January Soundtrack Picks
‘THE LETHAL WEAPON SOUNDTRACK COLLECTION‘ IS ONE OF THE TOP SOUNDTRACKS TO OWN FOR JANUARY, 2014
Also worth picking up: BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S, CALL OF DUT: GHOSTS, HARDWARE, I, FRANKENSTEIN, JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT and QUAI D’ORSAY
To Purchase the soundtracks from this list, click on the CD Cover
THE TOP PICKS
1) BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S / SABRINA
What is it?: Audrey Hepburn has inspired beautiful melodies from the men lucky enough to grace her with their music, clothing her elegant, reed-like form with jazz more often than not. Now, Intrada and Kritzerland finally offer two complete soundtracks that have continued to enchant generations of fans to the magic of Audrey with Henry Mancini’s “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and Frederick Hollander’s “Sabrina.”
Why you should buy it?: In the days before underscores were truly appreciated, Henry Mancini felt the best way to present his music was in easy listening albums that were almost solely comprised of hit-ready tunes, an obvious commercial consideration that unfortunately neglected his equally worthy instrumental work. But now with a Mancini Renaissance going on at Intrada with the complete scores for “Charade” and “Hatari!” it was only natural that the label would get their hands on the gem of them all. Sure there are enough renditions of Mancini-Mercer’s “Moon River” to satisfy Audrey fans, especially when they’ll get to hear the star singing with her tender, aching voice that reflects the damaged call girl goods that are Holly Golightly. And there’s Cha Cha rhumbas and Latin lounge swing of her cocktail party shenanigans to spare. But what really stands out here is Mancini’s soulful, orchestral score that really gets to emotional bite of “Breakfast.” His inimitable theme is even more heartbreaking at capturing Holly’s hollow life, an anguish that swoons with the orchestra and lonely harmonica. Mancini’s lush jazz stumbles about in a drunken stupor that can’t help but be lovely when accompanying Audrey, while bouncy voices, piano and glistening vibes make for an enchanted montage to explore early 60s Manhattan. This dazzling “Tiffany’s” also affords pokey, “Pink Panther”-esque comedy, as well as surprisingly dark suspense as a hick ex-husband trails Holly to the accompaniment of an organ grinder. But no “Moon River”-driven cue makes us feel the dark emotional anguish of the empty lives of a call girl and a gigolo than “Where’s the Cat?” until the final, glorious uplift of a found orange feline and a full, “Moon River” chorus makes for the most memorable denouement of any Mancini score. Gorgeous in every way now that the score is at last complete after 50-plus years, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” can at last shine as a well-rounded demonstration of Mancini’s ability to capture dramatic feeling way beyond his ability to spin out great bachelor pad tunes.
Extra Special: A label that’s giving due to many unsung composers from Hollywood’s golden age, Kritzerland celebrates Frederick Hollander, who’s best known to movie cultists for his multi—piano contribution to the brilliantly absurdist “The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T.” Here, Kritzerland pays tribute to his golden touch that Hollander had for Hollywood romance, leading off with a score that’s mostly jazz standard adaptations with the original 1954 “Sabrina,” where Hepburn cemented her waif-like charms as the daughter of a chauffer who becomes an object of affection between an icy millionaire and his ne’er do well brother. Where “Tiffany’s” was set in jazzily hep Greenwich Village, the tunes that mostly comprises “Sabrina’s” score are made up of lovely, gentler standards from the 40s playbook, including “Isn’t She Romantic?” “I’m Yours,” and “Whispers in the Dark,” smaller ensemble performances that serve as the music that echoes down from the big house, enchanting its heroine with dreams of the lush life. All have exceptionally arranged by Hollander, who’d spent no small amount of time adapting back in Berlin’s cabaret heyday. Hollander’s own, brief cues are of the jaunty and comedic kind. Far more of Hollander’s work can be heard in the gently tropical criminal masquerade of “We’re No Angels,” the Christmas jingle bells and woozy romance of “The Bride Wore Boots,” the waltzing rhythms of “The Affairs of Susan” and the tender orchestral anticipation of “Remember the Night,” with Hollander’s more tenderly dramatic work sending this compilation out on a high note with “Disputed Passage,” making for a memorable tribute album whose romance goes way beyond Audrey.
What is it: Englishman Simon Boswell’s growling, acoustical music helped define the slashing sound of Italian horror prog-rock in the 80s with “Phenomena,” “Demons 2” and “Stagefright.” But it was his work with visionary South African genre director Richard Stanley that truly took Boswell’s sound to its most eerily bizarre extremes, first with the chilling black magic of 1989’s “Dust Devil,” whose spaghetti western strumming would show up in Stanley’s post-nuked future for 1990’s “Hardware,” the cult alpha and omega of their ongoing collaboration. Now a soundtrack that was a treasure for trench-coated Ebay scavengers has at last gotten a release via Boswell, spreading “Hardware’s” sonic miasma over two discs to fully give it props as acid sci-fi terror music way ahead of its time.
