March Soundtrack Picks
‘COSMOS: A SPACE TIME ODYSSEY‘ is one of the top soundtracks to own for March, 2014
Also worth picking up AFTER THE DARK, ATLANTIS: THE LAST DAYS OF KAPTARA, THE BLUE MAX, CASTLEVANIA: LORDS OF SHADOW 2, ELMER BERNSTEIN: THE AVA COLLECTION, JOSEPH ANDREWS, POMPEII, SECRET SHARER and more!
To Purchase the soundtracks from this list, click on the CD cover
THE TOP PICKS
1) THE BLUE MAX / THE LIST OF ADRIAN MESSENGER
What Is It?: Jerry Goldsmith came roaring out of the gate in the mid-60s to impress Hollywood with his seemingly boundless talent to play any number of genres. And two of his best scores from this furiously creative period couldn’t be more apart, or more in demand from Goldsmith collectors than 1966s “The Blue Max” and 1963s “The List of Adrian Messenger,” one a soaringly romantic exercise in the nobility of battle, and the other a playfully insane game of all-star masquerading murder suspects that at last get the releases they’ve long-deserved on special editions from La La Land and Varese Sarabande Records.
Why You Should Buy It?: Many scores have tried to capture the magnificence of flight, but few have captured the physical, and emotional rush better than “The Blue Max.” While it’s doubtful Hollywood was going to make a movie like this about a Luftwaffe air ace during WW2, the supposed chivalry of WWI gave allied funding to this blazing spectacle about a vainglorious pilot’s pursuit of the illustrious titular medal. Given the dashing son of a bitch embodied by George Peppard in his best role, Goldsmith uses a Teutonic flavor for his lofty themes, music that positively rings with the bells of the Valkyries, while the register is lowered considerably for the pounding trench warfare below, inexorably building in tandem as the tide of battle is turned against the Germans. It’s ominous, marching militarism versus the purity of knightly combat, music so palpably joyous at its heights that wind machines make the listener positively feel the air blowing in their face while spinning cartwheels above the enemy. Yet there’s a brooding sense of the inevitable fate that turns war heroes into the stuff of state-sponsored myth, from a beautiful melancholy love theme to the neo-Wagnerian strings and brass that bring the a flawed hero to the finality of earth. “The Blue Max” still rings as one of Goldsmith’s most symphonically sumptuous and mythic scores, a masterwork that shows the power of a fully unleashed symphony, a quality no doubt responsible for the many issues this score has received from LP to CD, each seeking to be a notch above the other in sonic quality and newly revealed music. But this two-CD edition is truly the be-all end-all “Blue Max,” offering the complete score, its original complete album presentation, plus alternates and jaunty Germanic source music, with its photo-filled booklet that offers both Julie Kirgo’s liner notes and Jeff Bond’s track-by-track analysis, which does a yeoman’s job of detailing where a score astonishingly unused for the most part in the film itself ended up on record.
Extra Special: While Goldsmith certainly had lofty aspirations with “The Blue Max,” “The List of Adrian Messenger” is the composer at his most humorously macabre, in this case taking on the multiple, masked identities of a master villain out to murder his way up to an inheritance. The names on his hit list offer a wealth of droll thrills that plays like the Hitchcock comedy Goldsmith never got to score – though “Messenger’s” director John Houston was no doubt pleased with this soundtrack’s clever twists and turns. If anything, “Messenger’s” origin stems from the composer’s black-humored work on such TV shows as “Twilight Zone” and “Thriller,” especially given episodes awash in twisted psychology and moral reckoning, ideas that Goldsmith took an elegant approach with for the Oscar-nominated psychoanalysis of 1962s “Freud.” But here the gloves are off, as Goldsmith fills “Adrian’s” score with with leering, jazz-meets-Baroque creepiness, conveying the murderous confidence of a trickster villain who’s very sure of his abilities (perhaps the only psychological characteristic this score might share with “The Blue Max”). Delightful horror tropes like the Theremin’s wavering electronic voice mixes with ghoulish harpsichords, malefic fiddling and lurching strings for a goose bump-inducing score that could play equally well as one goes creeping about a haunted house – as led by a catchy, devilish tango theme. But “Adrian Messenger” is far from a one-note collection of gleeful chills, as Goldsmith brings the score, and murders to a dashing fox hunt climax that trumpets with the glory of the English blood scent, as the theme takes full, bounding flight with brass blaring, orchestral rhythms galloping and symphony stabbing a la Herrmann – the kind of rollicking pursuit the composer would engage in far later to truly satanic effect for his “Omen” scores’ “Final Conflict.” With just about every Goldsmith “bottle cap” now released, Varese’s crossing of f of this “List” is perhaps the last great uncorking of the maestro, and this decades-old score comes across as psychotically fun, fine wine for producer and impassioned liner note writer Robert Townson. Indeed, hearing the composer cap off the ghoulishness that’s come before with a star unmasking parade for French accordion, circus music and soft shoe percussion reveals Goldsmith as a murderous merry prankster par excellence.
