North Of Hollywood/North

June 28, 2010

While Alex will be remembered for writing a #1 hit “Unchained Melody,” performed by the Everly Brothers and featured in the film Ghost there are some of us who will remember him for his incredible jazz. This mind you comes from a Russian born American who went to Russia to study music and his mentor was Prokofiev! He wrote some pretty cool daddy- o West Coast jazz that he recorded in a small group setting for RCA (LPM 1445). These have been re-orchestrated by North for this recording.

What the listener will hear is a series of structured jazz compositions featuring the entire combo. Every instrument plays a role in this recording. Keep in mind that many of these pieces were written as underscore for a film, thus there are only brief solos and even then are structured and not open for a musician’s interpretation in an improvisational fashion. Alex makes strong use of a crisp percussion, baritone sax, trombone, sultry sax, bass flute, and soulful clarinet. Don’t look for a lot of thematic material as this is definitely in the category of setting a mood with defined instrumentation to set the scene for the movie. While there are subtle melodies none are sustained with the exception of “French Quarter” as sultry a number as you’ll ever hear. “Unchained Jazz” is not a variation of “Unchained Melody” but a heated passion sax with a dissonant background from the growling brass and piano out of key at times with the solo from the sax. “Monte Carlo” with the bossa nova beat from the bongo drums is danceable in parts but it does stray from the path with off key bars. North certainly knew how to write for a seductive scene making the saxophone ooze the sex. One could compare the style to Elmer Bernstein’s early jazz. The staccato and sax lead are a style that is similar in parts but one familiar with both composers could easily pick who was who.

The recording has been remastered twice to CD, the last being the Spanish RCA division in 2002 and with a little bit of effort can be found. It is also available through Amazon and ITunes as a download. I still enjoy the mono LP I purchased many years ago in a bargain bin at a record store. It is a bit scratchy but a nice warm vinyl sound that somehow never seemed to transfer to the antiseptic sound of the CD.

Track listing:

1. Stud poker (01:29)

From “A Streetcar named Desire”

2. Four Deuces (03:09)

From “A Streetcar named Desire”

3. Trick or Treat (02:32)

From “Wall Street Ballet”

4. French Quarter (02:19)

From “A Streetcar named Desire”

5. Hot Spell (02:22)

From “Hot Spell”

6. Ode to a Western (02:06)

From “American Road”

7. Unchained Jazz (03:57)

From “Unchained”

8. Monte Carlo (01:34)

From “The Racers”

9. Floozie (02:26)

From “The Rose Tattoo”

10. Mardi Gras Bump (01:37)

From “The Rose Tattoo”

11. Magnolia (02:29)

From “Member of the wedding”

12. Ticker Tape (02:25)

From “Wall Street Ballet”

13. Jody’s Lament (03:18)

From “Member of the wedding”

14. Blackjack (02:46)

From “The Racers”

Total Duration: 00:34:29

Offering eighteen selections’ including many of the British standards such as “The Warsaw Concerto,” “Colonel Bogey March,” and “The White Cliffs of Dover,” Carl Davis has put together a fine nostalgic collection of material re-recorded for the BBC Concert Orchestra, Brighton Chorus, and several popular soloists. The exception is “Hymn To The Fallen,” the John Williams composition to the film Saving Private Ryan while written in the 1990’s was indeed about World War II so it is and isn’t part of the era.

As far as this reviewer is concerned the highlight of this CD was the Litolff “Concerto Symphonique No. 4, Op. 102 Scherzo,” performed by Melvin Tan. The world of music continues to fascinate me everyday as this is yet another composer/work I’m not familiar with. It is a technical delight of non stop scales some performed at a breakneck pace with a definite Mendlessohn flavor to the seven minute work. This seems to be the only work that has survived from Litolff. I can’t comment further on the performance comparing it to others; it sounds just fine to me.

Tan also performs the “Warsaw Concerto” in fine fashion. It is pure schmaltz but in this case it is a good thing and a composition always welcome to my ears.

“Colonel Bogey March” takes me back to my high school and college marching days blowing my trombone and trying to stay in step with everyone else. If I remember correctly there was a nice part written for the horns.

