Fabio Frizzi – musician and composer

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Fabio Frizzi is an Italian musician and composer.

Born in Bologna, Emilia-Romagna, on July 2, 1951, Frizzi is best known for his film scores and work for television. A frequent collaborator with the director Lucio Fulci, his horror scores have become some of the most widely known in the genre.

Frizzi’s early years saw him as a guitarist in a succession of ever-louder bands, despite the protestations of his father who saw him as a future lawyer. A chance meeting with the music publisher, Carlo Bixio, saw the formation of his first ‘professional’ group in his early twenties, alongside the composer and conductor, Carlo’s brother, Franco, and Vince Tempera. As a group, known as Bixio-Frizzi-Tempera, they shared composition duties and Frizzi concentrated on the guitars, with Tempera covering keyboards.

With Bixio’s publishing contacts, soundtrack work came easily, beginning with the western, And Now… Make Your Peace With God (Ed ora… raccomanda l’anima a Dio! 1968) and continuing successfully across nearly twenty further films, with Sella d’argento (Silver Saddle, 1978) and Sette note in nero (Seven Notes in Black/The Psychic 1977) being of particular interest. The first fully-fledged work by Frizzi and Fulci bore fruit in the violent western, Four of the Apocalypse (I Quattro Dell’Apocalisse). The close harmonies and gentle acoustics may be jarringly unexpected to those more familiar with Frizzi’s later scores.

As time progressed, the group began to work apart from each other, the Laura Gemser softcore frolic, Amore Libero (Free Love, 1979) saw only Frizzi and Tempera at work.

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Perhaps the most influential aspect of Frizzi’s work for film is his use of vintage synthesizers and mellotrons, employed in such a way that they take on the qualities usually found with orchestras or more intimate instruments such as guitar or piano. They instill a disconcerting feeling in the viewer/listener, the sound being familiar but neither old nor modern. They also made it possible to use simple, repeated keyboard refrains whilst feeding in deep bass sounds and faux Gothic choirs.

The close-knit nature of the Italian soundtrack community was such that members of prog rock band Goblin played on several of Frizzi’s works. Frizzi and Fulci worked together throughout the late 1970’s and through to the death of the director in 1996. The key works in this period are Zombie Flesh Eaters (Zombi 2, 1979), City of the Living Dead (1980) and The Beyond (1981) all featuring grand, outrageous set-pieces onscreen, but matched by the richly textured sounds of Frizzi, which nevertheless featured simple and memorable melodies.

Frizzi continues to write for film and television (occasionally using the name Andrew Barrymore) and was recently fêted with a sold-out Halloween show at London’s Union Chapel (see review below). As well as influencing countless soundtrack composers his work has also been an influence on bands and artists such as Umberto, Zombi and Boards of Canada. His music has recently been reissued on vinyl by several labels, including Death Waltz Recordings.

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Partial discography:

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Fabio Frizzi – Union Chapel, Islington, London, 31 October 2013

As Bernard Herrmann is to Alfred Hitchcock, Ennio Morricone is to Sergio Leone and Bruno Nicolai to Jess Franco, so Fabio Frizzi is to Lucio Fulci – one and all, to some extent, unlikely muses to directors whom, whilst prone to genius, were just as likely to bite your head off. Remarkably, it’s now the meatier end of twenty years since Lucio Fulci died and in that time there has been something of a shift to reappraising the director’s work. In fairness, it’s a barely perceptible shift, but The Beyond and Zombie Flesh Eaters have come to be regarded as bona fide classics, the latter now not only spoken about in the same breath as George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead but sometimes held aloft as the supreme imagining of the dead returning to life, an assertion that would have earned you 20 lashes in years past. Likewise, the much overlooked likes of Contraband and Four of the Apocalypse have finally received the praise they always deserved but rarely received.

As Halloween evenings go, an appearance in the beautiful and atmospheric  setting of Islington’s Union Chapel by Maestro Frizzi, a British debut no less, is the stuff of dreams (or enjoyable nightmares), heightened by the projection of images from the films the composer duly reproduces the music from. Billed as Frizzi 2 Fulci, Frizzi is joined by violinists, guitars, bass, keyboards, percussion and a chanteuse, with the composer dividing his own duties between conducting, singing and playing acoustic guitar and keyboard. The show was a sell-out, the pews populated by those in fancy dress and those who had taken a more vanilla approach. Regardless, there was genuine excitement as showtime approached.

