Soundtrack Picks: ‘ON THE WATERFRONT‘ is the top soundtrack to own for January, 2015
Also worth picking up ALLIES, THE BETSY, ELMER BERNSTEIN: THE WILD SIDE, ETHEL, FALLING IN LOVE, THE GREAT INVISIBLE, SHAFT and many more!
To Purchase the soundtracks from this list, click on the CD cover
THE TOP PICKS
1) 1864 / ALLIES
What Is it?: Movie Score Media’s quality releases continue to be not only a major source for discovering new composers whose attendant projects barely hit U.S. shores, but also a great way to hear relatively obscure foreign soundtracks done by sometimes eminent American musicians – in both notable cases here performed in the key of war.
Why Should You Buy It?: Early on in Marco Beltrami’s career, the composer wrote one of his most interesting psycho-killer scores for a deranged female cellist, albeit in the guise of a period costume drama for Norwegian director Ole Bornedal’s 2002 thriller “I Am Dina.” Now Beltrami reteams with him for a completely different, equally impressive score for the Denmark’s most expensive TV miniseries. “1864” chronicles the country’s disastrous war with Germany during that fateful year, which also happened to see a bloody battle occurring in a United States. In fact, when stateside listeners hear the elegiacally orchestra, patriotic brass along with the tender strings and piano melody of the women left on the home front, they might assume that Beltrami has written a very assured Civil War score – minus the southern-isms. But that perhaps that’s just the point of how a powerful orchestral score can conjure the universal language of for all of its heroic folly, as dynamically performed here by \ Danish orchestras. They conjures both the horror, and true valor of battle, with an extra dose of tragedy given the catastrophically lopsided, and history-change results inflicted on Denmark. Beltrami does an especially good job of musically cutting between royalty planning out strategy and civilian soldiers suffering for it on the battlefront, seguing from heartfelt drama to the ominous winds of war. It’s epically sweeping music that gives “1864” all the thematic impact of a major film score, yet with such distinctive Beltrami touches as glass-like eeriness, relentlessly dire rhythms and raging brass that will appeal to admirers of such exceptional genre scores of his as “Snowpiercer.” Sure this might be Denmark. But given this oft-passionate, heroism-delineating, trumpet-blowing score in this midst of total loss, one might easily imagine Beltrami scoring a woman determined never to go hungry again if the need arises.
Extra Special: Rising French composer Philippe Jakko does his part for his country’s underground in this stalwart English WW2 film, wherein “Downton Abbey’s” Julian Ovendon leaders a crack team of Americans and Brits into occupied territory, of course with a traitor in their midst. But while traditionally told on the cinematic front, Jakko’s score is way more contemporary in its symphonic / sample treatment than going for a Ron Goodwin-esque approach, although his music’s stalwart spirit is certainly there in terms of its heroic military timpani and low, Nazi menace. Instead, Jakko uses tense, time-is-running-out percussion and waves of threatening string tension, a la “The Thin Red Line,” albeit with an approach that’s more centered on fighting than that movie’s existential meditation on war. “Allies’” battle music is suitably throttling, while horror-like electronics convey the overwhelming forces pitted against our patriots. For the most part, “Allies” is about survival as opposed to rah-rah assaults, a trigger finger-tightening darkness that distinguishes Jakko’s work, especially in the building chorus, strings and rock-like percussion that drives a truly memorable, neo-romantic theme to its sacrificial finish. As he succeeds in giving war scoring a powerful, contemporary energy by making very good use of obviously limited musical resources, Jakko puts himself in very good stead to accept further soundtrack missions with bigger budgetary guns on this side of the Atlantic.
2) ELMER BERNSTEIN: THE WILD SIDE
What is it?: No composer embodied the pure movie swing of jazz during the art form’s mainlining into much of film scoring during the 50s and 60s like Elmer Bernstein. From the hot sax heroin rush that flooded into Frankie Machine’s veins in “The Man With the Golden Arm” to the lustful brass catfight of “Walk on the Wild Side” or the salacious gossip beat that stank of “The Sweet Smell of Success,” Bernstein tapped into the energetic transgressiveness of music that promised a rawness that the Hayes Code-enforced movies could only hint at. So it’s only natural that Varese head Robert Townson would use his new concentration of staging international film concerts, particularly in Spain, to essentially strip Bernstein down to his jazz roots in the outlying Canary Island of Tenerife. It’s a swinging concept that not only goes for the hep Bernstein standards in their brass and percussion purity, but also numbers from the composer’s vast repertoire that one might not begin to think of having a sax in sight for.
Why should you buy it?: With its main players put together from The Big Band De Canarias, this “Wild Side” ensemble has an energy that’s both tight and free form as they nail “Man,” “Walk” and “Smell” in a way that’s as nostalgic as it is vibrant. And they’re not afraid to riff as well on performances for “The Rat Race,” give a saucily percussive build to “Jubilation” or put their Latin samba chops into “The Caretakers.” Special attention is given to Bernstein’s TV work for the John Cassavetes detective-cum-musician show “Johnny Staccato,” from its explosive main title to its soft, seductive vibes and crime scene blues that give off a cool, intimate film noir vibe. Frequent scoring session and Varese concert flutist Sara Andon adds to the album’s catchy energy, particularly in her tender reading of “Devil In A Blue Dress” and blowing with high, crime jazz finesse for a rambunctious performance of “Saints and Sinners,” then pleasantly helps turn the theme from “The Age of Innocence” into a neat variation that transports music written for an 1800s Manhattan-set drama into resplendent, uptempo music you could imagine hearing a century or so later. Vocalist Esther Ovejero is also on hand to give bad girl sex appeal to the theme from “The Silencers,” a Bernstein-Bond title song if there ever should’ve been one.