Why you should buy it?: Some directors pride themselves on dystopian detail, but Richard Stanley took his nightmarish vision to richly colored, trashed extremes for the film about a metal-handed hunk who gets way more than he, or his girlfriend bargain for when they bring home the head of a Mark 13 killer cyborg that adds lethal parts accordingly. Boswell’s score is the definition of this rusted, junked future, as haunted synth melodies share crammed space with Spaghetti guitar, Indian sitars, and music box bells among his inventive detritus as it waits for all robotic hell to break loose. Well seasoned with Giallo stalk n’ slash chops, Boswell creates a weird, gurgling, corroded atmosphere that’s a thing of mesmerizing beauty, using surreal metallic samples before relentless, crashing rhythms tear flesh asunder to choral accompaniment. Even more unique is the acid rock chords and splashing percussion that Boswell spins as the robot’s poison courses through our hero’s veins, creating an almost religious sense of epiphany to its relentless, metallic doom, held together with a memorable, gloomily beautiful theme for the guitar pickin’ wasteland. It’s a score that’s as impressive, and economic as Stanley’s corroded end of the world view.
Extra Special: Boswell has done an exceptional job of putting “Hardware’s” bits and pieces back together into a gatefold presentation that works as both alternate concept album and actual score, adding dreamy dialogue sound bytes to his cues, with both Richard Stanley appearing as the future’s mad DJ along with the original, unhinged vocalizations by Iggy Pop. And while you’ll have to go back into the Ebay wasteland to get a hold of the Varese Sarabande CD that had P.I.L’s memorable sex scene song “This Is What You Want…. This Is What You Get,” Stanley delivers his own inimitably off-handed version here to put the first disc’s finishing touch on Boswell’s wondrously twisted, landmark score of sci-fi horror weirdness.
3) JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT
Price: $11.99 (CD available on February 4th)
What Is It?: It’s ironic that January will see La La Land’s full re-release of “Dead Again,” an operatically orchestral, knowingly old-school Hollywood score (complete with thundering chorus) for a film that put composer Patrick Doyle and actor-filmmaker Kenneth Branagh on the Hollywood map. For like this movie whose MacGuffin was a reincarnation role-reversal between composer and lover, those fans familiar with Doyle back in his symphonic glory days of “Carlito’s Way,” “The Little Princess” and “Indochine” would never recognize the electronically slicing, percussively smashing composer he’s become today, especially with “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.” Make no mistake that those thematic, orchestral chops aren’t still there in spades. But they’ve been powerfully reshaped for the sound of Hollywood multiplex spectacles full of cosmic special effects and maximum destruction action scenes, an arena that Doyle transformed his style capably for with “Planet of the Apes” and the Branagh-directed “Thor.” Now, the team goes even more hard techno-orchestral core as they reboot Tom Clancy’s franchise with smashing results.
Why You Should Buy It?: Technology has played a major factor in Clancy’s believable thrillers, and the sleek, merciless beats and rhythms of computer programs that spell disaster play a big part in Doyle’s newest directorial collaboration with Branagh. For Doyle’s jolly Scotsman (who was able to get a bit more old school when dealing with his native animated country with Disney’s “Brave”), “Jack Ryan” is deadly serious musical stuff, digitally hard-edged and gripping. But that doesn’t mean a restrained, emotional orchestra isn’t ready to sink in the duty, honor and sacrifice that drives Ryan, the score becoming more symphonically emotional as the stakes get ramped up. Doyle also does a powerful job of at conveying the sleek, financial threat that Russia has become in the personage of Brannagh’s villainous oligarch, subtly conveying the character’s own sense of nationalism with a balalaika, or a religious sense of purpose with the beautiful Russian choral piece “Faith of our Fathers.” And just as James Horner had to engage in a computer keyboard duel for “A Clear and Present Danger,” Doyle keeps the electronic pulse interesting for eight whole minutes of “Stealing the Data.” But when it comes time to get off the keyboard and bring on the explosions and car chases, Doyle delivers the expectedly smashing, percussion-bursting chase music with the kind of thrilling aplomb that would make Jason Bourne break out into an exhilarated sweat – complete with the giddy, techno jam end title we’ve come to expect from CIA super soldiers, even if they’re a bit more down to earth as Jack Ryan.
