Album review: Sven Wunder – ‘Natura Morta’: Swedish maestro jet sets for the retro Italian film score sound and delivers beautifully


THERE’S not actually a lot we can reveal about the wonder that is Sweden’s Sven Wunder, except to say: he’s got this. He understands this, the music; he knows it from the inside, moves beyond tribute and mimicry to the very heart of what makes records beloved by the real sonic addict, the compulsive crate-digger, tick; and the delight of those sounds. If Andy Votel’s and David Holmes’ record collections were somehow fed through a blender and reduced to a fine essence, a distilled drop of which on the tongue would transport you to some superb vinyl wonderland; that elixir could well be Sven.

He first emerged in 2019 with Doğu Çiçekleri, otherwise known as, and since repressed as, Eastern Flowers, which focused on that Turkish psych-funk sound, thrilling with Persian scales, sleazy wah-wah, abstruse instrumentation, odd synth wow and flutterm a way with a groove; check “Tulip” and “Magnolia”; see what I mean? (Every track is named for a flower). All buttons pressed with delicious groove.

Dusting down his hands, he migrated further east last year for last year’s Wabi Sabi, splicing jazz with Japanaiserie and Cinemascope textures for one of the most amazing late Sixties’ films you had to film inside your head, ideally reclined on a chaise-longue by lava lamp with a large scotch. Almost ridiculously on-point and sexy, it showed Sven was someone to be taken seriously.

Another year on, Sven’s Scandinavian jet-setting sees him alight from a Boeing in yet another nation with a rich and delicious cinematic tradition: Italy, from whose music of the mid-Sixties to the mid-Seventies he’s set to unleash his third album, Natura Morta.

Natura Morta, “still life” in Italian, has a real visual concept underlying it; it’s bright, it’s vibrant, it has real understanding, has tracks named for paint colours (“Umber”, “Prussian Blue”) traditions (the title track and “Panorama”); plays out with love and appreciation of the greatness of the Italian soundtrack across eleven compositions,. 

Sven says: “Throughout human history, we have depicted the world we live in through art. By reworking what we see in the world, the simplest things have helped us understand the beauty of nature and to evaluate the material world that we have created around us, as a window to a constantly changing reality, through our own perception. It is that absolute reality that appears in the seam of human and nature and that can be revealed through art.

“Still life painting, also referred to as natura morta (”dead nature”) in Italian, stretches back to ancient times. Some of the earliest works, found in Pompeii, depict commonplace objects such as fresh autumn fruits alongside manmade objects, such as a small amphora and a small terracotta heap with dried fruits.

“These two thousand-year-old paintings give a snapshot of Roman life. A slice of life has been created by binding the earth’s pigments with extracts of oil, made from nuts and seeds, painted with brushes, made from a variety of fibres, such as trees and hair from animals.

“While life wanes with each brush stroke, by shifting reality into past, art exists to make us come alive, being a living image of a dead thing, a surface and a symbol with symbolic powers of its own.

Natura Morta collects pieces from a continuous variety of melodies, creating a musical kaleidoscope of ever-changing colors.”

For the instrumentally concerned among you, we’re told that the creation of Natura Morta took nine violins, four violas, three cellos, one flute, one piano, and one electric piano; a cembalo (or harpsichord), a twelve-string guitar, an electric guitar, one trumpet, one flugelhorn, one tenor horn, one marimba, and electric bass, drums and percussion. Phew. Full-spectrum creation.

(Props here to the Swedish Arts Council, who provided financial support for the record. Without further ado, then; shall we?

Sven Wunder

“En Plein Air” opens in a classicism, flute trilling in tandem with a bright scatter of piano notes, free on the keys; before suddenly exploding with the happy gleam of the Mediterranean; think a cherry-red convertible, headscarves, cliffside roads, yachts at anchor. Strings sweep with happy abandon and sweet melody, flutes duck and swoop like swallows. There’s a little of Henry Mancini’s “Lujon” in this tracks forefathers methinks, and why not? It’s big and lush and it’s absolutely spilling over with optimism. And tell me that’s something we don’t need in our grey, viral world.

“Impasto” is just lush, a slow jazz canter swelled by violins, vamping organ, busy and clicky bass that makes you think of Jean-Claude Vannier and early Air, maybe arrival at the grand villa on the promontory, filmic and as verdant as you’d wish for. “Prussian Blue” ups the tempo, gets busy, propulsive, Get Carter bongos thrill and hurry us on with a muted and twangy riff, sharp-suited; a double-tongued flute runs like liquid.

“Natura Morta” is a blissful sunset cocktail for a summer place, the guitar in the spotlight, an interlude of nocturnal softness; this little music still life walks hand in hand with the following “Panorama”, which, as the title suggests, broadens out in rolling harpsichord, draws back the lens so we can survey the scene. Luxurious, sophisticated.

“Alla Prima” – ‘To the First’ – opens with a little more circumspection before easing out into one of the prettiest themes on the record. Isn’t soundtrack prettiness one of the finer things? Don’t shout it, this is a special place. A crisp
12-string plays as it lays, as the strings swing. It has lovely and unexpected string drop that feels in your tummy like a lurch a speed over a humpbacked bridge – a sudden delicious frisson. By now, you’re aware that every track is a miniature movie in itself; every one a theme for a film for you to write. “Umber” is bold and spy movie-esque, makes you yearn for a great tailor and a polished black saloon to scatter pigeons with in the ancient hilltop square.

“Barocco, Ma Non Troppo” – ‘baroque, but not too much’, is a step into a funky classical hybrid, but not, as suggested, too much, with rumbling bass and busy breaks keeping it all in a very funk check. The electric piano skies out into mod jazz in just the right way. “Memento Mori” really ups the Seventies’ cop film on fat, flabby synthetic bass and skittering snares; you know the titles for this one would have the moustachioed protagonists freeze-framing in tricolour, silhouetted as they execute a deft bonnet roll.

“Pentimento” gives it all up and reclines back in the delicate bliss of flute, a David Axelrod-style rhythm section meander and breakdown, and is over waay too soon, actually; and it remains only for a more reflective, bedtime reprise of the opening “Natura Morta” to wrap up the film. Film? Album. Of course, I meant album.

It’s genius, frankly, the way Sven captures the essence of a thousand scores by Piccioni, Morricone, Alessandroni, Trovajoli, others; it’s as if he knows every single Italian soundtrack released from ’62 to ’75, and has captured them in one phial, ready to crack open and perfume your mind. It’s a suite, fully, harmonious and interlinked, it demands your attention.

If you were ever a lover of the much-missed Crippled Dick Hot Wax label, which panned deep for such lost soundtrack greats as Vampyros Lesbos and was responsible for the three-volume Beat At Cinecitta series, amongst others; swooned for Nicola Conte’s Jet Sounds, love the retro Italian soundtrack in its own right – this album absolutely demands a place by your decks. Make no mistake. Go find one. But leave a copy of each of the three so far in the racks, will you, chaps? My home is incomplete, I realise. I have a feature-length script to film from between my speakers.

Sven Wunder’s Natura Morta will be released by Piano Piano Records digitally and on vinyl on June 11th; you can order your copy over at his Bandcamp page, now.

Connect with Sven Wunder on Facebook and Instagram.

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