Extra Special: There’s a real cigar-smoke feel to these performances, the sense that this is playing in a backstreet nightclub as some very bad deals are going down to the clink of booze-filled glasses – which is probably the best compliment to give this big band ensemble who’ve captured Bernstein’s bad musical behavior in an unplugged, swinging way that the composer surely would’ve appreciated, let alone the fans of his brassily strutting golden era.
3) INHERENT VICE
What Is it?: For much of his filmmaking career, Paul Thomas Anderson had used composer Jon Brion to convey his provocative cinematic approach, from the insane percussive assault of “Punch Drunk Love” to the frog-raining, imposing orchestral thunderstorms of “Magnolia.” In relatively recent years, Thomas has moved onto Radiohead’s Johnny Greenwood to accompany his swings between transfixing brilliance and unbearable pretention, often within the same films. If anything, Greenwood’s music has tended to be even more innovatively insane than Brion’s, ranging between abstract modernism and hypnotic melody to capture the addled minds of kingpins, whether it was an oil baron’s very bad attitude for “There Will Be Blood” or the mind-controlling intellectual guru in “The Master.” But perhaps what’s most unexpected about Anderson’s most incomprehensibly infuriating movie yet is just how relatively normal, but no less impressive Greenwood’s work is at flashes between Wagnerian melancholy to the altered musical consciousness of 70s era scoring, all with far more coherency than the stoner private dick of “Inherent Vice.”
Why Should You Buy It?: The self-knowing gag of “inherent Vice” is just how seriously it takes a labyrinthine plot that would give Jake Gittes pause, let alone a detective who makes The Dude seem like an intellectual giant. Greenwood’s main theme plays with the idea of being witness to great revelations of human avarice in his neo-tragic orchestral melody, poking about LA’s dark corners with brooding suspense. It’s almost as if his whole scoring viewpoint is heard from a doom-obsessed gumshoe, all while avoiding the jazz vibe that spells out film noir. Instead, Greenwood goes for the soothing quality of strings and violin, both soaringly downbeat in their melody. But if much of “Vice” starts off like the opening of some Wagnerian opera that stalks about with Glass-ian rhythm, there’s also subtly wacked-out humor to his score as well, as a Theremin mixes with pokey electronic percussion and rock guitar feedback for a rising, feverish sense of bewilderment. More period-specific vibes arrive with the drug-filled schooner called The Golden Fang, which gets a Chinese-meets-psychedelia mysterioso vibe, while “Amethyst” is a blissed out, sideburned groove for organ and folk guitar. Yet if “Inherent Vice” gets far out, it surprisingly isn’t half as confrontational as Greenwood’s other work for Anderson. This is a detective score that’s a beautifully smooth joint going down into the ears, as fit for the oldies at an opera opening as it might be stoners staring up at the ceiling as a Grateful Dead album plays – an approach that’s truly more than half as clever as Anderson seems to think his beyond-puzzling film is.
Extra Special: Vice’s” song choices is the one area where the soundtrack shines, especially given Anderson’s picks that range far beyond the usual 60s-70s song suspects in evoking an eccentric LA. If anything, numbers like CAN’s Velvet Undergound-ish “Vitamin C,” the R&B jazz of The Markett’s “Here Come the Ho-Dads,” Minnie Riperton’s delicate “Les Fleur,” Neil Young’s southern fried harmonica-flavored “Journey Through the Past” and the Tiki exotica of Les Baxter’s “Simba” suggest a mix tape put together by a clerk at Amoeba Records in a moment of ultra-hip, LP-bin combing euphoria. The dust that flies up definitely makes “inherent Vice’s” album a thoroughly interesting, cool buzz high worth investigating.
4) ON THE WATERFRONT
What Is it?: There are composers like Philip Glass (“Candyman”) who start out in the concert hall, and go onto blaze impressive new careers in Hollywood. Then there are those like Andre Previn (“Elmer Gantry”), who prolifically begin in tinsel town, only to leave it completely behind. And then there are such maestros as John Corigliano (“Altered States”), who briefly tread in Hollywood while making sure not to quit their day jobs, leaving behind a precious few soundtracks that show the dazzling movie career that could have been. On that note, perhaps no conductor could have been a Hollywood contender like Leonard Bernstein, proof positive being the knockout score for the 1954 classic “On the Waterfront,” a film that showed he had the stuff to venture from the elite-filled New York Philharmonic onto the city’s crime-swamped docks with wild, dramatic abandon that’s proof positive that movie scores walked tall as the new classical music for the masses.