Extra Special: The fact that you’d think “Jack Ryan’s” composer was a young techno-geek Turk with a studio full of gear and a knack for combining them with orchestral energy says much about how Patrick Doyle has re-invented himself for the Hollywood blockbuster business that’s killed most of his peers’ careers deader than a KGB assassin. Like the hero of Tom Clancy’s franchise, there’s no stopping the different personages that Doyle can assume, especially in the continued company of his greatest collaborator over the course of numerous, ever-escalating films.
4) LETHAL WEAPON SOUNDTRACK COLLECTION
What is it?: Among the composers who excelled in the legions of distinctly 80s and 90s action films that had tough guy heroes mowing down hordes of American drug dealers and / or Eurotrash villains, Michael Kamen nailed the sound of two cop franchises that were perhaps so popular because their body count heroes weren’t iron jawed hulks. One featured an NYC detective who always happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, while the other teamed a seemingly crazy lone wolf LA officer with a partner who was more concerned with his home life. So while Kamen’s brassily orchestral, straight-ahead “Die Hard” scores left Bruce Willis to exhibit John McClane’s solo vulnerability, the composer truly got to redefine the tone of buddy cop films with the “Lethal Weapon” films that preceded his hiding about Nakatomi Plaza with this eleven year run over the course of four movies – bringing a whole new rock and roll / jazz-pop vibe to the genre that mixed symphonic power chords with electric guitars and saxes, conveying equal parts bombastic attitude and bluesy poignancy for four scores that lock into one adrenalin-fueled whole, the scope of which becomes apparent with La La Land Record’s dead-bang box set.
Why should you buy it?: It wasn’t as if offbeat music for buddy cop movies hadn’t existed long before 1987 with Dominic Frontiere’s whimsical jazz in “Freebie and the Bean” or James Horner’s calypso groove for “48 Hours.” But it took Michael Kamen to propel their attitude to gloriously entertaining new heights with “Lethal Weapon.” With a range that had encompassed “Highlander’s” delirious fantasy mayhem as well as the cool suspense of the original TV version of “Edge of Darkness” (not to mention the street cred of starting The New York Rock and Roll Ensemble) Michael Kamen was an interesting, and ideal choice to jump out the window, and up to the propulsive rafters for director Richard Donner. Pretty much the themes that started off the unlikely partnership of officers Martin Riggs and Roger Murtaugh would be the musical bedrock for the cinematic quartet, undiminished in its melodic energy, even as the movies themselves peaked with number two. Abetted by the blues guitar licks of Eric Clapton (whose work for Kamen on “Darkness”) and the sax of David Sanborn, “Lethal Weapon” created a character bond marked with humor, soulfulness and danger, taking Riggs from suicidal thoughts to swaggering confidence, yet never losing the character’s sense of melancholy. These were rock and roll detectives for all of Murtaugh’s declarations that he was getting too old for this shit, an exasperation that accounted for much of these scores’ sly humor, while creeping electronics and a sinister orchestral approach gave genuine threat to the villains. Listening straight up through a few hours of Kamen’s music lets us hear these scores as an extended riff, introducing new, throttling action themes that grow out of what’s come before, while the existing motifs get creative variations that give “Lethal Weapon” a singular, melodic range rare for any series, even when one composer is attached to it. But that doesn’t make each soundtrack essentially the same old stuff. Christmas bells segue to South African percussion, while the sound of brass-hitting, armor-piercing bullets turn to Asian chopsocky over 2, 3 and 4, creating what’s still the best example of readily identifiable action scoring that stands apart from the action arena that Kamen became a reluctant master of.
Extra Special: Having done an impressive job at collecting television series into box sets with the likes of “Star Trek” and “The X-Files,” “Lethal Weapon” marks La La Land’s second time at attempting this feat with a major movie series at their “Friday the 13th” compilation. And they don’t disappoint for the price here. Each “Weapon” entry is complete on two discs, offering the full score in addition to the original album presentation. And there are some truly nutty surprises to be found within, particularly the crazy cartoon music that Kamen would come up with in “Lethal Weapon 3” for Leo Getz, who’d become the series’ equivalent to Jar Jar Binks – obnoxiousness that Kamen played as if the character was Bugs Bunny by way of Porky Pig. It’s easily the most absurd music he’d do for any cop film. And where most soundtrack labels would snub the songs, La La Land knows that the tunes are a major attraction to any connoisseur of action scores from the day, not only including the likes of Honeymoon Suites “Lethal Weapon,” George Harrison’s “Still Cruisin’” and Sting’s cool theme-based “It’s Probably Me,” but also Bobby Helms “Jinglebell Rock” that so memorably opened the series for a topless death leap. But probably the big attraction here for diehard “Lethal Weapon” fans is getting the completely unreleased score to the fourth entry, which has Kamen going out with a grooving, Asian bang even after the series itself had long run out of gas. La La Land’s packaging is nicely designed, with Jeff Bond’s liner notes offering an entertaining overview of a series whose music groovily remains in a buddy cop class all its own.
