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Remembering Nino Rota

Amarcord Nino RotaWhen it appeared in 1981, Hal Willner’s Amacord Nino Rota kick-started the phenomenon of tribute albums. The New York producer gathered a bunch of musicians — among them Carla Bley, Jaki Byard, Bill Frisell, Chris Stein and Debbie Harry, Steve Lacy, and the then-unknown Wynton Marsalis — to take a variety of approaches, in various combinations, to Rota’s music for the films of Federico Fellini.

Last night, as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival, Willner presented a greatly expanded version of the project, featuring only two of the original participants — Bley and her partner, the bass guitarist Steve Swallow — but adding a bunch of new pieces arranged by and featuring the likes of Mike Gibbs, John Etheridge, Kate St John, Steve Beresford, Rita Marcotulli, Nitin Sawhney, Giancarlo Vulcano, Karen Mantler and Steven Bernstein. Now opened up to include Rota’s music from non-Fellini films, the evening contained almost too many wonderful moments to remember.

Those I carried away with me included Beresford’s use of B.J. Cole’s outrageously eloquent steel guitar on music from Il Bidone; the expansion of Bley’s brilliant arrangement of themes from 8 1/2; Mantler’s deployment of her own chromatic harmonica during her marvellous settings of the various themes from The Godfather; the emotions that surged to the surface during Gibbs’s arrangement of music from The Glass Mountain (a 1949 film directed by Henry Cass and Edoardo Anton, and starring Michael Denison and Dulcie Gray); and the very moving conclusion, which found Sawhney at the piano, meditating on melodies from La Strada, accompanied by string quartet and bass flute.

I felt a little less warm towards the brief appearances of Marc Almond and Richard Strange, delivering songs from Fellini’s Casanova films. But the arrangers were fortunate to be able to call on the services of a terrific orchestra, whose soloists included the wonderful brazen trombonist Barnaby Dickinson, the feather-tongued tenor saxophonist Julian Siegel, the deft guitarist John Etheridge, Bernstein on slide trumpet (surely the most Felliniesque of instruments), and Marcotulli, who contributed a fine piano improvisation to The Glass Mountain. Topped and tailed — with typically Willnerian hipster ingenuity — by recordings of Ken Nordine reading Shel Silverstein’s poem “Where the Sidewalk Ends”, the result was a two-and-a-half-hour triumph.

5 Comments Post a comment
  1. geoffnoble #

    Agreed. I would extend bouquets to the string quartet and the playing and arranging of oboist Kate St John.

    This was the second outing at the Barbican for Amacord Nino Rota, the first in 2004 featuring many of last night’s performers. Others were Geri Allen, Guy Barker and Andy Sheppard, with the swaggering trombone role taken by (who else?) Gary Valente. Marianne Faithfull reprised from the record the wordless singing of Debbie Harry and David Thomas of Pere Ubu provided the wild card. There was also Nights of Cabiria, played as an accordion and bass duet by Rob Burger and Chris Laurence.

    Good to hear Hal WIllner pay credit to Joe Boyd and Hannibal Records for having the courage to release the original album. Let’s hope it resurfaces soon, along with Willner’s homage to Monk “That’s the Way I Feel Now”.

    An exceptional and atmospheric evening. At the interval my son quoted the late Roger Ebert ” I could watch a Fellini film on the radio”.

    November 23, 2013
  2. Mike gibbs #

    Wow! Richard – you were there!
    Concert was a blast – we had a good time. Did you know we’d done it (for Serious and at Barbican) in 2004?
    I did glass mountain then but realised too late that Geri Allen was available to play piano. When I realised this time that Rita would be here, I jumped at chance to work with her and hastily added a part for her which she filled so fabulously, as you noticed!
    The Juliet piece was just done for this concert.
    As I’ve come to expect now – your observations are so pertantly on the money as if you’d been part of its creation.
    (Incidentally, Rita is Marcotulli mit “o”.)

    November 24, 2013
    • Thanks, Mike. I must have been out on the road in 2004. And thanks for the spelling correction. This was the first time I’ve heard Rita Marcotulli. Is she always that good?

      November 24, 2013
  3. Sounds amazing. All those Willner albums are out of print, including the original Lost In The Stars, featuring the music of Kurt Weill. It’s a damned shame – licensing issues, I assume.

    December 5, 2013

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