Now here’s the thing. The championing of Frizzi’s work is not kitsch or ironic – it’s because it’s brilliant music. As the lights dim, an initial projected sequence introduces us to some of the familiar set-pieces of Fulci and Frizzi’s partnership. The show proper begins with a somewhat plaintive rendition of “Silver Saddle” from the 1978 film of the same title. Whilst the film version was all jaunty elbows and playful pop, the reading here is reflective, even mournful, immediately a confirmation of the composer’s depth. Though his voice is somewhat fragile and the Italian twang of the pronunciation of the lyrics noticeable (rather like many of Guido and Maurizio De Angelis’ songs), this adds to the humanity and emotion of the song. Though listeners will be used to the vintage synths and mellotrons of his work, it’s still a surprise to hear the actual soul of the musician coming through.

An early comment from Frizzi referring to the time “music and cinema were better than today” is telling, the pride of the composer in his work matched only by his humility and infectious joy at his reception. The monstrous cascading, chiming chords to 1977’s The Psychic (Sette Note In Nero) are a real revelation, possibly because, on a personal level, I’ve never cared much for the film. Presented as a suite of music, strident keyboard and guitar more than hold their own against impressive military-like thumps from the drums, indeed in a live setting it’s not only stirring but thrilling. As the band begin to hit their stride, it’s Frizzi’s chanteuse, who really sparkles, the wordless, soaring notes echoing around the church’s mercifully yielding acoustics.

If there was one piece of music destined to suffer in translation, it was surely the faux Caribbean ‘gonk’ of Zombie Flesh Eater’s “Leaving Hell” – again, fears are quickly dispelled as a spritely Frizzi leads the musicians in livening up proceedings, the tropical images and the sight of Auretta Gay in that bikini brightening even a late October evening. The pace slows to a heartbeat of a drum signally perhaps his most recognisable theme, the main theme to Zombi 2.  It doesn’t disappoint and probably gets the biggest cheer of the night, the composer clearly both astounded and delighted by the reaction to a piece he wrote in his 20’s well over 30 years ago.

Frizzi and Fulci first worked together on the 1976 Western, Four of the Apocalypse (I Quattro dell’apocalisse) and the sequence of sound and image for this section of the show was particularly moving – the images of Tomas Milian terrorising all around him, see cast, director and composer all at the height of their game. It is, whisper it, Fulci’s best film and the tender rendition of “Movin’ On” should be enough to convince even the most stubborn viewer to investigate the film. From the period Frizzi was working alongside Vince Tempera and Fabio Bixio, the pre-synth acoustic performance is a reminder of how important Frizzi was and still is, the melody as strong as it ever was, a shameful slap to the chops for every hack churning out bombastic flotsam under the phoney guise of musicianship. Yes, I’m looking at you, Hans Zimmer. By the time a reprise of “Silver Saddle” concludes, I’m fairly certain someone’s chopping onions nearby.

By the time Frizzi’s female singer’s voice enters the stratosphere during the suite accompanying  1980’s City of the Living Dead, I’m fairly certain I stopped breathing, an annoying habit. For a film which, never less than enjoyable, is still hokey old nonsense, the reworking by Frizzi and his musicians is almost magical. By this stage, the urge to watch all Fulci’s films in one go is almost unbearable. Two much newer pieces of work, Beware of Darkness and The Weeping Woman show he has lost none of his deft touch. If ever you needed proof of the importance of a musical score to a film, this show was it. A composer largely ignored and unloved for the majority of his career has not reinvented himself. He and his talent were always there. Shame on all of us.

A pounding rendition of Contraband nearly raises the roof (and it was a substantial one), the cracks of Frizzi’s wooden blocks attracting audience participation, it not mattering much that I imagine a few were unfamiliar with the source. As the event reaches its old age, an inspired performance of Nino Rota’s theme to Fellini’s Amacord essentially seals Frizzi’s place in the elite of 20th Century composers for film, let alone in the horror genre. His understanding of the medium he works in is something to be admired and cherished.

Frizzi wonders aloud if there is something missing from the set as he returns for an encore, the crowd readying themselves for the score to The Beyond, a film of such grand ambition and outlandish set-pieces that it was only right that it should take the final bow. It doesn’t disappoint, a clearly elated Frizzi soaking up the moment. If the show makes only a few people take his canon of work more seriously, it will have been a success for the punters but the happiest person here is still without question il maestro himself. A kindly uncle-looking man, he is clearly moved by both the turn-out and reception. Whilst Fulci was always seemingly callous with the lesser organs and viscera it was always Frizzi who had the heart.

Daz Lawrence, MOVIES & MANIA

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