SOUNDTRACK CDs - Sept. 2002

Here in Portland there are several theaters where you can eat while watching second-run films.
I'll have an Absinthe and a French pastry with this first one, thank you...

AMÉLIE - Music by Yann Thiersen - Virgin/Miramax 72438 10790 2 7:

A perfectly delightful collection of music for a perfectly delightful film. Thiersen is a multi-instrumentalist performer and composer and gives us 20 tracks (all but two from his pen) which match up with the intriguing goings-on of the film's heroine as she attempts to bring together various people while imaginatively avoiding allowing the same to happen to herself. Many of the cues are in waltz time, befitting the gamine-like choreography of this modern-day Audrey Hepburn. Few vocals, so no worry about translations.

A pair of Very Dramatic Hollywood Filmscores...

K-19, The Widowmaker - Music by Klaus Badelt performed by the Kirov Orchestra and Chorus/Vallery Gergiev - Hollywood Records 2061-62371 2:

With a highly serious and dramatic plot involving submarines I guess (how about just a short paragraph description of the story, eh?) and a critically-acclaimed role for Harrison Ford, this new film would draw interested soundtrack collectors regardless. But since half of the CD is an impressive Suite for Orchestra and Chorus in G Minor which can well standard alone as an abstract classical work, many who seldom invest in soundtracks would find this an attractive listening experience. The four movements of the work are subtitled Fear, Fate, War and Soul - giving some idea of the functional use of the music. But that doesn't detract from its powerful effect even if you never see the movie. Gergiev draws plenty of emotional expression out of his forces, making many more standard Hollywood symphonic score recordings sound bloodless. This would probably be a real kick in discrete multichannel - it's not bad using ProLogic II.

- John Sunier

SIGNS - Music by James Newton Howard - The Hollywood Studio Symphony - Hollywood Records 2061-62368-2:

Suitably creepy score for a suitably creepy movie. The startling visuals and the rather different role for actor Mel Gibson are the main things going for this film. Newton's score does a good job supporting and adding emotional flavor, but it probably doesn't stand alone well for someone who hasn't seen the new film. 13 cues. More soundtrack albums seem to be giving credit to the performers than in the past; perhaps to illustrate that the whole thing isn't just a product of the composer's synthesizers.


THE MALTESE FALCON and Other Classic Films Scores by Adolph Deutsch (High Sierra, The Mask of Dimitrios, George Washington Slept Here, Northern Pursuit) - Moscow Sym. Orch./William Stromberg - Marco Polo 8.225169:

Warner Bros. Movie score stars of the 30s and 40s were Korngold, Waxman and Max Steiner, but there were other composers on the staff whose work is being rediscovered thru the expansion of movie music releases on CD. English composer Adolph Deutsch is one of these. He came to Warners from some years as composer-arranger for famed bandleader Paul Whiteman as well as for the Kraft Music Hall radio series. With his fine background in popular music, Deutsch would have been perfect for arranging/conducting musicals, but at Warners Ray Heinsdorf had that down, so it wasn't until Deutsch moved on to MGM in l947 and a series of great musicals which included Annie Get Your Gun, Seven Brides, and Oklahoma! - all of which brought him Academy Awards.

There are anywhere from five to ten cues from each of the five film scores represented here. Most required painstaking restorations of the original scores, which were handled by John Morgan, as on several other soundtrack collections in this series. The notes summarize the plot of each film and there are usually stills from each. Deutsch amends his basic style considerably to fit the needs of each film, but melody usually predominates. Great fun all round, and after reading about the films and hearing the music I often add at least one of these films to my list of "want to see it - if I can ever find it and find the time to watch it."

- John Sunier


Three Movie Scores for Three Great Jazz Films ...

ROUND MIDNIGHT - Herbie Hancock, piano/Ron Carter, bass/Tony Williams, drums/Bobby McFerrin, vocal/John McLaughlin, guitar/Dexter Gordon, tenor sax/Wayne Shorter, soprano sax/Chet Baker, vocal & trumpet/Bobby Hutcherson, vibes/and more - Columbia/Legacy CK 85811:

Originally released on CD in l986, this reissue updates the sonics somewhat and includes a bonus version of the title tune not found on the original. This was a film project of French director and jazz-lover Bertrand Tavernier, with Herbie Hancock not only appearing as the primary keyboardist but also composing several original cue for the film and arranging the rest. I don't remember the fictional plot but the music can't be beat; no problem of this soundtrack standing alone without the images. Two of the tunes have French titles, and Minuit aux Champs-Elysees by Hancock puts him in a strong Django Reinhardt bag.

BIRD - Charlie Parker, sax, plus current performers Monty Alexander, Ray Brown, Walter Davis Jr., Ron Carter, Barry Harris etc. - Columbia/Legacy CK 86474:

Another combination film director and jazz-lover made this superb film bio of Charlie Parker possible. Clint Eastwood tagged the excellent Forest Whitaker to play Charlie onscreen, but he wasn't happy with just finding a modern saxist who could emulate Parker's unique be bop stylings. Yet even the studio recordings made by Parker during his short lifetime were sub-par in the fidelity department. Eastwood's solution was to hire expert audio engineers to electronically pull Parker's solos out of the poorly recorded grooves, clean them up and filter out the other sounds, and adding click tracks so modern musicians could have the thrill of playing with the towering figure of 20th century jazz. This is the only film every made on the life of this tragic genius of modern jazz - by all means see it if you haven't, but this reissue of the 1988 original improves on the first CD via 24-bit remastering and it a gem all on its own. Highlights of the 11 tracks: Lester Leaps In, Laura, Ko Ko, April in Paris, Now's the Time.

