CD Review: Christopher Young

Composer: Christopher Young
Label: Buysoundtrax
Suggested Retail Price: $15.95
Grade: B+

When you get to know a great, sly bear of a composer named Christopher Young, you’ll both see and hear a drive for perfection that is straight-jacket worthy in its relentlessness. After all, who would release a “rejected” soundtrack twice, add more lite jazz to a forgotten score, put out a demo for a soundtrack that never happened, give new life to the musical suspense of a movie no one’s heard of, or indulge in a new age groove? Yet all of these seemingly insane acts are on display in a flurry of new, under-the-radar Young releases, with each paying off handsomely for fans better used to the composer’s furious darkness in such works as Hellraiser, Ghost Rider, Swordfish and Spider-Man 3. Now it’s time for Young’s listeners to take a sometimes-sinister chill pill with Scenes Of The Crime, a “revisited” In Too Deep, piano sketches from An Unfinished Life and the nicely bucolic Sleepwalking.

Christopher Young’s liner notes here give a perceptive, and self-deprecating insight into why he re-works his material, often years after the fact. The oldest example is In Too Deep, a 1999 urban suspenser that saw much of Young’s melody replaced with minimalism, as well as his song “Give Me A Reason” verboten by the suits from being used in any form on its original Varese Sarabande release. But thanks to Young’s seamless instrumental additions, Deep is finally seeing the light with a cool film noir groove. You can positively smell the cigarette smoke, and feel the wet asphalt in the sultry Saxes, relaxed (if sinister) percussion, and lush strings that spell out cool doom for a cop/robber relationship. And Young’s “Reason” proves itself to have the atmospheric stuff of an R & B standard, its ode to cruel fate powerfully sung by Dave Hollister. As an equal to Young’s song “Up Against the Wind” (which sent Queen Latifah to her demise in Set It Off), Deep’s tune once again shows that Young is one of the best jazz composers in the business, whether it be the urban rhythms of In Too Deep and Set It Off, or the lounge lizard sound of Rounders, Shade and The Big Kahuna. And though Young’s turned In Too Deep into something resembling an easy listening CD, as opposed to a film score, it’s a concept that complements his original work instead of selling it out. And abetted with new, sensual brass, this In Too Deep might be the closest thing that Young has come to a make-out album for the hip-hop generation.

There’s more suspense than sex in Scenes Of The Crime, a Jeff Bridges mob meller. But if this film (directed by a music supervisor no less) is sleeping somewhere with the fishes, one can always create their own dangerously melodic tale given Young’s electric guitar grooves, be-bop riffs, harmonica and militaristic feel. Able to take such unlikely instruments and make them work in mean tandem, Scenes proves to be another gem in Young’s noir arsenal. But perhaps even more interesting is this CD’s companion score A Child’s Game, which is a codename for Hide And Seek. Though a scheduling conflict caused the score to ultimately (and effectively) get done by John Ottman, Christopher Young has always been a believer in saving his demos. Some people’s sketches are the equivalent of a finished painting in Young’s hands. And as he’s shown in such scores as Flowers In The Attic and Bless The Child, Young has a real way of playing a child’s innocence in lethal peril. Bells, a child’s voice and dissonant strings weave a creepy, thematic lullaby around Dakota Fanning. Yet Young’s favorite instrument here is the music box, which gets several solo workouts at album’s end. Rarely has the toy’s chimes hidden such evil as in Young’s crafty wind-ups.

Like everyone he’s admired from Jerry Goldsmith to Bernard Herrmann, Christopher Young has been no stranger to seeing a score unused because of that good-old term “creative differences.” While his country-flavored soundtrack for An Unfinished Life may have gone unfathomably unused, Young was still able to get it released as a now sold-out Varese club title. But where he added on instruments for In Too Deep, Young has now deconstructed the orchestral Unfinished Life into piano solos. And on this “piano sketches” version, Young’s lilting way with the keys proves to be simplicity at its finest, an engaging, mellow experience that shows Young’s future as a Windham Hill artist if he’d so choose. With the numerous ideas he came up with for Life, this “unplugged” CD is a mellow, almost hypnotic demonstration of Young’s talent for memorable themes. On a more brooding, yet bucolic note, Young’s Sleepwalking (on Lakeshore) has a similar, stripped-down charm that recalls the composer’s early, mesmerizing folksy score for Bright Angel. Country guitar strumming mixes with melancholy piano and lightly percolating synths, abetting the film’s sense of a family lost in the emotional wilderness. Though it might seem simpler than Young’s scores of yore, Sleepwalking has a subtle, hypnotic power to it that deftly encapsulates the title.

With the upcoming thrillers The Uninvited and Drag Me To Hell are bringing Christopher Young back to his horrific tricks, the composer’s determination to get his older, almost unknown work out there with these releases shows of his versatility for the light and the dark, a talent that will soon be bringing Young a well-deserved career achievement award from BMI. Even with that, one could say it’s madness to release scores from works that have been repeatedly kicked around with the kind of biz abuse that would make a composer try to forget his well-intended efforts. Thankfully, Christopher Young’s always had the kind of pride in his scores to release even the most unsung ones, reworking and reshaping some of them into things of new musical beauty. And that’s a madness we should all be thankful for.

Pull the heartstrings, and the trigger with Christopher Young here

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