Why Should You Buy It?: Few conductors really brought classical music to the people like Leonard Bernstein, who was also quite busy with Broadway musicals as he performed works by The Masters, whose work was arguably the “pop” music of the past. The time of the 1940s and 50s that marked his ascent was also an impactful era where audiences were being impressed with the work of such modern classicists as Aaron Copland, not to mention being wowed by the revolutionary visual work of such mavericks as Elia Kazan, who’d made a smash transition from stage to screen with “Gentleman’s Agreement” and “A Streetcar Named Desire.” That film’s bawdy jazz score by Alex North essentially broke the Eastern European mode of opera-based scoring into a new, dynamic directions that were muscularly American in nature. Kazan’s exciting tastes were in equally fine form when he brought on Bernstein for his first major score with “On the Waterfront,” a movie whose tale of Terry Malloy, a mug facing off against union corruption, served for many as Kazan’s screw-you to those who frowned on his finking of former Hollywood Communist friends to the HUAC red-baiting committee. But no matter how one might read “On the Waterfront,” the cinematic result was a blockbuster of black and blue emotion, all hammered in with raw poignancy by Bernstein. His work is particularly reminiscent of Aaron Copland, especially in its balletic movements and incorporation of jazz and the orchestra – but with firm musical control of that untamed idiom (though boozy jazz-blues source is to be had here). There’s heartbreak and trumpeting nobility to spare in Bernstein’s theme for this washed-up boxer turned dockworker, a deeply melodic sense of a bum who’s nearly gone down for the count in life, yet is possessed with enough dignity not to take the complete fall. Terry’s emotion is played for all of its raw vulnerability through Bernstein’s flute-topped strings, his themes are no more vulnerable than during the romantic scenes, or tearfully moving as its downtrodden hero discovers his mob brother’s sad fate. The darkness of the unstoppable corruption around Terry is made through sharp percussion and ominous brass that comes raining upon on him with roundhouse blows, with notable use of tri-tone menace (a modernistic technique employed even more furiously by Kazan’s next NYC composing discovering of Leonard Rosenman for “East of Eden”). Though “Waterfront” might not be quite as radical as North’s score for “Streetcar,” it’s one of the most seminally dynamic meetings of traditional symphonic film scoring with the upstart new-classical style, a vibe that would once again sound off with jazz-orchestral energy when Bernstein provided underscore for another gang street classic called “West Side Story” in 1960 – a work that “Waterfront” is most definitely a raw, angry precursor to – but with a gut punch impact far removed from the elegance of the 17t century maestros that provided Bernstein with his bread and butter.
Extra Special: It’s almost amazing to think that this landmark, Oscar-nominated score to a Best Picture winner has taken 60 years to come out. But Intrada has done a masterful job with one of the most important soundtracks they’ve ever released. The audio presentation is incredibly vibrant and brassy, betraying little of its audiophile age for a score from the way pre-digital era. Joe Sikoryak’s grittily black-and-white styled booklet design, classic score specialist Frank K. De Wald’s informative liner notes and album producer Douglas C. Fake’s tale of how the score was so splendidly presented today go to the mat to play Bernstein’s groundbreaking score in all of its pug-worthy glory that’s as impactful today as when Bernstein had Brando ran the union-bruising gauntlet decades ago.
5) STAR TREK: ENTERPRISE (3,000 edition)
What Is It?: Since the days the U.S.S. Enterprise set space sail on vinyl, the franchise’s TV music universe has beamed from Varese Sarabande to GNP/Crescendo and Film Score Monthly, but perhaps not so exhaustively as in the good hands of La La Land Records, who beyond their releases of “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” “Deep Space Nine” and “Voyager” could lay claim to releasing just about every note of Classic Trek music in an astounding box set, which offered 15 CD’s suffused with the kind of distinctive themes and melody that would essentially be phasered out when the show was reborn in multiple incarnations in the 1980s. Some offshoots would be far more successful than others, especially when it came to the “Enterprise” prequel that aired on Paramount’s UPN network from 2001 to 2005 – a time when the scoring approach dictated by the shows’ high creative council displayed as much liking for distinctive music as Klingons had love for tribbles. Sure “Enterprise” might have been a scrappy holodeck precursor to some, but what’s surprising is that it might just have been the spin-off to display some of the most interesting music of the bunch, as can be heard in La La’s four-disc collection of the series’ greatest hits.
Why Should You Buy It?: “Enterprise” set itself apart from a fairly musically amorphous pack right out of retro-spacedock by using a Diane Warren song as its main title, as opposed to an instrumental theme (the most memorable of which still belongs to Jerry Goldsmith’s re-use of his “ST-TMP” theme). Smartly divided by musicians and fan favorites, the first two CD’s belong to longtime TNG composers Dennis McCarthy and Jay Chattaway, the men tasked with finding what would essentially be the non-commital approach to the franchise’s sound. Thankfully, “Enterprise” gave a bit more leeway to both, allowing them to show off more of their true thematic talents, McCarthy in particular reveals his epic abilities with the villainous Xindi’s attack on Earth for “The Expanse,” taking full advantage of the orchestra at his disposal with proud military action and suspense, Holstian thrills that get to take on Nazis in his full-throttle music for “Storm Front.” Not only does Chattaway get to play alien-ethnic flutes for “Civilization,” but also gets in some of the series’ (and this album’s) most wonderfully movie-score conventional music as he gallops away with space spaghetti western music, combining a wild electric guitar with rocking old-school orchestral stylings for the space range of “North Star.” CD3 is dedicated to the “Veterans and New Recruits,” which starts off impressively as “First Contact” film orchestrator Mark McKenzie brings that Goldsmith touch to “Horizon,” one of the most robustly cinematic suites in the collection. “Alien Resurrection’s” John Frizzell provides percolating suspense and melodic grace to “Proving Ground,” while “Quantum Leap’s” Velton Ray Bunch shows he’s equally adept at sending Scott Bakula into a Starfleet uniform with Federation timpani as he is a coming up with loopy theme for a game of Geskana.