2) COSMOS: A SPACE TIME ODYSSEY
What is it: Few composers have conjectured about weird science with Alan Silvestri’s sense of cosmic wonder, whether it’s been seeking alien life inhabiting our inner space in “The Abyss,” time travelling “Back to the Future” or talking with an intergalactic craft voiced by Pee-Wee Herman for “Flight of the Navigator.” So it’s only natural that Silvestri now gets to board a spaceship of the imagination first piloted on TV 24 years ago by Carl Sagan, whose film adaptation of “Contact” ranks as one of the composer’s most awe-inspiring scores. It’s that music’s touching quality of intergalactic hope that now infuses “Cosmos’” pretty terrific reboot, which places Sagan’s acolyte Neil deGrasse Tyson aboard a significantly souped-up spaceship OTM, whose new model’s cinematic aspirations are achieved by Silvestri’s music at all of its symphonically sweeping, big screen sci-fact majesty.
Why you should buy it?: For the original “Cosmos,” Sagan innovatively chose such artists as Vangelis, Vivaldi and Goro Yamaguchi, a mix tape that mirrored the recordings for an album that’s still spinning somewhere in the great unknown with Voyager. Truly scoring this “Cosmos” is the right decision, especially given a composer of Alan Silvestri’s caliber. Sure “nature” documentaries have had lavish orchestral scores done for them, though most seem to have come from BBC’s shores. So even more astonishing than having “Cosmos” appear on the inquisition thinking Fox network is hearing Tyson take off with all the power, and grace of “Contact” (let alone carrying aboard the touching innocence of Silvestri’s Oscar-nominated “Forrest Gump”). It’s that measure of the commitment on every creative count here that makes “Cosmos” new again. Given that the rapidly switching factoids of these documentaries are likely even more hard to hit than scoring a movie, it’s truly amazing how well Silvestri captures the narration-driven “Cosmos” in a melodically seamless way that hits all of its salient facts and imagery. It’s music that gives us the feeling of a budding, adolescent scientist as he’s filled with the imagination that will change his life, much like we can imagine a youthful Tysons’ career path being guided as he read, and watched Sagan’s revelatory work. It’s a universe alive with gee-whiz enchantment, as well as danger, as a rapturous, orchestra powers through nebulas and strands of DNA, along with Silvestri’s distinctive use of electronic percussion. As always, there’s nothing better than bell-percussion to signal that stargazing kid within all of us, or the composer’s love of deep brass to become a big bang. With “Cosmos” seemingly walking a fine Fox line so as not to inflame Rupert’s right-wing religious core audience, there’s certainly a gossamer, spiritual quality to the soundtrack as well, whether it’s heard through a heavenly chorus or a poignant violin. But in the end, it’s Silvestri’s noble, thematic ability to make “Cosmos” as enthrallingly dramatic as Jodie Foster’s quest for alien life, let alone Michael J. Fox’s quantum-spanning efforts to retrieve a sports almanac, that make for a touching, emotionally-powered sound that make us forget we’re watching, or listening to a TV show as Silvestri’s transports us to the biggest screen of all.
Extra Special: The musical future might be digital, but here’s hoping some of Silvestri’s finest work will be landing on hard copy. And given how each episode gets treated with the power of a film score, there are plenty of more musical stars yet to be explored for future “Cosmos” soundtrack editions.
3) ELMER BERNSTEIN: THE AVA COLLECTION
What is it?: Though taken for granted by today’s collectors, being able to get the actual, original tracks for a film score has only been a relatively recent development. What most fans received for decades were performances done after the fact by the likes of Henry Mancini, Jerry Goldsmith and John Williams, who took the most melodically accessible tracks from a given film, then lushly arranged them for albums that barely topped the half hour mark. Before Elmer Bernstein specifically marketed these types of re-performances specifically for the soundtrack appreciator market with his “Film Music Collection” label (whose Film Score Monthly box set is still available), the composer performed his scores for the Ava label from 1961 to 1965 – mostly under 30 minute releases that are best known for their fairly miserable-sounding reissues through Mainstream Records. But now after at 20-year search, Intrada Records has finally gotten hold of Ava’s original three-channel masters and collected their six Bernstein albums into one reasonably priced release, with the original releases’ spectacular-sounding results.
