'Amarcord Nino Rota' Returns — And It's Well Worth The Wait

Oct 24, 2018
Originally published on October 26, 2018 9:40 am
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TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. In the 1980s, music producer Hal Willner masterminded four tribute anthologies in which various jazz and pop bands played music by Thelonious Monk or Kurt Weill or songs from Walt Disney musicals. The first and least-known of those tribute albums, featuring music Nino Rota composed for Federico Fellini movies, has now been reissued. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says it set the template.

(SOUNDBITE OF SHARON FREEMAN AND DEBORAH HARRY'S "LA DOLCE VITA SUITE")

KEVIN WHITEHEAD, BYLINE: Francis Haynes on steel drums and Sharon Freeman on French horns on Freeman's arrangement of music from "La Dolce Vita." It's on the just-reissued "Amarcord Nino Rota" from 1981, where diverse musicians play Rota music from Fellini films. One highlight is bandleader Carla Bley's long suite from "8 1/2." Rota's melodies feed her own taste for circus-y (ph) excess, shifting instrumental colors, sideways harmonies and ballroom dance beats. Nino Rota's music sounds like hers already.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE CARLA BLEY BAND'S "8 1/2")

WHITEHEAD: That music suggests how much Carla Bley and Nino Rota inspired the madcap Dutch bandleader Willem Breuker. Film scores can get repetitious, Rota's included, but arrangers can always vary the instrumentation when melodies come back. Another distinguished jazz composer, Muhal Richard Abrams, keeps recasting a line on his section of a suite from "La Dolce Vita."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUHAL RICHARD ABRAMS' PERFORMANCE OF NINO ROTA'S "LA DOLCE VITA SUITE")

WHITEHEAD: Conceiving this project, producer Hal Willner heard how it could work. Nino Rota's musical personality was so strong - in his Fellini scores, especially - as long as the musicians minded his melodies, all the diverse approaches would fit together. That same suite moves on from Muhal to a segment for rock stars - singer Deborah Harry and guitarist Chris Stein from the band Blondie.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEBORAH HARRY AND CHRIS STEIN'S PERFORMANCE OF NINO ROTA'S "LA DOLCE VITA SUITE")

WHITEHEAD: That's not the only suite on the album "Amarcord Nino Rota" to cut across genres. David Amram, the New York classical scene's hippest hipster, starts in one world and ends in another, setting music for Fellini's ancient Roman grotesque, "Satyricon."

(SOUNDBITE OF DAVID AMRAM PERFORMANCE OF NINO ROTA'S "SATYRICON")

WHITEHEAD: Jerry Dodgion on flute and Ray Mantilla on congas. The anthology, "Amarcord Nino Rota," was proof of concept for producer Hal Willner. He'd repeat the idea in grander style, notably on the first sequel, "That's The Way I Feel Now: A Tribute To Thelonious Monk." There is more here, including a rather Charles Mingus-y medley arranged by William Fischer, showcasing Mingus tenor George Adams, flanked by new arrivals Wynton and Branford Marsalis. There are also solo pieces from saxophonist Steve Lacy, vibraphonist Dave Samuels, guitarist Bill Frisell on a very early appearance on record and teasing piano virtuoso Jaki Byard. "Amarcord Nino Rota" is a charming album whose overdue return was worth the wait.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: Kevin Whitehead writes for Point Of Departure. He reviewed the reissue "Amarcord Nino Rota." Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, we'll talk about corruption, scandal and greed in college basketball, or what journalist Michael Sokolove calls the buying and selling of basketball players, some as young as 11. It involves sports apparel companies, scouts, coaches, parents, financial consultants and billions of dollars. Our guest will be Michael Sokolove. His new book is called "The Last Temptation of Rick Pitino." I hope you'll join us.

FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our associate producer for digital media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. I'm Terry Gross. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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