Following his stellar live album of Billie Holiday and Edith Piaf tunes, French-born master accordionist Richard Galliano turns to his Italian roots in a tribute to Nino Rota, marking the great film composer’s centenary in 2011. Captivated by these sumptuous scores ever since he saw La Strada at his local cinema in Nice as a child, Galliano brings the timeless creations of Fellini and Francis Ford Coppola vividly to life in his own jazz-tinged arrangements for quintet.
With idiomatic playing from the band, especially Dave Douglas on trumpet, Rota’s melancholic themes lose none of their original romance and mystique, from The Godfather waltz (played on trombone, surprisingly, by Galliano) to the seductive opening of Amarcord. There are more upbeat and varied offerings: the soloist and his La Strada Quartet glide effortlessly from circus music to lounge, dirge to Latin dance – sometimes, dizzyingly, all in the one track – with a selection of themes and medleys cleverly interwoven to revisit motifs as a composer might do in a single film score.
Aside from the crisp ensemble work, Galliano’s instrument and its rich sound palette are most engaging when his stylish, virtuosic improvisations are allowed to soar (The Godfather love song with double bass accompaniment) and in the eerie, avant-garde introduction to Giulietta Degli Spiriti.