Mike Moreno: Standards From Film

New York guitarist and quartet draw out the dark undercurrent in romantic film themes popular among jazz players

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Here we have a well-arranged set by guitarist Mike Moreno, each track associated with a film, the music interspersed with an occasional snippet of dialogue and each dedicated to the main female protagonist. The tunes are familiar but the musicians aren’t afraid to mix a straight reading with moments of experimentation; a slight echo at times gives the music space and an air of uneasy expectation.

Three of the tracks are by the prolific film composer Victor Young: Moreno’s solo acoustic guitar takes care of Beautiful Love while My Foolish Heart gets an idiosyncratic 3/4 take by the quartet. The dulcet tones of Ray Milland are heard on Stella By Starlight, on which Moreno and pianist Sullivan Fortner interweave solos and there’s effective cymbal work from Obed Calvaire; the coda briefly mirrors the paranormal events of the film, in this case The Uninvited.

The sinister feeling continues with the dramatic lead into Laura. Then the mood becomes attractive, even rhapsodic, although still slightly menacing, reflecting the effect of the portrait that haunts the characters and determines the storyline of the eponymous film. Fortner’s expansive Garnerish piano and dark tones conjure up visions of the striking Gene Tierney in this 1944 noirish thriller.

Bronislaw Kaper is represented by Invitation and Green Dolphin Street, both starting with dramatic, unnerving elements, disguising the subsequent passages. In both cases Matt Brewer’s bass and drummer Calvaire provide first-rate swinging accompaniment.

Of the others, I Fall In Love Too Easily is a piano/guitar duet; You Stepped Out Of A Dream is a quartet feature rooted firmly in hard bop with vamping underpinned by a deep bass line from Brewer, whose sonorous solo expands the theme of There Will Never Be Another You. Mancini’s Days Of Wine And Roses ends proceedings, both guitar and piano carving out their solos, as if examining the sentiments in Ernest Dowson’s poem:

They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream.
– Ernest Dowson, from “Vitae Summa Brevis” (1896)

This music could be superficially mistaken as easy listening, but delving deeper the undercurrents and ominous sense of menace appear. Play it with volume to appreciate the nuances.

Discography
Beautiful Love; You Stepped Out Of A Dream; There Will Never Be Another You; Stella By Starlight; Laura; I Fall In Love Too Easily; On Green Dolphin Street; My Foolish Heart; Invitation; Days Of Wine And Roses (66.35)
Moreno (g); Sullivan Fortner (p); Matt Brewer (b); Obed Calvaire (d). New York, 22 December 2021.
Criss Cross Jazz 1410CD