5) QB VII
What is it?: Back in the day, television movies-cum-miniseries weren’t just films for free. They were often multi-night events that tried to rival the big screen for its epic, star-filled scope and serious subject matter, hiring top-flight Hollywood composers and affording them the cinematic resources and creativity to rival their widescreen work. One particular musician who benefitted from the networks’ most prestigious offerings was Jerry Goldsmith, who’d started out with series like “Dr. Kildare” and “The Twilight Zone” before taking home Emmy wins for “The Red Pony,” “Babe” and “Masada.” But it was arguably 1974s “QB VII” that gave Goldsmith his most stirring accolade, with ABC’s two night, three-decade spanning miniseries (the first of its kind on American television) that dealt with a libel suit made by a concentration camp doctor, a tale that travels from Germany’s Holocaust to an English courtroom. Now Goldsmith’s Emmy winning music sounds mightier than ever before as producer James Fitzpatrick conductor Nic Raine and The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus proves beyond a doubt their excellence at re-recording classic scores for soundtracks of any medium.
Why you should buy it?: Based on an autobiographical best seller by “Exodus” author Leon Ursis about his legal battle with an Auschwitz “doctor,” “QB VII” (its name taken from the case’s court location) was a way for Goldsmith to musically get in touch with his own Hebraic roots, let alone a magnificent opportunity to write a moving elegy for his compatriots who died at Nazi hands – including those who somehow survived their “medical” treatment at this physician’s reluctant hands. Ethnic, somber music for violin, cimbalom and accordion convey the crushing weight of the Jews’ suffering through one of history’s greatest injustices, with a chorus offering a “Kaddish for the Six Million,” Rarely has the composer’s music had such a feeling of reverence, delivering the kind of heartfelt passion that went beyond his ability of delivering routine excellence for just about every assignment. “QB VII” offers a virtual cornucopia of what made Goldsmith great – the staccato energy of his brassy action writing, stirring string nobility, militaristic forcefulness and above all, a religious devotion to melody. While recalling such scores as “Papillion,” and “Patton,” one can also hear the seeds of great scores to come in “QB VII,” from the sweeping Arabic exotica of “The Wind and the Lion” to the repeated, echoing rhythms of “Alien” and the dark chorus of “The Omen.” Those latter two were horror classics in the making, but here Goldsmith is dealing with man at his most evil, or culpably clueless, while also playing a Semantic people’s soulful ability to rise above any evil.
Extra Special: Fans knew that “QB VII” was a great score given Intrada’s CD release of the original vinyl album from a few years back. But the massive, stylistic scope heard on the Prometheus album is a true revelation across over 90 minutes on two discs, making “QB VII” one of Goldsmith’s top masterworks – not to mention one of his best-sounding. The credit goes to Fitzpatrick’s team, who’ve done lavishly resonant work with such hallmark scores as Dmitri Tiomkin’s “The Alamo” and Miklos Rozsa’s “Quo Vadis,” not to mention Jerry Goldsmith’s great score for the less-than-classic “The Salamander.” Where re-performances of this sort were once things to be dreaded with spotty playing and bad microphone placement that was particularly endemic to Eastern Europe, spectacularly vibrant renditions like “QB VII” are ushering in a brave new world of giving yesteryear’s soundtracks the kind of vibrancy that make it seem like you’re listening to the original scoring session that went down yesterday on a Hollywood studio lot, as opposed to the glorious city of Prague. It’s now a place that now knows how to play the film and TV classics like no one’s business.
ALSO FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION:
. AUGUST OSAGE COUNTY
The “Steel Magnolias” formula gets an edge in Tracy Letts’ dysfunctional Oklahoma family fireworks. It’s an explosive all-star duel of acting drawls that gets served up with an unexpectedly subtle throw-down soundtrack, serving up a tasty mix of southern rock tunes and evocative scoring. On the first count, there’s a dreamy mix of guitar and strings to Bon Iver’s “Hinnom, TX,” while an unplugged Kings of Leon strums a longing “Last Mile Home.” John Fullbright delivers the blues-rock of “Gawd Above,” while JD & The Straight Shot’s gentle “Violet’s Song” evokes the defiant family ties that bind. Even Sherlock Holmes (i.e. Benedict Cumberbatch) showing his winsome vocal talents to lonely organ backing on “Can’t Keep It Inside.” Classic southern rock is also on hand with Eric Clapton’s “Lay Down Sally,” while Billy Squier’s chanting guitar-rock of “The Stroke” proves an unexpected throwback pleasure. As for score, “August” has a beautifully melancholy vibe, at first conjured by Adam Taylor’s longing strings, piano and gentle percussion that evokes the ethereal touch of Thomas Newman. The orchestra takes on a lush quality in the concluding themes of Gustavo Santaolalla, combining his soulful guitar sound with a poetic sense of Americana. Both composers create a resigned, yet hopeful spirit, keeping their barbed emotional to a minimum in a way that nicely contrasts with the sound and fury going on around the music. But as a sole listen, “August, Osage County” is full a powerfully mellow goodness.
