Film Noir has had a momentous impact on the North by Northwest Quartet. The liner notes of their latest CD state that "each composition attempts to create a mood in which the listener can visualize a Noir type scene in their mind’s eye. Some pieces are sonic interpretations of specific scenes in various movies, most notably Hitchcock’s North by Northwest." Consider that on the album cover is a house that curiously looks like where Norman ‘I wouldn’t hurt a fly’ Bates used to live.
The liner description is apt since it explains the prevailing palatable uneasiness of the music you’ll hear on this CD. The mood can be generalized characterized as hard-edged pulp, with a dollop of frantic fatalism, and demonic scheming all in glorious and shadowy black and white. It is within the shadows, the nuanced bits of melody and stray notes, where the sense of dread and foreboding resides and panic ensues. As the notes suggest, "North by Northwest" is based on a series of Film Noir moments or scene. But, I’d offer that the overall feeling is more Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity than any Hitchcock movie, with the exception of Psycho.
There are moments of shrill guitar wail with an ominous saxophone and a throbbing, haunting piano repetition on ‘The Long Way’, that clearly alerts of impending discovery or doom. I’m not sure which scene of what movie inspired this piece, but it is definitely cinematic in its approach. Something happens and it ain’t pretty. Murder is never nice or simple, as Hitchcock over and over shows in his films. ‘Puzzled’ is exactly what it appears to be. A character is trapped and he or she is attempting their escape out of a very complicated maze of deceit and dripping with uncertainty whether there is any resolution.
If you are clear on the intent on this album, the Quartet’s performance can be riveting. As you sit comfortably back into your chair in a dark room, dream about which film scenes that the Quartet may be interpreting, but please be careful of the one you think loves you who is scheming to sink that steak knife when you least expect it.