Extra Special: CD4 is given over to the “Fan Favorites,” beginning with McCarthy and Kevin Kiner’s visit to a familiarly savage alternate universe with “In A Mirror, Darkly,” which offers thunderously striking, battle-loving music for orchestra and electronics, all with having a novel, sadistic twist on Goldsmith’s peacefully climactic scoring in “First Contact.” But most impressive on this disc is a score from a certain rising composer named Brian Tyler, who was given the formidable task of taking on The Borg for “Regeneration.” Even at this early stage in a career that would be full of fantastical action scoring, Tyler’s ability play excitement with ever-rising, orchestral rhythms, a la his breakout, Goldsmith-replacement soundtrack to Paramount’s “Timeline,” is played with utter, captivating confidence here. He also captures the eerie, seemingly unstoppable menace of a robotic hive mind – something that will be on full display as he helps the Avengers take on Ultron this summer. It’s “Enterprise’s” willingness to finally let these talented composers to relatively go for it after years of musical vanilla that really makes this set worth it for fans whose alpha and omega is understandably the scoring style of Classic Trek. Tying just about five hours of music are some of the best liner notes that Trek music expert Jeff Bond has done for both movie and show scoring incarnations, his writing made all the more memorable with the surprising honesty at getting the composers to reveal how “Enterprise” was going to be a relatively new, and far more interesting ball game in guiding New Trek to its seemingly final destination, as heard from the beginning of the Federation’s voyages.
ALSO FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION:
Marc Streitenfeld has provided muted, morally ambiguous scores before to oil workers facing off against killer wolves in “The Grey” and a professional hitman wanting his pay in “Killing Them Softly,” scores filled with truly interesting “ambiences” and unexpected instrumentation. But perhaps none of Streitenfeld’s experimentally minded scores of this nature hits more weirdly, or more effectively at home than “After the Fall,” wherein Wes Bentley’s suburban dad truly goes off the criminal rails to avoid falling into poverty after his firing. Perhaps one way to describe Streitenfeld’s unique work at its most effective here is to imagine Carl Orff or Saint-Saens on acid, as rhythmic, sometimes reversed bells capture a once-complacent man losing his innocence while plunging into a gun-toting rabbit hole. Plucking mandolins and icy strings give this “Fall” perhaps an even more of an emotionally chilling environment then he memorably applied to the doomed survivors of “The Grey,” a subtle feeling of tragedy in “After the Fall” that’s played with aching strings, and at times almost wistful, whistling sustains. Even samples resembling whale calls appear in this deceptively spare, yet hauntingly melodic score, which subtly, and powerfully achieves its goal of turning reality upside down – a feeling of childhood lost when the youth-instilled dream of the rewards that come with following the rules get economically shattered.
. THE BETSY
John Barry could give even the trashiest movies a sense of rose-smelling class, especially when the pot was boiling over with a stew of upper class behavior involving the usual assortment of sex, murder and business chicanery – as centering around a clean-burning car engine called “The Betsy” of all names. Such was the title that author Harold Robbins bestowed to this fun, Mr. Skin-worthy cinematic adaptation of his critically ta-ta’d brand of wealthily randy literature. Sure Barry might have been given a bit of cheese to work with in1978 between this, “Starcrash” and “Game of Death.” But the big difference was “The Betsy’s” air of high class, resulting in a score of true, richly melodic elegance that those unacquainted with the material might mistake for music dedicated to the noble, nostalgic captains of industry. No composer could use themes to drive scores like Barry, and “The Betsy” is as usually resplendent with them. Veering from busy, sometimes waltzing rhythms that signal the assembly of cars to eerie, “electronically”-accented suspense, aching violin tragedy and swooning romantic melodies for the abundant bedroom hopping, “The Betsy” shines as one of John Barry’s most impossibly lush scores in a repertoire full of them. One wonders why it’s taken so long to get this model soundtrack out of the cobwebbed assembly line of seemingly lost scores. But leave it to Barry specialists James Fitzpatrick and conductor Nic Raine to follow up their release of the Barry obscurity “Mister Moses” with another great performance by the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. Sure they’ve rebuilt the model, but this Barry “Betsy” drives like a champ, even if it was always attached to an Edsel.
Having started off with some fairly wacky narrative films like “Streets of Rage” and way more artistic indie efforts like “Amy’s Orgasm,” Miriam Cutler has essentially become one of the queens of documentary scoring to the rhythmic tunes of “Lost in La Mancha,” “One Lucky Elephant” and the Emmy-nominated “The Desert of Forbidden Art.” Yet with so many works, Cutler remains truthfully under-represented on CD, a fact that Perseverance’s release of her score for the Emmy-nominated HBO documentary “Ethel” does a charming, and ultimately moving bit to remedy. Reteaming with “Ghosts of Abu Ghraib” director Rory Kennedy for a very personal look at the filmmaker’s mom, “Ethel” talks about the life of the woman whose marriage to Robert Kennedy was tragically cut short. Yet this matriarch from America’s most famous political family is someone who looks on the brighter side of life, an uplifting attitude that Cutler embodies with a playful, pizzicato-friendly rhythmic approach. It’s energetic music that’s full of likeable, peppy warmth, as well as far more poignant moments for string and guitar. Cutler follows the subject like a friendly reporter, spreading thematic sympathy, as well as subtly capturing the Washington environs of her husband, as well as nicely playing Latin music for Robert’s meeting with Caesar Chavez. Tragedy is also reflected with the same, understanding subtlety for a sympathetic orchestra, playing the poignant irony of a director who never got to meet her father. Cutler’s approach has a folksy quality to it as well that’s relatable in much the same pleasant way that Ethel Kennedy was to the many people who grew to realize that she played no small contribution to her husband’s legacy, even if she wasn’t in the spotlight. It’s a vibe that’s no less moving for the gentle, upbeat understanding that Cutler brings to the documentary genre, and this subject in particular.