. BONNIE & CLYDE
Having helped to blast away the ratings for The History Channel’s “Hatfields & McCoys” with an energetic, rural score (co-composed with Tony Morales) for a post Civil War blood feud, John Debney gets to jump ahead a few decades for more upscale backwoods violence, courtesy of “Bonnie & Clyde.” But where them other fightin’ families definitely were lacking in the glamour department, Debney’s musical canvas is increased exponentially by having two jazz age killer kids at his disposal – criminals who wanted to be stars of their own body-splattered “reality” show that made them antisocial media darlings. Debney spectacularly weds the frontier sound of “McCoys” of the couple’s simple roots with their dream of hitting it big in the roaring 20s. It’s a thrilling rat-a-tat of blazing nightclub swing, white trash guitars, fateful brass, the glistening percussion of childhood dreams of fame gone very wrong and a twisted orchestra for the couples’ inevitable trip on the backwoods road of no return. “Bonnie & Clyde’s” score is all about attitude that seeks to make the outlaws as modern as possible, and Debney rock and rolls with it for one of his most deliriously entertaining scores that’s about as far a cry from Charles Straus’ soundtrack from back in the Beatty-Dunaway day. But the fact that it kind of pays tribute to the with-it spirit of Arthur Penn’s classic in TV two-part form says much about the composer’s adeptness at capturing the period, and character’s roots in a way that musically hips up the legend without selling it out. Crime may not have paid for “Bonnie & Clyde,” but it’s a hell of a fun musical ride that doesn’t forget the dark end of the Depression-era duo who inevitably created their own morality fable, one that Debney makes as relevant as today’s slightly less lethal celebrity antics of today’s fast-living punks.
. CALL OF DUTY: GHOSTS
Gaining some major percussive action chops under Harry Gregson-Williams’ command with “The Number 23,” “Gone Baby Gone” and “The Town,” David Buckley has emerged in his own, rhythmically exciting right by layering down alternately suspenseful and exciting groove scores as “From Paris With Love,” “Gone” and “Parker.” But it’s the video game arena that’s now given Buckley his most expansive, and explosive opportunity with “Call of Duty: Ghosts.” With the guts and glory franchise taken to its apocalyptic, sci-fi extremes for a Latin American attack that essentially wipes out North America, Buckley brings on guts and glory Armageddon that benefits greatly from its orchestral back up. From battling in the ruins of San Diego to raiding an ocean oil platform and blasting space station villains in the coolest outer-atmosphere fight this side of “Moonraker,” Buckley’s samples are the machine gun fire on top of the string emotion, which gives the biblical scope of “Ghosts” real emotional firepower, adding to the sweat of every mission’s countdown, as well as the father-sons bond that drives it. Buckley also comes up with eerie samples that give his squad of mystery warriors a fearsomeness that matches their supernatural killer rep. His “Ghosts” have a ruthlessly cold, yet valorous tone that matches the patriotic strength of “Call of Duty’s” past musical soldiers, a squad that Buckley joins with impressive, first-person symphonic presence here.
. COLETTE / A SINGLE SHOT
While he’s not busy re-animating ghouls, killing hags and battling demons in such ragingly entertaining genre scores as “Hansel and Gretel Witch Hunters” and “The Mortal Instruments,” Icelandic composer Atli Orvarsson is doing his thing for the arthouse, and revealing even more impressive layers to his talent in the bargain. Indeed, “Colette” counts as one of his most evocative works for this Holocaust-themed score about impossible survival at Auschwitz. While sorrow is very much a part of the powerful emotions that flood “Colette’s” love story between two inmates, the score, like the film’s characters, isn’t about to give in to the inevitable. There’s a struggling, never-say-die energy to “Colette” amidst the score’s beautifully longing theme, a forcefulness that constantly throws itself upon the barbed wire that makes its central romance even more affecting. Indeed, with its sweepingly romantic, symphonic force and powerhouse writing for action and suspense, “Colette” never seems like a “Holocaust” score as such, even with its use of a sorrowful violin. Rather, this is the kind of music one might expect from a grand historical film of love torn asunder, and the relentless, surging emotional force that will see its couple reunited through all the massive forces thrown against it, a mixture of intimacy and the epic that makes for an exceptionally well performed and captivatingly thematic score. Way more restrained, and creepily terrifying is Orvarsson’s score for “A Single Shot,” wherein a hunter’s accidental slaying of a woman leads into an escalating, lethal chain of events for the treasure involved. It’s a sense of guilt that inspires long, drawn out passages for aching strings and piano, a rustic sound conveying the atmospheric emptiness of the great, haunted outdoors. In three “Variations” that almost hit the ten minute marks, Orvarsson does some of his most modernistic and chilling work, with shades of Gyorgy Ligeti and Arvo Part in its unnerving string sustains, isolated pianos and dissonant outbursts, creating a score that could easily substitute for a piece of modern classical music. “A Single Shot” would scare the hell out of anyone from taking a deer-slaying trip to the backwoods, which is precisely the point of this eerily aleatoric and, unnerving score.