Why you should buy it?: There’s nothing like Bernstein’s classic jazz 60s swing, whose muscular, sexy brass vibe comprises most of the Ava re-performances – some of which remain the only way to get these titles. The gold standard of the set remains “Walk on the Wild Side,” whose lustful sax and rambunctious strings provide the cathouse strut for the movie’s 1930s New Orleans setting. Bernstein knew how to mix the uncouth, depraved lifestyle that movie jazz has usually represented with emotional heart, here becoming the melancholy, and often lyrical music for the impossible relationship between Laurence Harvey’s poor shmuck and his headfirst fall for Jane Fonda’s lady of the night. Even more swaggering attitude informs “The Carpetbaggers,” which featured George Peppard playing another charismatic SOB, this time in the womanizing, self-hating fashion of Howard Hughes. Bernstein really opens up the jazz-brass section here from the original recording (also available on Intrada), capturing a hell-raising attitude, while using more restrained, child-like percussion and winds to get across a little boy lost in a world of flesh and money, as drowned out by a hard-drinking sax. “The Caretakers” takes a bachelor pad route in its selections for a movie dealing with the mentally ill, and it must be a pretty swinging psychiatric hospital indeed with the rhumba’ing on hand, while its theme has spy-drive urgency. Even the shrieking “Electroshock” can’t help but be jazzy, while other score-centric cues on the original LP’s second side show Bernstein’s dexterity for suspenseful psychosis of piano, strings and violin. Having Steve McQueen as an ex-con band singer in “Baby, the Rain Must Fall” lets Bernstein take his jazz chops in a boisterous, pop-honky-tonk direction that positively Watusi’s for an album that’s most definitely in the pop direction, while listening to such jazzily re-orchestrated, alternately rousing and seductively re-orchestrated “Move and TV Themes” as “Rat Race,” “Ana Lucasta” and “The Sweet Smell of Success” has the smoke-filled intimacy of slinging one back as Bernstein and his big band play their set in a Manhattan bar after the witching hour. The completely odd score out here is perhaps Bernstein’s most tender one, as the loss of innocence that fills “To Kill a Mockingbird” gets a performance that’s equal parts poignancy and dramatic power, creating a “Mockingbird” unleashed if you will.
Extra Special: Not only does Intrada’s Ava collection have terrific sound, but its booklet does an impressive job of not only featuring label head Douglas Fake’s appraisal of this remarkable find, but also presents the original album’s covers and liner notes in graphically enticing fashion.
What is it?: Paul W.S. Anderson is popcorn personified when it comes to such muscular entertainments as “Event Horizon,” “Soldier,” “Resident Evil,” and “Death Race,” getting powerful scores by the likes of Michael Kamen, Joel McNeely and Paul Haslinger that have ranged from heroic strings to terrifying electronica and twisted metal. But while his latest work might have turned to ash at the box office, “Pompeii” stands for me as Anderson’s most ambitious, and purely enjoyable old-school film, a blazing mash up of “Gladiator” and “When Time Ran Out” that sought to achieve an epic dramatic quality amidst its historical disaster film arena. A major, explosive aid to Anderson in achieving his artistic goals for “Pompeii” definitely goes to the most symphonically impressive, and strongly thematic score to grace one of his multiplex-ready efforts, as delivered by composer Clinton Shorter, who ascends a new pinnacle in conjuring thrilling sound and fury – as well as humanity.
Why should you buy it?: A versatile composer who should be getting a much bigger blockbuster workout, Shorter arrived on the scene with the tribal-alien action of “District 9” before going onto impress with the stealth action of “Contraband” and the enjoyably twangy buddy cop takeoff score to “2 Guns.” Yet you might not expect the grandeur of “Pompeii” from these, as Shorter shows that he knows his way around a “Gladiator”-esque musical arena without ripping off sword-swinging Zimmer-isms. For given a revenge-lusting hero with a similarly pillaged past, a sympathetic female voice and bold, brass percussion are the only natural way to go when in “Pompeii.” Shorter attacks the challenge with the benefit of contemporary, rhythmic power and a rousingly traditional orchestra, with militaristic might becoming the imperious evil of Rome. There’s thrilling, musical testosterone to spare in Shorter’s battle music, which hits levels of fever-pitch desperation while trying to outrun Mount Vesuvius, whose pounding, impressively angry roots of its big choral-symphonic blast also go right back to Gustav Holst, but in a way that’s Shorter’s own.