“Hymn to the Fallen” is a moving patriotic religious piece which begins with a Copland fanfare and is quite a moving work that is meant to bring a tear to your eye and does so.

Many of the other selections are just pure nostalgia and people who were involved will find that memories will come back to them. Songs such as “I’m Gonna Get Lit Up,” “London Pride,” and We’re Gonna Hang Out The Washing On The Siegfried Line” are examples. I actually quite enjoyed “Goodnight Children Everywhere,” performed nicely by Mary Carewe. Perhaps thinking of it as a lullaby and being a grandfather could have something to do with it.

This is a CD that you’re going to have to decide for yourself based on the information I’ve given you.

Track Listing:

1. Wish me luck as you wave me goodbye [02:47]

2. Warsaw Concerto [09:16]

3. Goodnight children everywhere [03:58]

4. Bless ’em all [02:40]

5. the white cliffs of Dover [02:41]

6. Dambusters [04:02]

7. We’re gonna hang out the washing on the Siegfried line [03:06]

8. London pride [04:21]

9. Litolff Scherzo [07:12]

10. Keep the homefires burning [04:20]

11. Lilli Marlene [02:11]

12. Colonel Bogey [04:17]

13. When they sound the last all clear [03:06]

14. There’ll always be an England [03:44]

15. When the lights go on again [03:19]

16. I’m gonna get lit up [03:10]

17. We’ll meet again [03:03]

18. Hymn to the fallen [06:37]

Total Time is 74:00

Introduced in September of 1957 on Broadway by Jerome Robbins, West Side Story was an immediate success and subsequently became a 10 time Oscar winning film in 1961 from Robert Wise.

The symphonic dances premiered in February 1961 with Lukas Foss conducting the New York Philharmonic. A pops orchestra consider this a staple in the repertoire of performed works. The 22 plus minute suite has instantly recognizable memories such as “Maria” and “Somewhere” so audiences truly enjoy the listening experience this work has to offer. The “Tonight” theme, another famous melody isn’t included in the suite. It is vivacious with the mambos, jazzy orchestrations, and bright percussion. Put this into the category of an attention grabber with its modern sound but easy enough to an occasional listener to understand. The bright playing of the brass, the dissonant chords, and foot stomping percussion has given this piece an important place in history. Even the vivid red cover art with the dancers on the stairs has become something of an icon.

As an admirer of Aaron Copland it is similar to hear some of the same style, harmony, and tempo of music from both composers. One only has to listen to the “Scherzo” to hear the strains of Copland. While famous for his conducting, Leonard did produce several major works during his lifetime including one Hollywood film On The Waterfront, to which there is also a symphonic suite available previously reviewed. His one film resulted in an Oscar nomination giving him a 100% track record something few if any film composers can boast of. The Munich orchestra conducted by Ulf Schirmer gives a snappy listening recording obviously understanding how an American musical needs to be played.

There are many recordings to choose from as far as the West Side Story symphonic suite is concerned but there aren’t a lot of choices as far as Trouble In Tahiti, the 40 minute one act opera is concerned. I wasn’t familiar with this work at all but to my surprise I found it to be quite entertaining, performed by the Munich Radio Orchestra and a talented singing group. Based on Bernstein’s family life it is a witty well performed opera. Consider this as an addition to your collection.

West Side Story: Symphonic Dances

Munich Radio Orchestra

Schirmer, Ulf, Conductor

1. I. Prologue 00:04:22

2. II. Somewhere 00:04:26

3. III. Scherzo 00:01:21

4. IV. Mambo 00:02:18

5. V. Cha – cha 00:00:57

6. VI. Meeting Scene 00:00:35

7. VII. Cool 00:00:51

8. VIII. Fugue 00:02:54

9. IX. Rumble 00:01:55

10. X. Finale 00:03:30

Bernstein, Leonard

Bernstein, Leonard, lyricist(s)

Trouble in Tahiti

Criswell, Kim, mezzo-soprano

Gilfry, Rodney, baritone

Grimson, Martene, soprano

Dwyer, Adrian, tenor

Collett, Ronan, baritone

Munich Radio Orchestra

Schirmer, Ulf, Conductor

11. Prelude: Mornin’ Sun (Trio) 00:03:23

12. Scene 1: How could you say (Sam, Dinah, Trio) 00:05:34

13. Scene 2: Yes Oh Mister Partridge! (Sam, Trio) 00:02:56

14. Scene 3: I was standing in a garden (Dinah) – Scene 2a: Miss Brown (Sam) – Scene 3a: Then the desire took hold inside me (Dinah) 00:07:52