. FRANKENSTEIN UNBOUND
After directing over 50 movies that encompassed every exploitable subject from drag racing to drug trips and race baiting, Roger Corman retired from filmmaking with a classy bang in the horror genre that arguably brought him his greatest artistic rewards – especially when dealing with the work of such famed authors as Edgar Allen Poe and H.P. Lovecraft. For “Frankenstein Unbound,” Corman took on Mary Shelley’s seminal work, but ingeniously time-twisted it via Brian Aldiss’ novel to have a future inventor meet an 17th century blend of factual and fictional characters – let alone the era’s most notorious stitched-together monster. A class act from its high production values to the casting of such esteemed actors as John Hurt and Raoul Julia, Corman made one of his most prestigious choices in hiring Carl Davis to create a score whose lush blood flowed with the era’s melody, as well as the brassy lurching that great, old-fashioned monster scores were made of. A paradigm of the classically orchestral English sound, Davis had spectacularly put new scores to such silent movies as “Greed” and “The Phantom of the Opera,” while bringing bucolic, and beautiful melody to such costume dramas as “The Rainbow,” “The French Lieutenant’s Woman” and the supernaturally-tinted “I Monster” and “The Girl in a Swing.” Conjuring a theme that played the rapture of its mad doctor’s creation, and the doom of his folly at playing God, Davis filled his “Frankenstein” with a resplendent sound that conveyed both the corseted period setting, as well as the brassy, lurching fury of an unholy creature seeking a mate. While the humor that suffused Franz Waxman’s “Bride of Frankenstein” score is nowhere to be found here, Davis does an exceptional job of exhuming the stormy, symphonic music that composers like Hans J. Salter created for the black and white Universal creature features of the good old days, complete with shivering strings and pounding brass. “Frankenstein Unbound” still stands as one of the genre’s most majestic scores, put together from equal parts high society and roaring “monster” music, carrying a beautiful, Beethoven-esque sense of high-minded, melodic grace whether strolling about Lake Geneva or lugging through the Swiss countryside for Corman’s last, memorable waltz. Long a hoped-for release for fans of monster music with refined taste, “Frankenstein Unbound” has a lush sonic grandeur, with liner notes by genre expert Randall D. Larson that pay tribute to one of the finest scores to grace Victor Frankenstein’s ill-advised experiment.
. I, FRANKENSTEIN
Don’t except anything remotely bucolic in the second Frankenstein’s monster score of note this month. But that being said, the aching violins that hint of his creation a few centuries ago do give pathos to the far more buff personage of Aaron Eckhart, not to mention his character’s isolated soul. And that comes in musically handy indeed when your mad doctor-made monster is swinging a sword at stone gargoyles, demons and archangels. Cut from the same flesh as the hip “Underworld” creature-mash series, “I, Frankenstein” revels in rhythmic propulsion to give this Shelley-meets-Satan’s minions spin its furious energy, taking the adrenalin that Reinhold and Klimek conjured for “Land of the Dead’s” zombie fiesta up several, seamless notches. While you can hear just a bit of their more sanely determined percussion for such suspenseful works as “The International” here, “I, Frankenstein” is mostly battling with a canny mix of orchestra and samples, their intensity barely letting up. Given the religious nature of the film’s villains heavenly chorus also plays an effective part in the brooding, gong-ringing emotional passages when the music isn’t delivering hurtling action-horror. Lisa Gerrard’s voice also gives “I, Frankenstein” a nice, unholy touch. Furiously atmospheric and a whole lot of fun, “I, Frankenstein” doesn’t sacrificing its iconic monster’s spiritual, or human ethos amidst its epic orchestral approximation of speed Goth-rock for a soundtrack that delivers 76 minutes of bolts-and balls out ass kicking.
