As well as Sword and Sandal (peplums), Westerns, Giallo’s, and Horror films, Italian filmmakers have also produced several brilliant crime/police thrillers which in turn have contained some hard hitting and gritty sounding scores that are a mix of dramatic orchestral scoring and jazzy, funky vibes. Funk laden grooves fill the airwaves in the soundtracks for many of these quite unique productions. Some of the scores were released on LP record back in the day and have since made it to either compact disc or digital releases, some even being re-issued on vinyl as the demand for this format increases daily it seems. My attention was brought to a compilation that is currently available on LP, CD and digital mediums, Piombo Italian Crime Soundtracks from the years of Lead, is a must have for any collector of Italian film scores, the years of lead being from 1973 through to 1981, this was I suppose a time when the popularity of the Spaghetti western and its music was beginning to falter a little, with that genre heading into quirky and at times downright silly plots with the music also taking something of a downturn in the originality department, I think the comedy western as produced by Italian studios had a lot to answer for as Italian comedy and scenarios often did not translate or sit well with non-Italian audiences.
So Italian filmmakers as always started to re-invent themselves and turn to another genre the crime or heist movie, and once again placing their own unmistakable stamp upon it, and making it their own. Composers such as Stelvio Cipriani, Luis Bacalov, Ennio Morricone, Bruno Nicolai, De Angelis, Ortolani, Sica, Savina and many more who had been active in the 1960’s through to the mid-seventies now began to make their mark musically by providing jazz influenced at times powerfully dramatic but also thematic scores for the genre of crime thrillers that were starting to gain popularity with cinema goers. And the music was almost as inventive and innovative as the same composers had written for the spaghetti western genre. I say almost because some of the Italian scores for crime dramas are clearly influenced by American film scores such as Shaft (1971), Superfly (1972), Trouble Man also from 1972, and to a degree the style that Lalo Schifrin had applied within his score for the Bruce Lee movie Enter the Dragon, these sounds and styles had already established themselves as a musical genre all on their own.
But, the Italian composers I have mentioned basically took this core sound and style added to it and expanded upon the orchestration and some would say improved upon it. Madcap samba and tango influenced rhythms too crept into the proceedings alongside sultry and often steamy sounding themes for solo female voice, but for the majority of the time the scores for these crime capers were overflowing with the groovy yet pulsating action led sounds of guitar, organ, strings and woods that were underlined by percussive elements and emphasized by those big band sounding brass flourishes. Composers such as Franco Micalizzi excelled within the genre, his pop/big band styles adding weight and a greater atmospheric depth to each movie he scored. Many of the music cues in the scores for the genre played like the latest instrumental disco hit, which were so popular during the mid to late seventies. So, the music appealed to not just film music fans but also to a wider audience, having that crossover market into disco and beyond. PIOMBO is a varied and highly entertaining compilation, that lives and breathes the sounds of the genre, and is a worthy addition to any film music collection, and an essential purchase for Italian film music devotees. The collection is available on digital platforms and on vinyl and CD. It boasts an impressive line-up of musical delights some of which are familiar but for the most part are hard to find cues. Recommended.