. FALLING IN LOVE
Movie jazz has always seemed to find a home in Manhattan, and few composers awash in the spirit of an unsleeping city of a thousand stories have embodied those rhythms with the distinctive, thematic flair of Dave Grusin. Given a trademark NYC sound most often comprised of mellow electric percussion, reflective piano and wistful strings, Grusin has heard the city as both a place of danger (“Three Days of the Condor”), gilded society (“Bonfire of the Vanities”) and eccentric criminal intent (“The Pope of Greenwich Village”). But more often than not, it’s the vibes of beautiful, soft romance in scores like “The Goodbye Girl,” “Author! Author!” and the Oscar-nominated “Tootsie,” all of which have enchanted us with a metropolis of pining souls, to which that heartfelt repertoir can now add the first soundtrack release of 1984s “Falling in Love.” This muted, “Brief Encounter”-ish reteaming of Meryl Streep and Robert De Niro after their last tyrist in “The Deer Hunter” find them as already-coupled characters steadily being drawn into extra-marital passion through increasingly not-so incidental meetings throughout Manhattan. Grusin’s beautiful vibe-y score is the thematic throughline at opening up their vulnerable emotions, carried by with a longing melody that never fails to stroke the heartstrings, especially when combining a gorgeously lush orchestra is there to support the composer’s trademarked soft, and sometimes peppy vibes that make this a particularly noteworthy score for “Tootsie” fans. Indeed, hearing those shimmering strings, electric bells and steady piano percussion is pretty much seventh heaven for lovers of soft movie jazz at its best, as played in a score that pretty much captures Grusin’s winsome appeal as both a composer and jazz artistm here painting Manhattan in a mellow glow as transfixing as a soft fireplace – its gentle light drawing a couple together with an added undercurrent of suspense where the danger is heard in emotional terms. It’s nice to know that Kritzerland is a fan of Grusin’s work when it comes to his output for Paramount, following up their release of his nostalgic period score to 1984s “Racing with the Moon” with this other exceptional score from the same year, both scores awash in romance and longing as only Grusin’s affectionate style can convey. Of particular thematic note is the revelation of Grusin’s main theme (tracked in the film with the composer’s “Mountain Dance”), giving us new reason to fall in love with this unsung score for essentially the first time.
. A FAR OFF PLACE
Way before she trekked the Pacific trail, Reese Witherspoon braved 2,000 miles of the Kalahari desert in this surprisingly perilous 1993 adventure film from the family-friendly likes of Disney, who were certainly showing surprising bite at the time with the such movies as “White Fang.” Having released that double score (along with a bunch of worthy soundtracks from other unlikely Disney pictures), Intrada dips again into the well they first dug for “Place” at the time of its release, now coming up with 75 minutes to fully show off James Horner’s relatively unsung, strikingly epic score. Even though he ventured to Apartheid South Africa to far darker effect in “Bopha!” “A Far Off Place” has more than a bit of that menace, starting straight off as poachers wipe out the guardians of two white teenagers, leaving them to make an incredible journey to safety with the help of a young tribesman, a big elephant and some cute non-food animals – of course with the murderous villains on their trail. It’s a striking musical mix of Disney nature spectacle, tender sweetness and percussive peril. Horner seamlessly combines these elements with his majestic and dangerous score, of course graced with a telltale soaring theme that drives the action and emotion along with melodic grace, all while still acknowledging the story’s inherently savage nature. Hence oompa brass emphasizes animal pratfalls, gentle strings and noble horns bonding kids with a sense of purpose. Symphonic action stampedes, while instrumental exotica like African drumming and Oriental shakuhachis paint the kind of ethnic landscapes that Horner is so adept at scoring. Whether they took place in South American (“Where the River Runs Black”) the Middle East (“Day of the Falcon”) or the jungle planet Pandora (“Avatar”), Horner has always gives his locales a strongly empathetic, and unabashedly melodic, Americana orchestral shape, an approach that always made Horner a natural for Disney, especially when helping youths and their animal friends cross a truly dark continent – whose expanse now truly gets to trumpet itself for this powerful release.
. THE GREAT INVISIBLE
Ry Cooder’s ethereal scores merged country-folk guitar with blues rhythms, harmonica joining with rural percussion and eerie atmospheres of synths and metal to create such enticingly regional scores as “Southern Comfort,” The Long Riders” and “Paris. Texas” – a landmark, often Tex-Med groove that has since been exceptionally taken up by David Wingo in such transfixing Southern Gothic scores as “Mud” and “Joe.” While Wingo has put his own melodic stamp on characters inhabiting the deep woods, the composer now chronicles the real deal as he plays one of the most catastrophic events to hit the Gulf of Mexico in the acclaimed documentary “The Great Invisible.” Here Wingo’s rhythmic, ethereal talent for musical regionalism soaks over the 2010 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig, which took eleven lives and created the worst oil spill in U.S. history. With a duplicitous industry of course taking an “I didn’t know stance,” Wingo’s music is left to chronicle the clinging psychological, and physical wake of the disaster on both the surviving workers and the economically devastated residents, a task which he approaches with both authentic empathy, and chilling atmosphere that also calls into play his disturbing, apocalyptic grooves for “Take Shelter.” “The Great Invisible” is all the more effective in accenting a real end of many peoples’ worlds as echoing guitar, poignant harmonica, rhythmic electronics and clanging percussion plays a massive construct perched above an unknowable ocean, the score gradually building a transfixing sense of menace that’s destined to blow – all with a keen feel for his earnest, southern-accented subjects. Wingo’s “Great Invisible” might be a mournful wake to the hubris of big oil and its little people victims, but it’s a score that’s always engaging in a way that’s both authentic and experimental, as hypnotic, elegiac melodies plunge into an industry’s oil-pitched blackness and its sad, still-sticking aftereffects on humanity and the environment.