Extra Special: As terrifically exciting as the composer’s bang-a-volcano music might be, what helps set “Pompeii” apart is its feeling of lovers-in-the-face-of death tragedy, not to mention the oncoming fate of city full of thousands-to-be entombed people, both good and bad. It’s a truly affecting sense of the inevitable that’s carried in Shorter’s impressively melodic approach, one that knows the best disaster films resonate because you actually care about the characters, the score reaching a quiet level of intimacy to sock in the emotion amidst the effects. It’s perhaps the biggest reason the spectacle of “Pompeii” stands out in Anderson and Shorter’s repertoire as both keep a firm, identifiable grip on the human scale amidst the exhilarating destruction, all while revealing an impressive new scale to Shorter’s abilities.
5) SECRET SHARER / TSOTSI
What is it: A Polish sea captain finds himself way underwater in desire, and danger when he takes on an adrift woman in the South China Sea for this modernization of Joseph Conrad’s short 1910 story. But perhaps the classiest passenger on board this otherwise rusting ship is English composer Guy Farley (“Modigliani”), who gives beautiful, moody elegance to this unlikely, and potentially lethal romance between burned-out hero and his potentially lethal catch.
Why you should buy it?: A musician definitely worthy of discovery on this end of the pond, Farley has impressed in both thrillers (“The Flock”) and romance (“Cashback”). Now “Secret Sharer” showcases both styles with a beyond-lush approach for strings, harp, flute and piano, and later a fully turbulent orchestra. Starting off with a Polish-song based accordion waltz that captures a countryman adrift in Chinese waters, Farley creates an intriguing, sometimes soaring approach for two lost souls being brought together, mostly bonded by a gorgeous theme, whose dexterous variations nicely bring to ear the work of John Barry. Keeping a low musical profile even as the ship gets boarded, Farley uses such Oriental instruments as the shakuhachi and taiko drums, yet as musical spice to favor a mostly western approach, much like the sea captain who’s drawn to his exotic catch, finally giving way to more overt menace for the cat and mouse game between the couple and their pursuers.
Extra Special: Far more ethnic in nature is Farley’s unused, companion score to “Tsotsi,” an Oscar-winning South African drama producer by “Secret Sharer” director Peter Fudakowski. Blending tribal rhythm with heart-rending strings, it’s hard to understand just why Farley’s score was left in the Serengeti. But this short selection is reason enough to be thankful for allowing listeners to experience this haunting score for a victim of Apartheid who kidnaps a couple’s baby, the criminal’s conscience tormented by the angelic female voice of “Cry Freedom’s” Nicola Emmanuel and anguished strings. It’s a score whose tragedy, and self-realization keep an even emotional keel, much like “Secret Sharer.” Caldera Records show much promise with this debut release, offering a well designed and written booklet by international score specialist Gergely Hubai, as well as an ending audio interview with Farley himself, who insightfully talks about taking an atypical course for “Secret Sharer” when the score threatened to veer off into familiarly menacing Asian musical waters.
ALSO FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION:
Outside of John Powell’s “Rio” scores, you’re not likely to hear a more delightful jungle of tropical instruments than the ethnic winds and percussion spread out through these three scores on Music Box’s assemblage of the music of Michel Korb – perhaps France’s most interesting proponent of ethnomusicology outside of Maurice Jarre. But where that composer used African and Asian rhythms to dramatic effect, Korb’s work is comedic in nature, if not outrightly joyous. With “Afrika’Aioli” dealing with two layabouts who become fish out of water on the dark continent, Korb’s whistling, drum beats, antique-sounding piano and squeeze box percussion conveys a thematic, bumbling sense of energy, not to mention a Euro-African mélange of sounds that capture the enchantment of the land, and good-hearted nature of its native character, while creating a broken-down, soft-shuffle beat that seems a perfect dance for an inept clown, or mime. “Afrika’Ailo’s” prequel “Travel d’Arabe” gets rhythms that are more understandably Middle Eastern, once again showing Korb’s affinity for a strong theme that’s alive with cross-culture eccentricity, especially with such unexpected additions as a harmonica, voice and a hip-hop groove. Equally delightful on this soundtrack triple feature are the calliope circus rhythms that inflect “Les 4 saisons d’Espigoule,” which uses wistful tubas along with the musical approximations of animal cries and grasshopper chirps for its pokey enchantment. But then again, if there’s an adjective that French composers seem to specialize with in the land of “Amelie, then its “whimsy,” of which Michel Korb excels at in this ethnically jazzy three-ring circus of musical delight.
