THE BLOG
09/09/2014 06:41 pm ET Updated Nov 09, 2014

Great Boom Boom Music: Volume One -- Gato's 'Last Tango' Is Top Cat

True music lovers have a soundtrack for everything. There's a disc to play while mopping the floor and one just right for putting contact paper in the cupboard. There are others ideal for Sunday brunching, cramming for aptitude tests, doing federal taxes, trimming your kitty's claws and changing the newspaper under your cockatoo. And even for doing what the zoot suit-wearing peacocks in barrios of yester-yore called "the horizontal mambo."

You can tell a great deal about Joe and Mary America by their choice of coital soundtrack. Iggy Pop, Bjork or Igor Stravinsky? PJ Harvey, PP Arnold, Marvin Gaye, Caetano Veloso, Morrissey, Nina Simone or Dusty Springfield? The mighty Zeppelin, the mighty Spinners or the Mighty Bosstones? The Cramps, the Clash, the Creation, the Beastie Boys or OutKast? Frank Sinatra, Flaming Lips, Feist or Polyphonic Spree? Timberlake or Timbaland? The soundtrack of sex is an integral part of the "it" act from A-Z -- from foreplay to prime-time tangle to, hopefully, an overtime period and what the French call "the little death."

But when it comes to under-the-covers jams, there's one disc that resonates in my core. It's Gato Barbieri's alternately lush and animal-depraved soundtrack for the great Bernardo Bertolucci flick, "Last Tango in Paris."

Hey, it's not particularly hip, but, honestly, do you really want to get busy to this year's buzz band anyway? Remember kids: today's Mumford & Sons and Lana Del Rey can well be tomorrow's Haircut 100 and Helen Reddy. Plus, buzz bands inevitably come with buzz videos -- a slide show of cheesy images that are injected in your gray matter (and your love making!) with the first note. Are you really going to allow your most intimate moment to be crashed by this week's MTV or YouTube video kingpins, and the woefully wow apparitions of directors who aspire to the heights of directing the next Charlie's Angels' or Marvel Comics' theatrical feature?

But back to "Last Tango." Let's not even get started on the film itself. It's "April in Paris" incarnate, a lusty journey through the pleasure/pain/madness fun house that ends way too soon. "Last Tango" is also Marlon Brando's finest moment of modern method acting mumble (well, "Apocalypse" was pretty great too, but a mere 2:35 single compared to "Tango's" boxed set of broody). And, of course, there's his Raphaelite foil -- the bruise-lipped, curly-topped, lover/killer portrayed by that "one hit wonder" of hot '70s Euro-Cine, the late, great Maria Schneider. Nice story arc too, which starts with a suicide, ends with a murder and has oodles of male-female psycho- and sexual-battling in-between. And as for these images crashing into your real-life boom-boom, it sure beats an unscheduled appearance by Macklemore, Kanye, or, Allah forbid, the Biebs.

For those who don't know, Gato Barbieri is a Buenos Aires-born tenor sax strangler with a unique and equal mastery of both Latin grooves and the overblown skronk of outré jazz.

Gato cut his teeth in native country playing the tango circuit with legends like Lalo Schifrin before heading to Milan, and ultimately the Big Apple, in the '60s, Here, he merged his Latin emoting with the out-jazz giants steps put forth by John Coltrane, Albert Ayler and company. There's a gaggle of great discs that capture this young, fire-breathing Gato -- the early world jazz of the "Latino America" series,"The Third World," "Fenix" and an out-duet disc with pianist Dollar Brand. (Note: Whatever you do, don't buy any of the A&M discs produced by Herb 'Tijuana Brass" Alpert. These attempted to turn the Tarzan of World Saxophonia into a proto-Kenny G, with the addition of "Love American-styled" strings and standards like "Auld Lang Syne.")

With Gato, like any true instrumental stylist, it takes but one note to get the full measure of his musical DNA. He can go from the breathy tenor croon of a Coleman Hawkins to the banshee wail of an alley cat on fire within a 16th note. And like classic-era Sonny Rollins or Dexter Gordon, he's always somewhere near the melody, even when going bunko with over blowing squealing.