. KING SOLOMON’S MINES (1,000 edition)
They were musical equals in my opinion. Yet for the better part of the careers of John Williams and Jerry Goldsmith, it always seemed that the latter was chasing the coattails of the first when it came to picture quality. For if John got Irwin Allen’s “The Towering Inferno,” then Jerry received that producers’ dog called “The Swarm.” While John flew with “Superman,” Jerry remained earthbound in the enjoyably silly company of “Supergirl.” But perhaps no second-cousin removed picture that Goldsmith got to score was a ludicrously close to aping a way better picture than when it came to comparing 1985s “King Solomon’s Mines” with another Spielberg-Williams adventurer that had hit the screens to way better effect five years earlier – even if Indiana Jones himself was certainly spun from H. Rider Haggard’s 1885 hero Alan Quatermain, who’d previous appeared onscreen in 1950. Valiantly stepping into Stewart Granger’s safari garb (sans Harrison Ford’s bullwhip) was Richard Chamberlain, a TV miniseries king not lacking for his own roguish charm. Heck, even Sallah showed up in this. That the resulting spectacle represented Cannon in all of its major studio-wannabe gonzo excessiveness certainly didn’t prevent its star from having a good time, let alone Jerry Goldsmith in his quest to swing with equal orchestral panache over an alligator pit of John William’s cliffhanging motifs. Just how close he got in spirit to those snapping maws is just one of the reasons why “King Solomon’s Mines” remains one of his most excessively enjoyable scores, as revisited in Quartet Records’ new two-CD set. Sure Jerry Goldsmith had more turkeys per quota than a composer of his talent deserved, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t going to give them his best. In the case of “King Solomon’s Mines,” he serves up all of his brassy action with a big, humorous wink. Driven by a rollicking, nearly-shrill theme that screams manly period adventure, Goldsmith lets us know the big difference between this and “Raiders” is that J. Lee Thompson’s thrill-a-minute pastiche is set in Africa, as opposed to Indy’s Middle East, a continent that the composer happened to visit that year in “Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend” (with the equally, enjoyably ludicrous “Congo” a decade away). The result is much tribal percussion (especially as its heroes are dropped into a now un-PC human boiling pot), charming mystery for far nicer upside-down natives, a nice, Marion-esque romantic theme and villainous, if not truly threatening brass for more German bad guys. Particularly fun is how Goldsmith frequently quotes from its Wagner-loving villain’s favorite hit “Ride of the Valkyries. The treasure within is some of Goldsmith’s most wonderfully frenzied action writing this side of “Total Recall,” long patches of non-stop, go-for-broke orchestral thrills and spills that leaves the listener breathless. In that respect, “King Solomon’s Mines” truly nails the fun of Goldsmith’s cliffhanging thrills, as well as shows up his own personal Belloq for energetic fun. “King Solomon’s Mines” has been popular enough to endure through many sold-out editions, but Quarter’s newly mastered release (along with Ennio Morricone’s score for Cannon’s other wannabe spectacle “Sahara”) is the first to pair the complete score with Goldsmith’s original album presentation, abetted by an splashy booklet, whose entertaining liner notes by Jon Takis have a true appreciation of Jerry Goldsmith unleashed.
. LES ONZE MILLES VERGES / TAROT (500 edition)
One of France’s most overlooked imports to Hollywood might be the late Michel Colombier, whose pop sensibilities particularly rocked the 80s with the funky synths of “Purple Rain,” “The Money Pit’s” jazzy comedy and “Against All Odd’s” sensual Latin exotica – easily one of the era’s sexiest, and literally heavy breathing scores. But Colombier was just as lustful in the 70s even after stroking the ego of Hollywood’s biggest evil computer for “Colossus: The Forbin Project,” a carnal talent that Music Box reminds us of in the release of 1975s “Les Onze Mille Verges” (aka “The 11,000 Sexes, or the most obviously straight-up American title of “Bisexual”). Yet when you listen to just how beautiful this period score is, the results are way more in the elegantly libidinous tone of “Dangerous Liaisons” than smutty sex music – even perhaps ecclesiastical given just how well Colombier recreates classical music from its gossamer strings, genteel waltzes to heavenly choral pieces, all the better to accompany the aristocratic debauchery of this adaptation of the pornographic poem of Polish-cum-French playwright Guillaume Apollinaire (aka Jan Kostrowicki). If anything, Colombier’s work is the height of symphonically melodic romance, and particularly clever in its Swingles Singers-like use of voice samba rhythms, only really tipping its lascivious hat in a full-on, cowbell ringing, horn-honking and whistle-blowing striptease.