. ATLANTIS: THE LAST DAYS OF KAPTARA
If its YouTube trailer is anything to judge by, the animation for this update on the Minotaur fable is more cow than bull. But when listening to its pretty stupendous score by Peter Bateman, you’d think that Dreamworks animation was taking a stab at “300.” For if the CGI toon budget in fact went to Bateman’s score, then it’s money well spent for the unabashed, heroic splendor that resonates like an infinitely bigger production. No doubt the magic of working as an orchestrator on such lavish genre scores as “Priest,” “After Earth” and the upcoming “Maleficent” rubbed off in a big way for Bateman, who takes up musical sword with Christopher Young and James Newton Howard in knowing how to throw orchestral weight around, particularly when it comes to the big, adventurous brass balls that embody the mythic might of manly monster-slayers. “Atlantis” towers with sound and fury, but has the melodic chops to back its ambitions up, complete with chorus, ethnic instruments and rocking percussion that show Bateman knows his way around the maze of new school Greek mythology. If anything, “Atlantis” stands as a beyond-mighty calling card for movies worth this composer’s symphonic mettle, as “Kaptara” more than shows Bateman’s got the orchestral stuff of legend.
. AFTER THE DARK (THE PHILOSOPHERS)
A group of handsomely fresh-scrubbed western students gather in a Jakarta classroom to play mental doomsday games about which few of them will get to squeeze into an imaginary bunker. Heady stuff indeed for a surreal apocalypse film as it were, mind games that are given a creepily meditative, futuristic pulse by co-composers Nicholas O’Toole (“How to Be a Serial Killer”) and Jonathan Davis, here contributing his first score since 2002s “Queen of the Damned” (then done alongside Richard Gibbs). Better known among concertgoers for being front and center with the group Korn, Davis also gets additional music assistance from Toad the Wet Sprocket’s Glen Phillips for this cohesively mesmerizing score. Fitting into a musical genre that might be labeled “alt. sci-fi” (whose members include “Tron Legacy,” “Another Earth” and “Gravity”), “After the Dark” uses propulsive rock guitar, bubbling synths, computer-chatter electronics and ethereal atmospheres in an engaging, stripped-down manner to convey the emotions involved in the kids’ ultimate no-win sessions of survivor theory. O’Toole, Davis and Phillips have done a strong job of thematically constructing this academic holodeck, subtly triggering nightmare imagination with voices, melancholy chords and exotic percussion that evokes the broader Indonesian setting, as well as the mood of Hans Zimmer’s “Inception” as well as the retro-pulse of Tangerine Dream. At turns disturbing, meditative and groovy, this musically philosophizing trio create a rhythmically engaging sound for the end of the world before the class change bell rings.
. CASTLEVANIA: LORDS OF SHADOW 2
If you want proof that video game scores can scale epically dark heights, then Spanish composer Oscar Araujo’s latest sojourn into the nightmarishly heroic world of “Castlevania” is a thrilling, and resounding answer to the affirmative. Having scored an animated version of his country’s legendary knight El Cid, Araujo knows about the kind of religious fortitude necessary to wield a sword against the forces of darkness, a conviction that takes on hell-blazing power when given the armor of Dracula himself. Having musically done battle with the demonic opponents of “Lords of Shadow” and its follow-up “Mirror of Fate,” Araujo unleashes his symphonic reckoning for the lord of the undead’s battle with Satan himself. In fact, you might think that Araujo was playing Aragon himself storming into the gates of Mordor given just how nobly sweeping his score is. Perhaps it’s because as opposed to Dracula’s more horrific vein, the composer is tapping into the knightly, romantic spirit of this eternal character that’s made him equal parts swooning and sinister. Beyond bowling us over with its religious chorus and sweeping strings, it’s the more intimately thematic, romantic quality of a piano, or violin that makes this remarkably performed score (its orchestras seamlessly ranging from England to Spain and Bratislava) so impressive, and appealing for soundtrack fans way outside of “Castlevania’s” button-mashing orbit. But this is a demon-slaying soundtrack first and foremost, and Araujo brings out of the pounding, brass-crashing evil when the devil arrives to do battle, carrying all of the fiery, furious musical weight that Howard Shore bestowed to Smaug himself. Like the best game scores, “Lords of Shadow 2” carries the impact of live action, especially when wielded by the crusading power of Dracula.
