War: A Ken Burns Film/Various Artists
October 25, 2007
Ken Burns, in my opinion, is one of the finest historians around. His documentaries on jazz, baseball, and the civil war are all top notch. The War documentary, a 14+ hour excursion into World War 2 is no exception. Not only is he a good storyteller but he has come up with footage that has never been seen before. I would highly recommend watching this special on PBS network, checking it out of your local library, or purchasing the DVD set albiet a tough watch. My father was involved in Iwo Jima to the extent that he had to pick up the leftover Marines who survived the battle, so there is more than just a passing interest in this for me.
This is a case where the soundtrack away from the documentary is truly a wonderful listen even though much of it is a compilation of previously written material. The choice of using the adagio style beginning cadenza of the Copland Concerto for Clarinet was nothing short of a stroke of genius. Used on several occasions in the documentary, the tragic melody sets the mood for the overall horror of the documentary. While not considered the main theme, this reviewer considers it to be. While a Benny Goodman/Aaron Copland recording was used in the soundtrack, there is a fine Naxos recording of the complete work (#8.559069) featuring the Nashville Chamber Orchestra with Laura Alden as soloist. While only a portion is used in the soundtrack it is a 17+ minute work which also consists of some pretty darn good jazz material. As Naxos is always such a good value this work is definitely worth exploring in its entirety. If you’re anything like me you’ll find yourself whistling the theme. My significant other made the comment to me the other day in the car that I was whistling which I rarely do, some theme which she wasn’t familiar with. It got stuck in my brain for sure! The other purely classical work of interest is ‘Death of Falstaff’ taken from Henry V. The Walton adagio is the same vein as Barber’s ‘Adagio for Strings’ and is used on several occasions during the documentary.
There is plenty of source material written during the era. ‘Wang Wang Blues’ from Goodman, ‘Solitude’ from Ellington, and ‘How Long Blues’ from Basie are just some of the material. And it is sequenced in such a way that you’re given doses of classical, original material from Marsalis, singing from Crosby, Starr, and the Nat King Cole Trio, as well as other material.
Upon first listen I wasn’t real impressed with the Marsalis material as it seemed out of place during some of the documentary. However, listening to ‘Until I’m In Your Arms Again’ on CD away from the film, gave me a greater appreciation for the material. The same can also be said for the bluesy ‘Movin Back’ and heartwarming ‘America My Home’. ‘In The Nick Of Time’ taken from a Sony Classical album (60864) Short Trip Home features the bass of composer Edgar Meyer who seems most comfortable with this unusual bluegrass material. Yo-Yo Ma conjures up his middle eastern material ‘Blue As The Turquoise Night of Neyshabur’ with his Silk Road Ensemble. The featured song is ‘American Anthem’ first sung by Norah Jones and then played as a duet to end the soundtrack may likely be the most popular due to the sentimental American tribute of the material.
Having grown up with the Richard Rodger’s Victory At Sea material I was quite surprised at how much this particular CD has grown on me. Both the film and the soundtrack are worth looking into.
Golden Scores Rating is (***1/2)
Produced by Ken Burns
CD# is 88697-10203 2
1. American Anthem (previously unreleased) (05:07)
2. Walton: The Death Of Falstaff (03:37)
London Philharmonic Orchestra
3. The Wang Wang Blues (02:52)
Benny Goodman Sextet
4. Movin Back (previously unreleased) (02:46)
5. How Long Blues (02:58)
6. In the Nick of Time (06:13)
7. It’s Been A Long, Long Time (02:59)
8. America My Home (previously unreleased) (02:17)
9. If I Could Be With You (One Hour Tonight) (02:48)
Capitol International Jazzmen
10. Blue As The Turquoise Night Of Neyshabur (04:27)
Silk Road Ensemble Excerpt
11. Until I’m In Your Arms Again (previously unreleased) (02:41)
12. Part: Variations For The Healing Of Arinushka (05:10)
13. Basie Boogie (02:23)
Count Basie Orchestra
14. Solitude (03:14)
Duke Ellington & His Orchestra
15. Copland: Concerto For Clarinet, Strings, Harp, And Piano (07:44)
Columbia Symphony Orchestra
16. If You Can’t Smile And Say Yes (02:34)
King Cole Trio
17. American Anthem (previously unreleased) (01:44)
Total Duration: 01:01:34