15. Scene 4: Well, of all people (Sam, Dinah) 00:05:09

16. Interlude: Lovely day! (Trio) 00:01:51

17. Scene 5: There’s a law (Sam) 00:04:12

18. Scene 6: What a movie (Dinah, Trio) 00:04:53

19. Scene 6a: There’s a law (Sam) – Scene 7: Evening Shadows (Sam, Dinah, Trio) 00:08:01

Elgin Heuerding in conversation with Ulf Schirmer

Heuerding, Elgin, narrator

Schirmer, Ulf, narrator

20. Elgin Heuerding in conversation with Ulf Schirmer 00:10:12

Total Playing Time: 01:17:12

Was there a greater composer combination than George and Ira Gershwin? This reviewer thinks not. In a short span of 20 or so years the Gershwin’s offered hit after hit for first Broadway and then Hollywood. One could only imagine how many recordings there are today that include at least one or more of the Gershwin standards. Thousands I’m sure is a conservative figure.

Simply put Porgy and Bess is a unique opera that combines jazz, classical, and popular music, something that is quite special. The 44+ Suite is divided into five parts and includes all of the material from the opera including “Summertime,” “I Got Plenty O’ Nuttin,” “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” and all the others. Arranged by Franck Villard the clarinet becomes the singer while the strings are ever present in the background providing the necessary support for soloist Michel Lethiec. Unlike other recordings on the market this is not the big bold symphonic suite that could bring a tear to your eye. This is definitely more in the category of being chamber like, subtle, but a way in which you have to hear this particular music performed. I like the arrangement, the orchestra, and the soloist. While you’re listening to something familiar it is done in such a way that it’s opening up new territory.

The An American in Paris (excerpt) can fall into that same category of hearing familiar territory in a new and different orchestration. Yes I’ve heard this version with a rich full sound from a 100 piece orchestra such as the Boston Pops, complete with sounds of automobile horns in a rendition that will produce shivers up your spine. The 5+ minute offering is more of an appetizer, a far too short sampling of the work. One could liken it to a sound clip. However, I like the clarinet playing and the subtle style of the orchestration.

While Villard did say in the liner notes that he wanted to create a mini concerto from the piano work he only did the Andante and while it is pleasant enough to listen to I really can’t consider it much more than filler material. The same can be said about the 3 Preludes.

I would have much preferred an extended An American in Paris and just eliminate the concerto and prelude material. Having said that I would still recommend this recording as a different way to listen to the old standard Porgy and Bess.

Porgy and Bess Suite (arr. F. Villard for clarinet and strings)

Lethiec, Michel, clarinet

Sinfonia Finlandia Jyvaskyla

Gallois, Patrick, Conductor

1. I. — 00:07:46

2. II. — 00:07:47

3. III. — 00:07:44

4. IV. — 00:09:13

5. V. — 00:11:31

Piano Concerto in F major: II. Andante con moto (arr. F. Villard for clarinet and strings)

Lethiec, Michel, clarinet

Sinfonia Finlandia Jyvaskyla

Gallois, Patrick, Conductor

6. Piano Concerto in F major: II. Andante con moto (arr. F. Villard for clarinet and strings) 00:06:59

An American in Paris (excerpt) (arr. F. Villard for clarinet and strings)

Lethiec, Michel, clarinet

Sinfonia Finlandia Jyvaskyla

Gallois, Patrick, Conductor

7. An American in Paris (excerpt) (arr. F. Villard for clarinet and strings) 00:05:28

3 Preludes (arr. F. Villard for clarinet and strings)

Lethiec, Michel, clarinet

Sinfonia Finlandia Jyvaskyla

Gallois, Patrick, Conductor

8. No. 1 in B flat major 00:01:44

9. No. 2 in C sharp minor 00:03:51

10. No. 3 in E flat major 00:01:32

Total Playing Time: 01:03:35