Soundtrack CDs - February 2003, Pt. 1

We’ll kick off our occasional CD Soundtracks section this time with four compilations - all in Dolby Surround Sound as well as HDCD encoded. Both of these formats might seem a bit out of date now with the current accent on the hi-res multichannel advantages of SACD and DVD-Audio. But give a listen - if you have both ProLogic II and HDCD decoding available in your system you may find these albums to compete head on with many of the new format surround discs!

The Science Fiction Album, Volume 1 = Music from 2001, all of the Star Wars series, Apollo 13, Capricorn One, The Right Stuff, Battlestar Galactica, Alien, Independence Day, Aliens, Mars Attacks, The Thing, War of the Worlds, When Worlds Collide, Armageddon, Lost in Space, Back to the Future, The Black Hole, A.I., Lifeforce, Predator, Starship Troopers, E.T., Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and many spacy sound effects. - City of Prague Philharmonia/Crouch End Festival Chorus/Nic Raine & Paul Bateman, conductors - Silva America SSD 1139 (2 CDs):

The 3D cover on the jewelbox seems to depict a scene from The Man From Planet X - sort of a “coming soon but not to this theater” since there’s no music from that movie in this collection. Never mind, it’s a fun gimmick, and the depth effect applies not only to the spaceman but also to the anatomy of the woman he is threatening/fascinating. The illustrated note booklet has a paragraph on each film and music selection. Most cues are the main theme of the film but others are favorite cues during the film, such as for the flying sequence in E.T. or the Imperial March in The Empire Strikes Back. The closing music from Close Encounters is an 8-minute mini-suite, and made me want to see that classic again right away. The Prague musicians have been recording movie scores for a long time now and are really adept at it. There is a rich and highly-polished sheen to these performances that doesn’t sound thrown together at the last minute. I don’t know if it is due to the original mixing for Dolby Surround or the greatly-enhanced abilities of ProLogic II, but some very creative surround effects abound. There is even spatial movement from, say, the surround speakers to the front on some tracks, and of course the sound effects of rocket launchings, crashes etc. make the most extreme use of the surrounds.

Hammer - The Studio That Dripped Blood! - The Essential Hammer Horror Film Music Collection, compositions of James Bernard and others= The Dracula Suite, Frankenstein Created Woman, The Devil Rides Out Suite, Kiss of the Vampire, One Million Years B.C. Suite, When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth, Creatures the World Forgot, The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb, She Suite, The Abominable Snowman, Quatermass II, Hands of the Ripper, Vampire Circus, The Vampire Hunter, Curse of the Werewolf - The Philharmonia Orch./City of Prague Philharmonic/Westminster Philharmonic/Conductors: Kenneth Alwyn, Paul Bateman, Nic Raine, Neil Richardson - Silva America SSD 1137 (2 CDs):

A brief history of Hammer Films and of composer Bernard begin the interesting note booklet - illustrated with movie posters from foreign showings of their horror films. Hammer was a sort of Roger Corman of the UK and was best known for its re-dos of Hollywood’s horror classics in color, mostly starring British TV actor Peter Cushing. Bernard created most of their scores for over 20 years and also did some of the arrangements for these recordings. He died two years ago, and had requested that at his funeral the cue titled “Awakening and Absolution” from his score to The Devil Rides Out be played. Actually, it’s quite a lovely little piece. Some of the longer suites here are practically mini symphonies, mixing threatening, anxiety-prone cues with love themes and action music such as “Dance Frenzy” or “Eruption of the Volcano.” The suite for “She” is especially intriguing, as was the original film story. Not as much use of surround movement as on the above collection, but a nicely enveloping orchestral feeling (with PL II) nevertheless.

- John Sunier

Frida - Music by Elliot Goldenthal and others - DG/UMG Soundtracks 289 474 150-2 (Enhanced CD):

This superb film on the colorful life of Frida Kahlo and husband Diego Rivera has an equally colorful score from Goldenthal and many other musicians - including Brazilian singer-songwriter Caetano Veloso. This was the 15th project Goldenthal had worked on with director Julie Taymor; Titus was their previous film collaboration. 13 of the 24 cues are performed by others, including singer Lila Downs - who also appears on camera - and one is sung by actress Salma Hayek, who plays Frida and whose major project the entire film was. Costa Rican singer Chavela Vargas is also heard, and of course there are Mariachis and marimba bands. The mix of the musical cultures of Spain, Cuba and Brazil with the Mexican adds interest. The whole progression creates a delightful Latin American mood without any corny or kitschy selections and works well whether or not you see the movie. But see it anyway. The CD has been at the top of Billboard’s World Music chart for some time, and no wonder. It’s also the first release from DGG’s new “dg” imprint which will specialize in world music and soundtracks.