. JOHN WAYNE AT FOX: THE WESTERNS
The Duke was an icon who meant manliness – and his musical accompaniment was no less rambunctiously muscular, especially when it came to the genre that he made into his own Monument Valley. But while his western scores left no doubt as to The Duke’s vitality, they each did their part to dig out even more unexpected charisma from this drawling hunk of granite, three terrifically entertaining chisels of which are presented on this Kritzerland collection. First up is a score by the composer who proved to be Wayne’s most unlikely saddle mate at strengthening his All-American image, an elfin New York Jew named Elmer Bernstein, who couldn’t have been further apart from Wayne’s beyond right wing political values – yet helped make him a national treasure with the likes of “The Sons of Katie Elder,” “Cahill, U.S. Marshall” and “True Grit.” His 1961 score to “The Commancheros” is cut from the same rousingly gutsy cloth, with a rousing hoedown of a theme that unites the score from the tom-tom percussion of the gun-running bad guys, their evil Indian cohorts rampaging down the range with some of Bernstein’s most energetic writing, reaching levels of delirium that can nicely draw comparisons with the most breathless action writing of Miklos Roza’s “El Cid”(released the same year). Lyrical Spanish guitars, strings as expansive as the rocky desert and trilling, heroic brass let you know exactly when the Texas rangers ride to the rescue in a score that’s a glorious checklist of everything that made the teaming of Bernstein and Wayne so great. Romance and comedy as opposed to injun’ fighting take center stage with Lionel Newman’s breezy score for 1960s “North To Alaska.” A strumming banjo, homespun harmonica, jauntily cartoonish music gambol about while playing gold fever in what’s likely the lightest score Wayne ever got. But probably the most surprising score here is Hugo Montenegro’s “The Undefeated,” a 1969 movie that unites Civil War foes against Mexican revolutionaries. Once again Wayne inspires an excellent, symphonically broad-shouldered theme, which nicely interpolates southern melodies with south-of-the-border action fandangos. Montenegro has a particularly good contrast between opening up macho emotion with powerhouse horse round-up music. But what really sets “The Undefeated” apart from the bunch is its pop attitude for guitar and rhythm, a way of musically hipping up John Wayne that marks Montenegro as a composer of “The Monkees,” as well as the guy who creating a pop smash rendition of the theme from “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.” You may not have to agree with The Duke’s family western values to get a huge blast of enjoyment from these wonderful scores, collected from previous releases and newly remastered by Kritzerland for examples of Hollywood’s musical myth-making at its best.
. QUAI D’ORSAY / LE BOSSU
A French composer who should have conquered Hollywood in the 80s with the likes of “Quest For Fire,” “Ghost Story” and “The Music Box,” but somehow ended up back in his native country, Philippe Sarde has most definitely stayed busy – and with no small amount of creative cleverness in his new score for “Quai d’Orsday.” Director Bertrand Tavernier has given his well-costumed period features a stylistic shot in the arm by adapting this cult comic strip, which gives “Amelie”-like absurdity to the adventures of a hapless political speech writer. Yet Tavernier and Sarde don’t so much doff their costume drama stylings of “La Fille de d’Artagnan” and “The Princess of Montpensier” as much as they leave it on in whimsical tatters. Using an ersatz waltz-time theme, Sarde orchestrally conveys the elegance of French politicians to the manner born, but then introduces such surreal instruments as an Australian didgeridoo and melodies a la Rossini’s “Barber of Seville,” as done with classically antic rhythms, panicked piano runs and horns swinging in helter skelter for the latest emergency of state. The feeling is one of tuxedo’d panic, as if the orchestral ensemble was desperately trying to keep time with a composer having a delightfully Baroque breakdown. “Quai” has a wonderful sense of classically cartoonish mania by way of a whacked-out jazz ensemble, reveling in the ridiculousness and mock suspense of what a gallery of blowhard prime ministers are planning next. It’s one of the most distinctively eccentric musical assaults on bureaucracy since Gary Chang and the Turtle Island String Quartet’s “Shock To the System” back in 1990. However, if you’re in a more classically costumed frame of mind, Quartet Records also offers Sarde’s score to 1997’s “Le Bossu” (known in the U.S. as “On Guard,” a swashbuckler score that’s more beautifully resplendent than rousingly sword-swinging. There’s a sly humor at hand in his orchestrations, which also offer more exotic French period music, as well as gorgeous use of Mascagni’s “Calvalleria Rusticana.” An exceptional bonus on the album is Sarde’s “Concierto Por La Tierra,” a swooning symphonic work whose Debussy-like use of naturalistic, and sometimes modernistic string melody brings back memories of the composer’s score to “Tess” and “The Bear.” One can only imagine how his missed, lyrical touch would be welcome back in Los Angeles, whether it was played at the height of refinement or for the outright zaniness that he’s now more than shown himself capable of.