THELONIOUS MONK - STRAIGHT NO CHASER - original recordings by Thelonious Monk and sidemen - Columbia/Legacy CK 85812:

Clint Eastwood was also involved as Executive Producer in this very effective documentary on the quirky pianist/composer. Most of the material came from a l968 documentary made for German TV. Interviews with Monk's son, his tenor player Charlie Rouse, his patron Baroness Nica de Koenigswarter and others fill out this amazing documentary. The CD - an enhanced reissue from the l987 original - expands on the music in the film by including portions for which there were audiotapes but no synchronized film. Two highlights of the score are complete versions of both his tunes Epistrophy and Evidence featuring the octet with which he was touring Europe. A bonus track is also included in the reissue.

- John Henry


Two major current movie tracks herewith...

MINORITY REPORT - Music composer and conducted by John Williams - Dreamworks 0044-50385-2:

Mix up a cocktail of sci-fi, mystery, suspense and film noir and you have the latest Tom Cruise vehicle, based on a Philip K. Dick story. A fascinating view, and the 16 cues of music perfectly support the story on the screen. However, director Spielberg is quoted as saying if most of Williams' scores for his films have been in color, this one is in black and white. Agreed. Probably only for Williams and/or Cruise fans.

ROAD TO PERDITION - Music by Thomas Newman - Decca 440 017 167-2:

A very skillfully-produced film with Tom Hanks in a surprising role, backed by an emotionally strong musical score by Thomas Newman. Three selections of period recordings are well-integrated into the score of 27 cues, and the closing track demonstrates that the piano duet featured onscreen in the film was actually played at the keyboard by Tom Hanks and Paul Newman. Can't say whether the CD could stand alone, since the film impressed me so much I can't help thinking back to it when hearing the music.

- John Sunier

Italian Film Music Galore via our next two CDs...

CINEMA ITALIANO - A New Interpretation of Italian Film Music, featuring Deborah Harry, Luciano Pavarotti, Sting, Lucio Dalla, Filippa Giordano - Ar. & cond. By Luis Bacalov - Decca 289 467 050-2:

Flutist Andrea Griminelli assembled this unique presentation of 14 Italian film music re-interpretations. Five of the themes are played by Griminelli and most of the rest sung by the listed vocalists. This is not the first time lyrics have been added to instrumental themes from Italian movies - there was a lovely All-Rota vocal album a couple years back - but this one boasts more variety. Among the well-known movie themes are those from Amarcord, Mediterraneo, Cinema Paradiso, The Mission, Il Postino, La Strada, and The Godfather.

SODOM AND GOMORRAH - Composed and conducted by Miklos Rozsa - BMG/Collectables COL-CD-6480:

This is a reissue from the original l963 RCA Victor soundtrack LP. Not one of the prolific composer's greatest scores and not exactly up to audiophile-level sonics, but the music still has plenty of interest and after all you don't need to study the plot. There are 15 cues with such titles are Dance of the Sinners, Messengers of Jehovah, Destruction of Sodom, and of course: Pillar of Salt. Mainly for Rozsa fans, and the price is reasonable. If you can't find try

- John Sunier


We don't have a Shows category, but since original cast albums are often lumped together with film music, we'll do the same with the next three: First, here's two musicals - both old and new...

MISS SPECTACULAR - New Musical by Jerry Herman, with Christine Baranski, Michael Feinstein, Steve Lawrence, Davis Gains - Musical direction by Don Pippin - DRG Theater 12995:

Here we have the World Premiere Recording of a new "concept musical" by a talented creator of Broadway melodies for many years running. The liner notes don't explain any more about this concept, but it appears the idea is to expose the musical on CD so that it can find a backer to eventually produce on Broadway. The story concerns a simple Topeka girl who leaves her home town to enter a contest to choose a spokesperson for the new Hotel Spectacular in Las Vegas. Named, of course... She goes, her boyfriend follows her there, she wins, they get married. Some great tunes and fun arrangements. Either the supplied Steve Lawrence publicity photo is ancient or he's going to the same plastic surgeon as Dick Clark.

OF THEE I SING - George & Ira Gershwin - The original l952 LP release starring Jack Carson and Paul Hartman - DRG Theater 19024:

This is part of the label's Broadway Collectors Series and a great, great musical - I now have three different versions of it. It was the first stage musical to ever win a Pulitzer and why MGM never made this into a movie musical during its heyday I can't imagine. In addition to the title tune, other Gershwin favorites that came out of this were Mine and my favorite Gershwin tune: Who Cares? The bits about the spurned prospective presidential wife Diana Deveraux are still hilarious. The mono sound is quite serviceable.

- John Sunier


And lastly, a must-hear set not just for the musicals set...

ELAINE STRITCH AT LIBERTY - Live one-woman Broadway show; conductor & pianist - Rob Bowman - DRG Theater 12994 (2 CDs):

This terrific evening of musical theater nostalgia is getting considerable attention in the press and on NPR and fully deserves every plug. Seventy seven-year-old trouper Stritch has been on the B'dway boards seemingly forever. She's seen it all and tells it all in her between-tune just between-us tart-tongued commentaries. The people she's worked with, the people she worked against, the actors she slept with, it's all here in a self-deprecating confessional that doesn't gloss over her long period of alcohol dependency or other mis-steps in her life's choreography. Classical snobs will even find there's one track titled "A Piece of Mahler." This gal's got guts, and though her voice - a "character voice" in her prime but now even more ramped-up in character - doesn't pretend to be beautiful, her interpretations of classics by Berlin, Rodgers & Hart, Coward, Sondheim, the Gershwins and others are superbly affecting. It sounds like there wasn't a dry eye in the house by the end of the second CD - either from laughing so hard or crying I'm not sure. If you ever enjoyed anything on the musical stage - and who hasn't? - you can't miss this one.

- John Sunier

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