The Enhanced portion is the most extensive video-wise of any such I’ve seen/heard. Oddly, the DG news release made no mention of it. The entire sexy tango between Frida and the woman at a party is reproduced in good resolution nearly full screen, and there are some other excerpts including behind-the-scenes footage of Hayek recording her song, plus an interview with the actress. Short text interviews with both Taymor and Goldenthal are featured and the presentation is surrounded by artwork in the style of Kahlo. Hola! Isn’t it about time to include some visual material such as this with multichannel SACDs? It’s in the specs, you know, and the hottest-selling SACD players now are the SACD/DVD-V combos anyway.

- John Sunier

Secretary - Score by Angelo Badalamenti & Phil Marshall - Lions Gate Records #LG0006:

Another great film featuring another alternative (but not nearly as self actualized) heroine. “The story of a demanding boss and the woman who loves his demands,” as the film poster blurb goes. Early on the low pitched electric bass lines took me back to those nights of alternative TV reality watching David Lynch’s Twin Peaks - for which Badalamenti also did the music. It’s probably tied in more closely to the film than some soundtracks, but I can’t comment on the music standing alone without the film since I saw the film. Ten of the tracks are strictly instrumental, but there are songs by Leonard Cohen and Lizzie West - which I entirely forget hearing in the theater.

The Cat’s Meow - Music by Ian Whitcomb - RCA/BMG 09026-63822-2:

This is the Peter Bogdanovich film about wild times aboard Wm. Randolph Hearst’s yacht with the likes of Charlie Chaplin and Marion Davies. Whitcomb can’t really be called the composer here because most of the 16 tracks are either refurbished old 78s of artists such as Al Jolson and Paul Whiteman or recreations of tunes of the period by Whitcomb’s admittedly authentic-sounding Bungalow Boys band. Here’s another onscreen actress doing her own vocal too - Kirsten Dunst in After You’ve Gone. There’s even one tune each from Sydney Bechet and Louis Armstrong. However, unless you want to preserve your musical experience with this so-so film forever, you could do better with one of the many reissue collections of old jazz and music of the twenties.

- John Henry

Catch Me If You Can - Music composed and conducted by John Williams - Dreamworks 0044-50410-2:

Now here’s someone who definitely composes all of his own musical scores - even if they often sound either alike or lifted from other composers. In this case Williams is into the movie jazz bag of pioneers such as Elmer Bernstein and others. He has composed in the idiom of progressive jazz of the 50s and 60s, and it’s quite convincing at that. It’s the sort of music that would probably be the favorite of the main character - an amazing your imposter who ended up on the FBI’s Most Wanted List (and in the movie pursued by Tom Hanks). There are 16 cues, and peppered among them are some actual recorded hits of the period, such as Sinatra’s Come Fly With Me, Judy Garland’s Embraceable You, The Girl from Ipanema, and Dusty Springfield’s The Look of Love. Great fun, and so’s the flick.

- John Henry

Naqoyqatsi - Music by Philip Glass, cello solos by Yo-Yo Ma - Members of the Philip Glass Ensemble/Michael Riesman - Sony Music Soundtrax SK 87709:

The third and final film in Godfrey Reggio’s trilogy of non-narrative films differs from the others in using many digital, synthesized images - often of a more violent nature than seen in the other two visual poems. Glass wanted to use a contrasting, more natural-sounding music for these images - involving a full orchestra with Ma’s solo cello. There are eight large sections following the structure of the film, but the disc has 11 tracks including the opening theme. Aside from the magnificent film, the music can be listened to as a fascinating (and very well-recorded) contemporary cello concerto. Tracks: Naqoyqatsi, Primacy of Number, Massman, New World, Religion, Media Weather, Old World, Intensive Time, Point Blank, The Vivid Unknown, Definition.

- John Sunier

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