CD Review: Sudden Impact

By • May 6, 2008

Composer: Lalo Schifrin
Label: Aleph
Suggested Retail Price: $14.98
Grade: B+

From Bullit speeding over the hills of San Francisco to the men from U.N.C.L.E. taking down THRUSH, crime-fighting jazz and Lalo Schifrin have gone together like a man and his magnum. But if one character embodied Schifrin’s thrilling dark grooves, then it was Harry Callahan, the inspector who redefined the cop film as a brutal arena for justice in 1971’s Dirty Harry. And Schifrin’s groove got down and mean with him, from the grinding rock guitar of Harry’s day making to the creepy female vocals of the villainous Scorpio. By fusing hard-broiled jazz, suspenseful strings and militaristic percussion, Schifrin had raised the bar for the musical genre of cop noir that he’d helped to create.

Schifrin’s new, groovily brutal sound would truly kick crime jazz’s ass through four Dirty Harry pictures (with a scheduling conflict turning Jerry Fielding’s exceptionally scored Enforcer into the series’ only exception). But perhaps no Callahan soundtrack was more twisted than 1983’s Sudden Impact, a score that’s as much psycho-thriller horror as cop noir, and now gets its CD release on Schifin’s Aleph label. Where Harry had taken on rapists, radicals thugs and über-vigilante cops in his past films, the “villain” here was Sandra Locke’s rape victim, who goes about enacting lethal payback with no real resistance from Harry (who’s kept plenty busy blasting away the usual assortment of goons). And though the decision to essentially make Harry a secondary player didn’t make Sudden Impact into a particularly effective Dirty Harry film, it certainly allowed Lalo Schifrin to delve into new, and interesting musical territory, though you might not expect it to go there from the cool disco of Impact’s main title, or the lite jazz groove of the following cue “Murder by the Sea.”

But as a lot of “nice” pop-oriented cues tend to do here, “Murder” quickly shifts into more sinister territory as a deceptively tender flute, strings and guitar take over, a feminine sound that is then commanded by suspenseful strings and snares. It’s cool female rage ready to strike. And like Harry, Lalo Schifrin is right behind Locke’s mission of revenge. Tenderness bubbles to the surface now and then, but mostly we’re talking evil electronics, action percussion and creepy symphonic dissonance – all as contrasted with the lonely jazz of Harry’s cop-against-the-world. It’s a musical match made in vigilante heaven, simpatico musical emotions that are terrifically detailed in Impact’s liner notes by album producer Nick Redman. But even more than that, the contrast of vigilante “romance” and outright creepiness is right in line with Schifrin’s Oscar-nominated soundtrack for The Amityville Horror and his unused Exorcist score. And if he isn’t exactly delivering the kind of electric guitar thrills of Magnum Force here, Schifrin fans are sure to find his dense, nerve-tingling music to be a cool challenge as it’s played on everything from eerie strings to the sound of rubbed glass.

But that isn’t to say that Sudden Impact is lacking for musical fun or the jazz-rock grooves that have always accompanied Dirty Harry (though his past vibe theme only makes a brief appearance in ”You’ve Come a Long Way”). And Schifrin certainly delivers the excitement with the child-like rhythms of a merry-go-round. But these horsies are bound to impale a bad guy at the end. And Schifrin has fun inverting the “source” music of a seaside carnival with his dissonance of the outrage that occurred there. It all comes together in the cue “Unicorn’s Head” as the calliope music becomes a symphony of fury better suited to a fun house from hell. And then as Harry arrives to provide some assist in “A Ray of Light,” Schifrin treats Eastwood as if he was again playing The Man With No Name, the orchestra singing with a western save-the-day tone, complete with rock guitar and Latin brass.

By the time that the sexy jazz of “San Francisco After Dark” arrives to send Harry and his equal into the sunset, Schifrin’s Sudden Impact has proved itself to be one of the most psychologically compelling, and provocative of the composer’s Dirty Harry scores. Blowing away the bad guys has never been quite so musically challenging for him. But Schifrin knows how to unload that magnum like no other cop composer. And as always, the Impact is exhilarating.

Make your Lalo Schifrin day here.

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