CD REVIEW: Piero Umiliani – La Legge dei Gangsters

Piero Umiliani – La Legge dei Gangsters
(Beat. BCM 9554. CD review by Andrew Cartmel)

It’s an excellent sign when the recording you’re listening to for review purposes ends up being played purely for pleasure. La Legge dei Gangsters (Gangster’s Law) was an obscure 1969 Italian crime film. It starred Klaus Kinski and was the last picture directed by Siro Marcellini. But what appears to be no more than the score to a forgotten gangster flick is actually a great Italian jazz album, featuring a large gathering of the country’s strongest players (including Oscar Valdambrini on trumpet). It is the creation of Piero Umiliani and is right up there with his classics such as Svezia Inferno e Paradiso (REVIEWED) and is certainly one of the maestro’s most jazz-dominated film projects.

Crepuscolo Sul Mare (Twilight on the Sea) is a vehicle for plangent acoustic guitar, which begins almost in media res, by Mario Gangi. Genoza P.zza De Ferrari Dalle 2 Alle 7 signifies a time and an (abbreviated) address (Genoza Piazza De Ferrari From 2 To 7) and, by contrast, the guitar here is electric and is played by Enzo Grillini with the fat sound of Wes Montgomery. The prudent and judiciously deployed vibes are the work of Franco Chiari and Umiliani himself plays piano with Basie-like restraint and minimalism. The captivating, probing bass flute is courtesy of Gino Marinacci and the mocking trumpet by Cicci Santucci blows Miles Davis style fragments. This piece has both powerful swing, propelled by Enzo Grillini’s bass and Roberto Podio’s drums, and a modernist surface of sustained solos.

Swing Come Sempre (Swing As Always) is propulsive West Coast big band jazz with a substantial and lovely tenor solo sax played, with distinction, by Livio Cerveglieri set against massed brass interjections. It’s reminiscent of Shorty Rogers with a harder, more aggressive Stan Kenton edge (of course Shorty Rogers played and arranged for Kenton). The splendid title track, La Legge Dei Gangsters is an extended piece which features a boppish tenor solo from Cerveglieri that evokes a moan of pleasure from a member of the band and is also noteworthy for the wild keening squeal of the trumpet by Cicci Santucci, which becomes California-mellow at the end. Enzo Grillini’s easygoing guitar and more of Marinacci’s lovely flute are further treats to be found here.

Episodio is a folkloric, baroque piece distinguished by a slanting expanse of strings played by Orchestra D’Archi and the wavering water-colour Hammond electric organ of Antonello Vannucchi. Lui E Lei (He and She) is aptly titled, with a ravishing countermelody of male and female scat interweaving from the (husband and wife) team of Alessandro Alessandroni and Giulia Alessandroni. Tema Dell’addio (Farewell Theme) is another showcase for Vannucchi’s Hammond organ, supported by subtly effective drums and bass (Roberto Podio and Maurizio Majorana), and strongly calls to mind the crime jazz masterworks of Elmer Bernstein and his film scores like Walk on the Wild Side and The Carpetbaggers.

This soundtrack has been issued before in various forms, but never in the definitive double compact disc format achieved by Beat Records here. As an introduction to the maestro’s work, this title comes most warmly recommended, both for the high density and superb quality of the jazz it contains. 
If you only buy one Umiliani album, then this is probably the one you've been waiting for.

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