. DIE SPIONIN (THE BEAUTIFUL SPY)
Besides his yeoman work conducting new versions of classic soundtracks (“Lawrence of Arabia,” “The Alamo”) and orchestrating (“Alexander,” “Curse of the Were-Rabbit”), Nic Raine is a more-than-accomplished composer in his own right, a talent last heard on Tadlow’s release to “Shores of Hope.” Now the English musician gives another German production a remarkable score with “The Beautiful Spy,” where a looker for sale during the Nazi’s rise gets bounced between the Axis and Allies for her espionage favors. Raine’s music is a suspenseful valentine to John Barry, a composer whose suspenseful stylings he certainly knows his way around after de-coding the orchestration for “Enigma.” As Barry did for that picture’s heroine who’s caught up in life-or-death WW2 dealings on Britain’s home front, Raine deploys silken strings amidst suspenseful piano percussion, its spy gorgeously embodied by two themes that never get tiring, one conveying her femininity, and the other the danger she’s thrown into by both sides, cleverly varying his motifs between a child’s lullaby-like voices and chilling strings. And having recently re-performed Goldsmith’s conspiratorial score for “The Salamander,” Raine brings on riveting, militaristic danger. But most unexpectedly, Raine draws even more on the silken eroticism of Goldsmith’s “Basic Instinct” to convey his character’s more sensual talents. The result as is pulse-pounding as it is romantic, a symphonically thrilling score that shows just how well Raine decoded the maestro’s orchestral secrets into his own, thematically engaging voice.
. DISTANT THUNDER
Old-school Maurice Jarre admirers might have blanched when the composer mostly left behind the orchestra that he’d made his Hollywood name on with the likes of “Dr. Zhivago” to engage in electronic pursuits during the 80s and 90s. Yet his synth explorations yielded some of the composer’s most interesting, and innovative work with the likes of “Dreamscape,” “Julia and Julia” and “The Mosquito Coast,” not to mention Oscar nominations for “Witness” and “Ghost.” Now Intrada goes deep into the Vietnam-haunted Canadian woods to discover a near-unknown, computer-fashioned Jarre score with 1988s “Distant Thunder,” an equally unsung film that brought together the unusual pairing of John Lithgow and Ralph Macchio, playing a psychologically ravaged veteran, who comes into contact with the grown son he deserted back in the day. “Thunder” is once again proof to Jarre’s synth detractors of how he used then state of the art sounds not as a way to fiddle about with technology, but as a way to find new emotional ways of expressing his characters. And given this shell-shocked hero, Jarre’s music both mines a sense of loss, and the growing hope in a bond renewed. Beginning with spectral voices and a descending melody, Jarre creates a sense of isolation and vulnerability, a tone that makes the space-lost comrades of “Enemy Mine” into “Thunder’s” closest relative from this stylistic cannon. Like his film scoring compatriots Jerry Goldsmith and John Barry who were exploring synth scores at the time, Jarre had a distinctive vibe for his electronic orchestra, emulations that truly show their range in conveying the nearly insane recesses of battle-scarred minds, and the warmer, poignant sound of humanity trying to find their way out, with insane percussion getting its work out for the war game that concludes “Distant Thunder,” while a bright wash of percussion signals redemption. Both experimental and accessible, it’s a score that uses technology in an emotionally resonant ways, with a sense of discovery that marks Jarre as a composer who always sought to expand his boundaries through whatever musical means were necessary. The album’s excellent liner notes by Tim Grieving feature new interviews with Jarre synthesists Michael Boddicker and Nyle Steiner, understandably relating how Jarre created his offbeat sound. Now if only someone would put out his “Solarbabies” on that note.
. DEMETRIUS AND THE GLADIATORS
Franz Waxman took over from Alfred Newman for this more action-oriented sequel to the smash Cinemascope hit “The Robe,” music that lavished in the widescreen opportunities for sex, slaying and that good old time Hollywood religion. Making an on-screen point that he was taking a very big spiritual cue from Newman’s original work in addition to themes from its holy melodic clothing, Waxman’s score is a colorful blend of sword-and-sandal spectacle and messianic message so particular to this genre, music that’s exciting and moving in equal measure. While not trying to ethnically capture the sounds of a Roman Empire under the mad collapse of Emperor Caligula, Waxman’s uses the full, studio system force of the orchestra to give “Demetrius” a feel that’s both sainted, and stately, movingly conveying its hero’s spiritual transformation (complete with a finale of “Gloria”) to make this score both a tribute to Steiner’s lionization of Newman’s work, as well as one that works terrifically on its biblical epic own. Previously released on Film Score Monthly, Michael Matessino’s sonorous restoration also includes percussion tracks, fanfares and “Gloria,” sans voice, making this a welcome purchase for golden age Hollywood score fans, with Kritzerland head Bruce Kimmel contributing some cattily fun liners about the Hollywood business sense that really ruled its bible stories, as well as revealing the power of Waxman’s first musical opening of the Cinemascope scripture.