Way more mod is the album’s accompany score of “Tarot,” which had “Lolita’s” post-nymphet Sue Lyons out for some Spanish gold digging. Colombier gets to put his songwriting talent to a catchily intoxicating use, at first performed by Nanette Workman with a Burt Bacharach-Roberta Flack catchiness. Colombier than proceeds to vary both the song, and its instrumental versions in ways that are always in the mood, much like its villainess. “Tarot” particularly impresses in a cool-kitsch suspense way with percolating, weirdly crying, siren-like synth psychedelia, gothic organs, guitar grinding and hammering pianos, his supernatural chicanery prefiguring such captivatingly surreal American scores as “Impulse,” “Cop” and “New Jack City.” But if you were just expecting 70s “Eurosleaze” mysterioso from “Tarot,” Colombier surprises by bringing in a strong, sinister orchestral component to spell out lovers plotting against s seemingly helpless bewitched target. But then, what can you say about a score that has a groovy rock cue called “Doggie Style?” Though they might be completely disparate in their musical styles at inspiring humor and weird depravity, what ties both “Bisexual” and “Tarot” show is Colombier’s cleverness at hearing sex as pleasure and punishment, a musical double feature where the cards are definitely in the listener’s favor at re-discovering this wonderful French composer’s more outré efforts. Plus, male readers will certainly enjoy the racy pictures onhand in a booklet that competes with Quartet Records habit of making liner notes the next best thing to Playboy Magazine – except you actually do read them for the articles.
. THE LITTLE MERMAID: THE LEGACY COLLECTION
Disney continues their exceptional series of hard-bound “Legacy Collection” releases with “The Little Mermaid,” the 1989 soundtrack, and film that really put the studio back above animated water, netting the fist of many best Song and Score Oscars for the “Little Shop of Horrors” stage duo of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, whose hip energy was sought to awaken the studio from its animated doldrums with this now-classic adaptation of the Hans Christian Anderson fable – the first fairy tale for Disney since 1955s “Sleeping Beauty.” What’s interesting about hearing the “Mermaid” in her complete, symphonic glory is just how much glowing, thematically instrumental wealth lies in Menken’s score. Crossing playful, bouncy “Mickey Mouse”-ing cartoon music with the motif-driven nature of movie tradition, Menken is sure to use the infinitely memorable hooks of these now-classic songs to tie itself his instrumentals together, showing this as indeed Oscar-worthy stuff, from the score’s regal rhythms to its heroine’s romantic pining for two legs and a terrific cliffhanging climax with the dastardly, organ-accompanied villainy of the tentacled Ursula. Menken and Ashman’s songs are as clever as ever in hearing a Calypso-Rasta beat for a matchmaking crab, Pat Carol’s Mack the Knife-like delight as she belts out “Poor Unfortunate Souls” or Jodi Benson’s wistful pleas to be “Part of Your World,” the tune that set the tone for every Disney heroine who wanted something better. Indeed, the novel device of having Ariel’s ever-rising singing voice subsumed into Ursula’s malefic melody still sends chills up the scaled spine. This “Mermaid” legacy continues these exceptional special editions’ tradition of offering original song demos from the artists, including a second CD that has Menken and Ashman pouring their Broadway glee into the tapes that would change the course of animated soundtracks. The book-like packaging offers charming new art in addition to concept sketches and touchingly emotional liner notes by Menken and “Mermaid” co-director John Musker. All make this “Mermaid” worth a new dive no matter how many times it’s already surfaced on your stereo’s shores.
. NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM: SECRET OF THE TOMB
When looking for Hollywood scores filled with unabashedly glittering themes and melody, you might as well feel like visiting a museum. However, Alan Silvestri thankfully remains anything but a fossil in this practice. As a composer who’s been applying this relatively ancient orchestral approach since the long-lost days of “Back to the Future,” Silvestri has remained vibrant in conveying a child-like sense of magic and adventure when its come to fantastical wish fulfillment, no more so than in his continuing trips to this Fox family franchise, of which “Secret of the Tomb” threatens to be the last admission. If so, let it not be said that Silvestri isn’t shining these “Museum” lights with extra brightness. As he’s done with such popular triptychs as the “Future” and “Predator” films, Silvestri has a keen sense of history when it comes to reprising all of the themes he’s built his musical foundations on, with a wonderful, flowing sense of cohesiveness that’s abounding with new motivic ideas. Better yet, these movies’ draws of exhibits popping to humorous life is a virtual gallery for Silvestri to show off his various styles, from the knightly nobleness of Sir Lancelot to the sinister, ethnic rhythms of its Egyptian villain (a la the composer’s swashbuckling score for “The Mummy Returns”). But whatever the historical figure he’s galloping with, all of the music is tied together with Silvestri’s trademarked talent for lush strings lines, twinkling percussion and heroic brass – the kind of music which has now been enchanting young audiences for more than a few years. “The Secret of the Tomb” is yet another thrilling repository in which to visit these old musical friends in all of their golden, uncondescending sweetness and fun, once again show that dust is in danger of settling on Alan Silvestri’s enchanting, and energetic enthusiasm.
Eleanor H. Porter’s adorable, eternally optimistic sprite has been showing up on big and small screens since 1920, most popularly in Haley Mills’ effervescent form via Disney in 1960, and most recently in 2003 on the U.K.’s ITV. With the character’s roots transported from New England to England proper, it’s only right that a classically-minded composer like Christopher Gunning be giving the musical job of making the sun shine as bright as the little girl’s smile (never mind that he impressively got his start on such bloodthirsty scores as “Goodbye Gemini” and “Hands of the Ripper”). Thankfully, Gunning knows how to get across an adolescent’s spoonfuls of sunray smile sugars without inducing musical diabetes. And he’s got a smart, sweet theme that’s sure to warm over even the grinchiest of soundtrack fans. Gunning’s “Pollyanna spreads its happiness through beautifully delicate strings and pianos, wistful flutes and bell percussion gradually working over the emotions with a distinctive sense of early 20th century time and place. Like his “Greystoke” mentor John Scott, Gunning evokes the delicate, bucolic sounds of such English masters as Ralph Vaughan Williams and William Walton, here in restrained fashion, though unafraid of melancholy. Gunning’s indomitable, winningly tender optimism that finds an innocent, melodic purity within its music. Given that “Polyanna’s” score is relatively brief, Caldera Records has even more extensive time for its welcome inclusion of a composer audio commentary, a thoroughly engaging 25 minutes in which Gunning elaborates with utter charm on the career that led to “Poirot” and “Pollyanna,” as well as finding way more satisfaction doing concert music – though his scores are always welcome, especially little charmers like this one.