. SHARKY’S MACHINE
It’s rare when a soundtrack specialty label gives love to what are essentially an all-song albums, a genre that ruled during the 1980s with such releases as “Band of the Hand,” “Tuff Turf” and “Cruising.” Let’s hope these are but some of the titles that Varese Sarabande might put on their radar, as they’ve recently put out such welcome, song-filled releases out under it like “The Idolmaker,” “Any Which Way You Can” and “Honkytonk Man.” But with no offense to those latter two movies’ that featured a star-director known for his love of jazz, perhaps no film used that music as memorably as Burt Reynolds did for 1981s “Sharky’s Machine,” a terrific soundtrack that has finally show up digitally (if not on CD) from Varese. Better known for his wisecracking charisma, Reynolds was incredibly unsung as an action-centric filmmaker with particularly good taste in music, whether it was having Charles Bernstein’s strumming score for “Gator” or Barry De Vorzon’s icy electronic work in “Stick.” For “Sharky’s” viscerally erotic take on “Laura” via a hard-broiled cop flick, Reynolds ingeniously uses big band energy to match the swagger of a cop and his team of upstart detectives out to bust Atlanta’s Italian kingpin of crime. Outside of a James Bond opener, there are few title songs better at creating energetic anticipation than the jazz-funk groove of Randy Crawford’s “Street Life.” Two smoky-voiced versions of “My Funny Valentine” by the great Chet Baker and Julie London become Sharky’s haunted fixation with a seemingly dead high class hooker, while such other standard-bearers as Doc Severinson, Joe Williams and Sarah Vaughan bring sophistication to the lethal sleaze that Sharky tries to rescue her from, an ironically detached sense of enjoyment heard with Peggy Lee’s vocals for the merry-go-round rhythm of “Let’s Keep Dancing” or the be-bop lite of The Manhattan Transfer’s “Route 66.” “Sharky’s” exceptionally assembled album also offers a terrific instrumental with an eerie Oriental “Drug Bust” and a swinging “Sharky’s Theme,” with Sarah Vaughan and Joe Williams’ end tune “Before You” turning from piano to a lushly optimistic strings, a duet that provides a great ending sense of relief after watching Henry Silva’s drug-crazed hitman blasted out of a skyscraper. As much sheer, sophisticated listening pleasure as it uses songs to reflect its characters’ attitudes, “Sharky’s Machine” remains an exemplar of how songs can smartly be used in a terrific, gritty cop flick.
. THE YOUNG SAVAGES
Taking his place among such be bopin’ jazz artists as Miles Davis (“Elevator to the Gallows”) who were recruited to the far more defined style of film scoring, David Amram made a powerful feature debut in 1961s “The Young Savages,” for which director John Frankenheimer took the “Blackboard Jungle” aesthetic to even rawer territory as caring cop Burt Lancaster finds there’s more than meets than eye in a group of racist white toughs killing of a blind Puerto Rican kid. Sure jazz has always been the sound of juvenile delinquency since the late 40s, but leave it to a true hepcat like Amram to bring real danger to jazz as film music – namely an untamed sound that carried a sense of urban danger where upstanding folks feared to tread. Not that 1961s “The Young Savages” doesn’t pack numerous, extended cool noir jazz tunes that draw on his work with such masters as Thelonius Monk, Dizzy Gillespie and Charles Mingus, filling out the gentler first “side” of this album. It’s in the true underscore tunes that Amram shows the kind of ballsy dissonance that inflected the work of his fellow NYC progressive-gone-Hollywood Leonard Rosenman (“Rebel Without A Cause”). Except, Amram is even way more out there, no doubt inspired by his personal time in NYC’s hells kitchens. Pounding cues like “Switchblades On Parade,” “The Last Taco” and “Help!” march and pounce with shrilly colliding strings and brass, howling with instrument-pummeling outage befitting a monster attack – except in this case it’s deceptively young human animals. Far more lyrical tragedy can be heard in his main theme as it woefully sings of ghetto blight. Even melody rises in the lonely harmonica of “Subway Sounds” or the a tender flute in “Later With the Elevator.” But the violence that suffuses Amram’s daring music is always sure to appear for a terrifying beat-down of the harmony at hand. One of the scores that truly captured the urban jungle, Amram’s “The Young Savages” marked the start of a studio run that would include such other classics of distraught psychology as “The Manchurian Candidate” and “Splendor in the Grass.” Amram’s alternately disturbing, and cool cat album sounds just great on this Intrada release that marks this terrific, uncompromising score’s debut on CD for an album of savage beauty that impresses more than ever when it comes to the start of a composer’s career that hasn’t stopped since.
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