And then, there are his vocal accents, the little "ayes" and long "OOOOOOOOOHHHHHHs" he spouts and groans between lines. Strangely, they're always called for and musical, just like "halleluiahs" in a gospel church. Add it all up and you get a goose bump quotient that's pretty close to what you enjoy in a near-death experience (aging Xtreme sports' lovers, take note).

The soundtrack of "Last Tango In Paris" ups the ante on all that Gato has to offer with the addition and direction of Oliver Nelson, one jazz music greatest arrangers. When it comes to quintessential cool era jazz discs for your collection, Nelson's "Blues and the Abstract Truth" belongs right next to Miles' "King of Blue" for blue mood, modal composition and all-star execution.

Like all great soundtracks, Gato and Nelson largely take a single main theme and turn it inside out through a multiplicity of moody miniatures -- ranging from tango and jazz waltz to ballad and full-on, four-to-the-floor swing. The instrumentation and orchestration evoke both tropical swelter sex and the cool romance of café society, with South American percussion and Parisian squeezebox in oddly so-right co-existence. Here's a quote from the liner notes to the CD by John Bender of Film Score Monthly that gives a third-party take of the ambience...

"The main theme, known as 'Last Tango In Paris' is an erotic monsoon. The piece moves seductively in and over its audience, and then like a hot tropical rain, it cascades down, enveloping the listener in the sultry dank of consuming lust. Barbieri, with his horn and voice, unreservedly expresses rakeshell male and female carnality."

This disc is a veritable Fort Knox of fat cinemascope sound. It's a warm blanket of well-tempered strings and soft horns drenched in a flavor of reverberation that can only exist in happy dreams deep down in the Tunnel of Love. It's a bed made to service a man and his horn expressing madness in a way far beyond words, truer to the higher language of the animal kingdom. From first pulse, it takes you, and your loved one, away from a world of workday deadlines and unpaid utility bills to a mind-share where you can do your lovin' like Continental tragi-heroes, like the half man/half beast characters of a new mythology.

There are so many moments of great varied mood musics to enjoy, made better by the addition of the actual film score and tons of short incidental music created for it (40 tracks in total) to the CD release. The actual soundtrack album released in vinyl was a re-recording, rather than the tracks created for Bertolucci's film (it certainly doesn't suffer for it). So now, you get it all.

Rather than go piece by piece, I'll just tell you about one favorite, track #4, "Last Tango In Paris -- The Ballad."

The sound enters like a cloudy Paris morning - with a bird-like flurry of flutes, seeping into strings and bells that evoke church steeples awakening on the Left Bank after a night of wine, women and song. Then a slow Latin groove glides forward to shake her hips, with slurring, bass, assorted shakers, a reverb conga a la Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On," and Gato launching into his "ayes" and "ahhhs" and "ooohhhhhs" -- sans sax. Then it's into a strong tenor bellow of the main theme, with McCoy Tyner-like piano voicings and pedal tones that create endless crevices for Gato to roam. With verse two, a modulation of the same theme, elevated by the entrance of soaring strings, more beats and then yet another modulation up the modal staircase. By 2:30, the melody is over. From that point to the close at 3:45, it's all Gato improv, screaming mad and mindless and animal, trading fours between his horn and voice, slowly submerging into the growing darkness, getting lost under the waves of sex, madness and music.

Again, this is just one representative moment from an hour-plus swim in more of the same. There's the classic tango of "The Girl In Black" and the whispered, skag drag of the lazy ballad, "Why Did She Choose You?" Fast jazz waltzes, and on the actual score, bits of solo sax screaming at the midnight moon. The fact that Gato's was actually evicted from an apartment in NYC's unusually tolerant West Village for such an act makes it all the more enjoyable.

So what else is there to say? I'm certainly not going to kiss and tell about my adventures to this soundtrack. I'm just going to suggest you head to your fave CD or digital music emporium and buy and share it with someone you love...