. THE FACE OF LOVE
With a real talent for playing intimate orchestral emotion, Marcelo Zarvos is making a name for himself when it comes to psychological dramas from “The Beaver” to “The Words” and even the sweetly pokey scoring for “Enough Said” (now out as a Varese limited edition). It’s a feeling for the mysterious nature of human relationships that gets a Hitchcockian treatment as Annette Benning’s widow suffers a non-lethal case of vertigo after becoming enamored with a dead ringer for her husband. Going for the kind of richly emphatic, strongly theme-driven emotion that other composer’s might fear to tread in, Zarvos captures the desire, and distraughtness of a romantically bereft woman with his orchestra before settling on long, subtly suspenseful passages for strings and harp as she becomes wrapped up with Ed Harris’ unsuspecting double. As the music luxuriously spies about with soft, steady percussion, it’s hard not to flash back to Jimmy Stewart following a now red-haired Kim Novak through the streets of San Francisco in Zarvos’ effective homage to Bernard Herrmann on a nicer day. But as opposed to an operatic kissing sequence between obsessed and obsessee, Zarvos’ always-intriguing, and very listenable score keeps the music on a believably dramatic level, with a poignant, musical humanity that once again impresses.
. GIRL ON A BICYCLE
After using a groovily offbeat acoustical approach for to play the tangled LA relationships of ”Lovely & Amazing” and “Friends With Money,” American composer Craig Richey takes a trip to Paris for a more universally symphonic comedy sound for “Girl On a Bicycle,” as an Italian tour bus driver with a sex-starved German fiancée finds himself falling for a winsome French bicyclist who passes by his route. While he wittily captures its characters’ nationalities with an accordion and mandolin, this enjoyably sweet is mostly about using lushly melodic strings for the kind of perky Francophile enchantment practiced by Alexandre Desplat in “Julie & Julia.” Driven by a theme that promises sweet entanglements to come, Richey’s embodies a bicycle as driven by Venus herself, full of peddling, uptempo rhythm, bell-ringing percussion and effortlessly gliding melody that knows just how to hit its sneaky, jokey bumps in the right fashion, while also playing some hurt hearts. Not only does this “Girl” carry such pleasant passengers as whistling and Swingle Singers vocalese, but also some catchy songs that comment Greek chorus style on the continental entanglements at handlebar hand. Richey is sweetly hands on with this string-driven school of comedy as much as he might be with a folksy guitar back home, peddling about with a bright enthusiasm that makes his “Girl” a real international charmer.
. JOSEPH ANDREWS
Director Tony Richardson ushered in a new era for bawdy costume comedies with his 1963 Best Picture winner “Tom Jones,” which also nabbed its composer John Addison a Best Score Oscar for his “substantially original” music. A rollicking pastiche of 17th century stylings that treated pompous classical music clichés with all the delightful disrespect of Mozart on a drunken night out, “Tom Jones” re-invigorated the costume drama soundtrack with bawdy delight. Having released Addison’s clowning masterwork several years back to a sold-out reception, Kritzerland has now put out the director-composer’s 1977 follow-up with their adaptation of “Tom” author Henry Fielding’s “Joseph Andrews.” Though he might be a distant cousin in popularity to “Jones” (though just given a DVD re-issue on Warner Archive), there’s much fun to be had in the attempted debauchery of Fielding’s more piously devoted character. If anything, the composer takes his classical burlesque to even more cartoonish extremes. Dexterously wielding his theme to comic and romantic effect, Addison uses wily tubas, genteel cimbaloms, graceful harps and woozy French horns and a romping orchestra as one misfortune after the next befalls good Joseph. The effect is like hearing a score with one foot in the Baroque era and the other in a Klezmer-inflected slapstick bedroom farce that just happens to be taking in the 1920s, a delightfully inventive, jazzy approach that makes “Joseph” a constant gonzo delight. Yet amidst the zaniness, Addison is able to turn his thematic silliness into one of true, gentle beauty that’s full of the English countryside’s bucolic splendor. It’s a score certainly worthy of discovery as Addison unfurls more madcap elegance from “Tom Jones” as opposed to riding that score’s coattails.
