Guest Written by Adam Zerhouni
The crisp sound of a vengeful harmonica pierces the air on a cold winter morning, building in purpose and menace, as a flood of nostalgia hits every fiber of my senses. Images of grizzled gunfighters dance in my head, as the choral arrangements begin to flow like long-awaited water into a dry valley.
There is a sharpness to it all that is both transporting and transcendent, a biting projection of memory served through orchestral mastery. There are rare moments in life where memory and experience intertwine to forge something unique. This was one of those for me.
When hearing the recording of The Hollywood Story of Ennio Morricone played by The Prague Philharmonic Orchestra from Diggers Factory, one is able to appreciate the nuance of “The Maestro’s” greatest works. This is music I grew up with, watching many of the Western films with my father and uncles who waxed poetic about days spent daydreaming at theaters throughout their childhood, watching these very movies. Appreciation is passed forth within those key moments, while the art that accompanies them becomes ingrained in you.
The record itself is presented in an amber-crystalline beer transparent pressing with a label that mimics a film canister (or a revolver?). Diggers Factory transports us stylishly to the world of Morricone –a man whose music precedes many of the films it lends itself to– with this well thought out design. As the grooves spin, with the look of an old film reel, flipping sides inherently turns the listener into an audio projectionist seamlessly guiding their own experience.
The marriage of Morricone’s music to the “Spaghetti Western” is genre defining. Where traditional westerns presented ideas of chivalry and righteousness, Sergio Leone and writer Dario Argento’s much darker vision pales vastly from the idealization of their American counterpart. There are no John Wayne’s here. Everyone in Leone’s vision had dirt on them.
Themes of revenge, greed, sociopathy, and ambiguously good heroes changed the way we viewed these characters. In a vaguely Gothic ideal, there is a mystery and nihilism associated with these “heroes” that is only spared by their personal code. They are neither good nor bad. They just are.
And what better backdrop than the city of Prague to entertain these themes, a city subject to millennia of land grabs and claims, new empires and expansion, from Celtics to Slavs to Hapsburgs. The peasants rose up numerous times throughout Prague’s history to overthrow their unjust rulers. They embody the idea of The “Spaghetti” Western fully.
The Prague Philharmonic does a phenomenal job of recreating and expanding upon the works of Morricone. From the balance of the vocal arrangements, held in step with technically perfect performances from the string sections, there is reverent treatment of the music. There is a genuine passion that transmits clearly through the speakers. What is also impressive is that they dedicated a fair deal of the musical selections to some of Morricone’s lesser-known scores, drawing attention to movies that live outside of the Western genre entirely. With that said, I was a bit sad that they chose to omit the score of “Cinema Paradiso”, an all-time classic about the power of film.
The sonicscape of the record is bold and rich in all ranges, with a good capture of the natural harmonics in the performance hall. The midrange is particularly well considered when coupled with a weighty bass that fills the subs without overpowering the overall mix. Considering the delicacy of these scores, these balances lend well to the implicit drama of the music and help further the immersion of the listener.
The Hollywood Story of Ennio Morricone is an incredibly well-crafted journey into the world of a legend. As a former jazz musician and arranger, Morricone’s ability to pull from many sources and work in many different styles gave him a versatility unparalleled. This is a must-have record for even casual fans of The Maestro’s music.
Footnote: Of particular interest to vinyl fiends would be “The Feed-Back”, a rare collectible that has a ton of highly sampled drum breaks. Morricone put this experimental jazz album together pulling studio artists from his days arranging jazz for RCA to complete this rare vinyl treasure. This is an insta-buy record for Hip and Trip Hop heads...if you ever come across one.
Check out Adam's other artwork at AdamZerhouni.com
For a discount on this album, or any record sold on Diggers Factory, use the promo code THIRSTY10.