a spell in prison after the trumpeter had the misfortune to overdose in the toilet of a gas station in San Concordio. Baker managed to talk his way out of the police station in Lucca, and appeared to be in the clear. Unfortunately a local public prosecutor went gunning for the American, blithely breaking laws in a campaign to nail him. So Baker ended up on trial, and was convicted of drug smuggling and forging prescriptions. He was incarcerated in the Penitenziario San Giorgio but, thanks to the tireless campaigning of his friends, was released after serving eight months — less than half his sentence — at the end of 1961. Just in time for Christmas. Almost immediately, Baker threw himself into recording a strong new album in Rome, Chet is Back, and resumed his fruitful collaboration with the Florentine soundtrack composer Piero Umiliani.

The last film which Umiliani and Baker collaborated on was 1964’s Intrigo a Los Angeles, a nuclear espionage thriller pseudonymously directed by Romano Ferrara. The movie would probably be forgotten today if not for its fine jazz score. The music was originally released in 1964 on a mono LP which is now impossibly rare and expensive. But assorted tracks have surfaced over the years on CD, including on Umiliani’s own Liuto label, and recently on the Moochin’ About compilation Italian Movies (reviewed here).

Now the Roman label Beat records have issued the first official CD dedicated solely to the score in its entirety, featuring detailed notes about the movie and about Chet Baker in both Italian and English. They have also, importantly, used the analog mono master tapes from the original sessions for this CD. The result is some fine trumpet from Baker, and excellent piano from Umiliani, the two musicians who absolutely unequivocally play on these tracks (the other names are derived from Moochin’ About’s best-guess list).

The title of Movimento con Swing is self explanatory and this is both one of the longest tracks on the album and one of the jazz highlights. Umiliani unrolls a carpet of piano and Baker spills out of it like a smuggled harem girl, playing an incisive, silvery solo. The tight knit drumming is likely by Ralph Ferraro or Roberto Zappulla and the bass by Berto Pisano (later to become a soundtrack composer in his own right) or Beppe Carta.

The adroit bass playing also conjures the noir feel of Tipi Sospetti (‘Suspect Types’) until Baker cuts through the shadows like a police spotlight. The conversation between the trumpet and the baritone sax here (probably Gino Marinacci) is a reminder of what a fruitful collaboration Baker had with Gerry Mulligan. Jazz Bar has an easy, loping feel that shows Umiliani’s Dixieland roots, with some first-rate use of brushes on the drums and beautiful, considered flute playing (no one else has any suggestions about who this might be, so I’m going to nominate the multi talented Marinacci again).

Other tracks like Agguato (‘Ambush’) use the jazz vocabulary to conjure suspense, with the horns providing brief, throbbing stabs (the trumpeters here are likely to be Noni Rossi, Beppe Cuccaro or Baldo Panfili), while the flute weaves patterns in the air like sparklers on Bonfire Night and the guitar (quite likely by Enzo Grillini) provides a pulsing structure to the piece. And there is also some characteristically inventive (and advanced) use of electronics by Umiliani in the appropriate context of Ritmo Neutronico (‘Neutron Rhythm’), which sounds like an avant-garde classical piece until the jazz bass and drums kick in, and the seriously spooky and queasiness-inducing Contagio Atomico (‘Radiation Sickness’).

Half a century on, there are some inevitable limitations to the aging master tape, and one of the tracks sounds a bit distant. But for the most part the sound here is startlingly sharp and Beat have done an outstanding job of audio reconstruction. They are to be congratulated for the world premier release of the definitive version of this important jazz document. For Baker and Umiliani aficionados alike..

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