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September 2008

Larry Vuckovich
High Wall: Real Life Film Noir

Larry Vuckovich’s previous album, Street Scene, was a compelling musical autobiography, a loosely unified concept album whose most powerful recurrent theme was film noir. (Vuckovich relates his passion for the genre to his childhood experiences under Nazi and then Communist dictatorships in the former Yugoslavia.)

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William Mercer Mcleod

Larry Vuckovich

High Wall is billed as a “sequel” to Street Scene. Vuckovich continues to reveal that he is the most poetic jazz interpreter of film noir. The title track is an unknown minor masterpiece composed by Bronislaw Kaper for a 1947 film. Vuckovich crystallizes its ambivalent melancholy. His own “View From Telegraph Hill,” commissioned for a film noir festival, is a mystery of brightness and shadow. The lush, archaic 1940 romanticism of Jack Lawrence’s “A Handful of Stars,” in a luminous solo piano unfolding, beautifully belongs.

But High Wall, unlike its predecessor, comes off as an uneven program of diverse tracks rather than an interrelated statement. There are constant personnel changes, two live “bonus tracks,” and odd choices of repertoire like Joe Sample’s bubblegum boogaloo, “Put It Where You Want It.” The congas of Hector Lugo and the bongos of Vince Delgado turn “Dark Eyes” (a “traditional anthem of the long-suffering Russian Gypsies”) and “Concierto de Aranjuez”—pieces that are their own cultural versions of noir—into incongruous perky mambos.

There are reams of film noir music that, in jazz terms, remain unexplored. Hopefully Vuckovich has plans for some of it.

Originally published in September 2008
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