. QUEENIE / TO KILL A PRIEST (1,000 edition)
Georges Delerue wrote an astonish 18 scores alone from 1987-88. Two reality-based scores from that time now show his versatility, first making an emotionally empowering Indian passage to Hollywood, and then movingly martyring a leader doomed against totalitarian odds. Even given his French birthright, few composers had a naturally feminine quality to their work like Delerue, whose string, violin and flute empathy embodies an ersatz Merle Oberon (in the exotic form of Mia Sara) in his score for “Queenie,” one of those passion-filled TV miniseries of yore involving a woman climbing her way to the top through beauty and bedroom, a journey begun for the half-caste heroine in India. It’s an opportunity that allowed Delerue the rare opportunity to luxuriate in that continent’s rhythms, as ruled by imperious, English brass, creating a delicate, yet determined theme that formed the musical bedrock over two nights on ABC. Yet while the music is proud of its heritage as first, Delerue does much to hide its ethnic identity in both suspenseful, and tender fashion as “Queenie’ tries to succeed in a racist movie society – a sense of danger and discovery that’s perhaps even more important than romance in Intrada’s sumptuous album.
Far darker, but no less determined in its musical cause is Delerue’s score for an English-language, star-powered take on the Commie-backed murder of Solidarity-supporting Polish priest Jerzy Popieluszko (here called “Father Alek”), as directed by Polish expatriate Agnieska Holland (“Europa Europa”). Having powerfully dealt with the church in “True Confessions” and “Agnes of God,” Delerue plays the grim pursuit of Ed Harris’ secret police agent and Christopher Lambert’s fateful man of the people’s cloth with tragic, almost pre-determined realization of sacrifice. Yet the score is more about suspense and sadness, judiciously using a religious chorus for the fateful end, with anti-establishment singer Joan Baez accompanies the singers for “The Crimes of Cain,” where her iconic folk voice helps the theme rise to the heavens, hinting that the murder would be one more withdrawn brick from the Berlin wall that toppled Russia’s control of Poland. Music Box’s expanded release of Delerue’s fine work includes a far lighter collection of Polish waltzes and Mazurkas, along with Delerue himself singing a vocalese version of “Priest’s” end tune.
Honkeys had their gun slinging, women-bedding superhero named James Bond for years until a 1971 sex machine named John Shaft showed that a black private dick could be just as bad-ass, especially when it came to an urban action-funk groove that got Isaac Hayes an Oscar winning song and nominated score. So perhaps it was a little ironic that a “white bloke from Luton” who’d been busy scoring 007 would land the music gig for John Singleton’s 2000 reboot, giving Sam Jackson a tailor-made vehicle to cement him as a big screen mofo. But even given Arnold’s urban pedigree that might have been way lower numbered than 110th Street, the English musician truly showed he could do that way uptown walk in style, paying tribute to Hayes’ inimitable vibe while carving out a fresh rhythm for Shaft’s new incarnation – all while not selling out the spy friendly orchestral energy that Arnold had used to put new, pop-retro action into the Brosnan-Bond rebirth he helped spur. The result is a score that plays with all the energy of funk-driven 007 score like “Tomorrow Never Dies” and “The World Is Not Enough,” while being just as cool a listen for old school fans of Hayes (who put his stamp of approval on Arnold’s approach). But what gives his “Shaft” its own identity is how well Arnold uses his distinctive, dangerously lush string-brass sound with the improv energy of a Hayes-style band. Not only do their wah-wah guitar, electric organ, horn section and percussion grooves play freely over a tight, dramatic orchestra, but they go beyond riffing on Hayes’ sound (and occasionally his iconic theme) to go into the realms of wild Miles Davis “Bitches Brew”-style jazz and electric hip hop. It makes “Shaft” a shaken and stirred action jam both befitting her majesty’s secret service and an a soul brother, whose score proper now finally hits the street in style with La La’s generous 76-minute release, with Tim Grieving’s excellent liner notes getting down with Arnold on the composer’s desire to authentically update the “Shaft” sound without losing its cool.
. STILL ALICE
A professor losing her smarts to early onset Alzheimer’s has not only inspired a Golden Globe-winning performance from actress Julianne Moore, but also a similarly delicate, and painfully beautiful score from Ilan Eshkeri – whose score here captures the musical memory of his female-centered chamber work for last year’s “The Invisible Woman.” Where that character was dealing with lovelorn anguish, the subtly dissonant violins and delicate piano that inflect Alice’s struggle are about holding onto cherished life itself. Where a less-indie approach would’ve likely meant bringing on far bigger heartstrings, the intimacy of Eshkeri’s work is perhaps even more emotional in its seeming simplicity. For nothing has the immediate anguish of just a few musicians playing with strong, neo-classical themes that convey a woman of sophistication, struggling to hold onto the shards of her thoughts. But while “Still Alice” is full of quiet anguished, it’s far more of a lyrical listen than it is a sad one, its poetic melodies strangely soothing as a woman goes not-so quietly into the tragic night. Karen Elson’s closing song “If I Had a Boat” has a fairy tale wistfulness to it that proves a nice compliment to Eshkeri’s poignant instrumentals.
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