. LE WEEK-END
It seems to have been a while since we’ve had a really wonderful “pure jazz” soundtrack since Mark Isham’s bluesy work on such Alan Rudolph relationship films as “Afterglow” and “The Moderns.” “Le Week-End” nicely brings back those fond memories for a wonderfully brief spell that takes listeners back to the latter score’s City of Lights, as a burned-out British couple tries to rekindle their spark on a second honeymoon. Yet given that these aren’t young lovers swinging about artist circles during the 1930s, composer Jeremy Sams takes an entrancingly cool jazz combo approach a la Chet Baker, with a whimsically thematic sense of intimacy, a vibe for sad sax, upbeat piano strolling percussion, light strings (and of course an accordion) that has an exasperated drollness to it, getting across the feel of a couple at their last, glamorous crossroads trying to get their love life back. Having done striking, serious orchestral work for director Roger Michell on “Persuasion,” “The Mother” and “Enduring Love” before easing up just a bit for “Hyde Park On Hudson,” “Le Week-End,” stands as Sams’ most entertaining musical collaboration for the filmmaker (a collaboration the composer wonderfully talks about in his liner notes), one that also works just as a well as a gracefully low-key jazz album that will bring a romantic slice of la Paris to any couple’s stereo system.
. MUPPETS MOST WANTED
The best kid’s stuff has always has a wisenheimer appeal to adults, bringing on cuteness that the tykes can enjoy, while working on a completely different satirical level that their parents get a chuckle out of. Such is the lovable balance of sweetness and sarcasm that’s made the Muppets endure through innumerable sequels, a hip factor that goes off the scale when you’ve got Flight of the Conchords’ Bret McKenzie re-invigorating a bunch of puppets. “Muppets Most Wanted” is a singular, happy celebration of self-effacing sarcasm, with songs that are perhaps even more toe-tappingly hilarious and catchy than McKenzie’s first turn on “The Muppet Movie.” After brilliantly taking down franchise-itis with “We’re Doing A Sequel,” the golden throat goes to an evil double of Kermit for a jewel heist plot that recalls “The Great Muppet Caper,” There’s a bouncy, jazzy flair in the repartee between Ricky Gervaise and dark Kermit in “I’m Number One,” while a Russian prison gives a doo-wop welcome to “The Big House.” “I’ll Get You What You Want” dips its webbed feet into adult contemporary with a nearly impossible list of love offerings, while catchy speak-singing brings a hilarious third degree for “Interrogation Song.” Of course celebrity cameos will abound, from a duet between Celine Dion and Miss Piggy in “Something So Right” to Josh Groban operatically performing amidst Muppet chorus and trademarked Kermit banjo on “Together Again.” And even if you’ve thought “Macarena’s” been done to death, leave it to Miss Piggy and the Bayside Boys to put new groove into it. “Frozen” composer Christophe Beck gets into the act with a brief, cheerful medley that bounces between manic French energy and a Russian-style choral danger, all kept within this cheeky realm. “Muppets Most Wanted” retains a high-spirited, wonderfully sarcastic energy that’s the furthest thing from a felt been-there done-that.
. WAVELENGTH: LIMITED EDITION
The same year that E.T. crash-landed on earth to gigantic global success, three boyish aliens were marooned in L.A. to a near-invisible ripple of recognition (unless you count how “Starman” copied their silver sphere mothership). Perhaps the most notable memento of this unassuming little sci-fi movie (which was actually made in 1981) would be its neo-futuristic score by Tangerine Dream, the German progressive group then truly taking off in Hollywood with their far more notorious 1982 soundtrack to “Risky Business.” Yet that film’s alternatively meditative and rhythmic sound is also very much an identifying factor to “Wavelength,” its alien vibrations given even more of an synth-acoustical drive, especially since the rescuers of these extra -terrestrials rescuers were a guitar-picking Robert Carradine and ex-Runaways singer Cherie Curie. While “Wavelength’s” more propulsive cues would definitely fit into Dream’s safe breaks for 1981s “Thief,” what distinguishes this score is how Dream’s unique sound speaks for the good vibrations of these visitors, their melodies creating a Zen-like, eerily beatific atmosphere that makes “Wavelength” as close a TD non-score album, perhaps since several pieces here are in fact mutated from pre-existing album tracks and concert performances Dream’s style also had an affinity for capturing the spirit of the American outback, whether it’s played border agents caught in the JFK assassination of “Flashpoint” to the roving southwestern vamp pack of “Near Dark,” a feeling for burnt, deserted landscapes and Native American mysticism that “Wavelength” resonates with in its simulated coyote howls and ethereal textures. It’s percolating computer music as correspondence to a higher power, with our evil, alien-snatching government getting the colder, sharper sounds with music that makes for an intriguing, offbeat exercise in suspense and spirituality. One of the earlier soundtracks to appear on the new CD format for Varese, and long out of print since then, La La Land gives new energy to “Wavelength,” with insightful liner notes by UFO soundtrack specialist Randall Larson that pays tribute this unsung, indie sci-fi evolution in the band’s Hollywood profile.
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