Here’s one that went from my mailbox to my CD player to right here in just a few hours, simply because it made such an outstanding first impression. The Carla Marciano Quartet’s Psychosis hinges on a single intriguing idea–let’s take several of Bernard Herrmann’s most distinctive and memorable scores from films and arrange them for a dynamic jazz quartet led by a sax. Your first thought might have been my first thought, that this’ll start with the already jazzy score from Taxi Driver and head out from there with confidence and a can-do attitude. After that, is this going to be like the Jacques Loussier Trio with Bach? That wouldn’t be such a bad thing now, would it?
If that’s all Psychosis was, that single great idea accomplished, you might be deliriously happy with its execution. Also, the familiar movie themes you knew were going to be there ARE there, including compositions based on Psycho, Marnie and Vertigo, and they’re more surprising than you think. Does that frantic Psycho theme, written for a very agitated string quartet putting forth some very clear notions, work as sort of a dark, swinging jazz piece? Of course it does. But that might be missing the point. Italian saxophone player Carla Marciano does so much more than merely take those very recognizable themes and set them into a traditional be-bop structure–let’s play the tune, and then each one of us takes turns in the zone. No, she digs deep, far deeper than I would have expected.
What does that mean? Well, Carla Marciano took no short cuts in arranging these tunes. Each track carefully lays out the themes and sets up the solo moments, as I expected, but often the energy of the pieces turns on a dime–it’s a hard left turn into the meadow and you’re not sure if you have the right tires. With her expressive and passionate quartet (pianist Alessandro La Corte, bassist Aldo Vigorito and drummer Gaetano Fasano), she designs conduits that go back to the basic structures. The tangents, however, are loose and adventurous, so much so that it can be a shock when you return for the wrap-up. It’s not a road with crazy detours, however–it’s a driver who loves to drive blindfolded and still drops you off in front of your house in one piece.
Much of the ambition and energy in Psychosis has to do with how well you know Bernard Herrman, and how adept you are at peeling away the almost subliminal connections he makes in his music. The Carla Marciano Quartet knows how to increase the focus on those melodic foundations Herrmann used to construct with the utmost of care, the ones that probably made Hitchcock and Scorsese swoon the first time they heard them. Then there’ll be a moment when you think you know where you’re going, and you’ll hear a few notes and get ready for the reveal and just like that you’re somewhere you didn’t expect to be.
Does that sound exciting? It is, very much so.