October 30, 2013
I, The Jury was a film from the 80’s that I completely missed partly due to the fact that I’ve never been a Mickey Spillane fan, the author, and my experience with Armand Assante and Barbara Carrera was very limited. Even my experience with Bill Conti, the composer, consisted of albums of Rocky (1976) and The Formula (1980). This first time release of the score by La-La Land (LLLCD 1275) aroused my interest on the very first play. While there was nothing original the way that Conti composed there was a strong amount of originality in the way the patches formed the quilt. While many styles such as Schifrin, Hayes, Coleman, and other jazz appear in the soundtrack there isn’t one specific style that dominates. It wouldn’t be something you would hear at a Herbie Hancock jazz concert but there is an attraction to the overall material as it blends what a soundtrack should sound like with the world of improvisational jazz.
The Main Title features a frantic piano line that plays through the entire track that somewhat dominates creating a frenzy that the brass and saxophone seem to feed off of. The theme is repeated in the End Credits so it becomes the dominate melody of the soundtrack. As this is a soundtrack you’ll hear other styles that aren’t jazz improvisation but underscore material for the film. Just when you get settled in to the jazz style of music Conti throws in a Chopin Etude along with original material (Stairway to Surrogate) which is a variation of the main theme. The sudden statement from the sax toward the end of the track seems to bring the track back to the jazz base. This Chopin Etude is also featured in a bonus track Tribute to Mike Lang which begins with a small amount of conversation before the Etude begins. Velda’s Vamp puts you right back into the bluesy jazz style which exudes a bit of the Miles Davis style with the trumpet and then the sax soloing over the orchestra. A bit of Hancock piano briefly appears in Closet Cache and Kendrick’s Taxi Time, a series of dissonant chords. The jazz picks up again as an introduction to Michael’s Taxi Ride First with the orchestra offering a biting sound and then it shares with the string bass offering a solo. Concrete Chase Conclusion again shows off the talent of keyboard master Michael Lang with a series of calculated piano runs mixed in with bursts of energy from the brass. A hint of the tension Schifrin appears with lower register strings and selectively placed percussion to enhance what we see on the screen.
As with most of the newer re-releases today your treated to bonus tracks and there are 8 of them. Little information is given but it seems like all of the tracks are included. While the liner notes are up to the usual standards of La-La Land you might want to get out your dictionary like I did to look up certain words. You can look forward to a unique experience from Conti as he mixes traditional jazz with movie underscore material. Remember that this release is limited to 2000 units so at some point it will sell out. Recommended.
Total Duration: 01:00:33
October 24, 2013
Tragedy is an understatement when it comes to the life of Hans Rott (1858-1884), an aspiring composer who suffered from hallucinations and died in a mental asylum of tuberculosis at the age of 25. He left us a small number of compositions, one of which was this symphony that I’m reviewing. It survived partly because of Gustav Mahler and the efforts of conductor Gehrad Samuel who premiered the work in 1989. While his performance was far from stellar (rumor has, it was a student orchestra) it was the first and the controversy began as to how much of the work contributed to Mahler’s 1st as the two of them were roommates in school. Bruckner also had an influence on his work and knew him well enough to attend his funeral. Brahms listened to the work and told Rott to give up music and find another occupation. This could have had something to do with his affiliation to the Wagner Society. 24 years later we now have several recordings to choose from, with the latest being this fine live recording from Acousence #ACO-CD 20104, performed by the Philharmonisches des Staatstheaters Mainz conducted by Catherine Ruckwardt.
The opening movement gives us the main melody from the trumpets a proud and majestic one which is taken up by the string section and finally comes to an uplifting conclusion. The second section of the first movement is tranquil with the main melody still making its presence felt as different sections of the orchestra participate in developing the theme. It concludes with a grand forte. The very slow “Sehr langsam” is quite the opposite of what we just heard. It is a yearning movement that has no definite melody but seems to keep the listeners interest with the brass chords which hint at the main melody but don’t quite play it.
The third movement is one that definitely influenced Mahler. “Frisch und lebhaft” begins with brass fanfare which offers a new melody which is taken up by the strings in a brisk tempo. As the music slows to a halt we hear the low growl from the contrabassoon a new melody emerges from a gypsy violin consequently taken up by the brass with proud chords. As suddenly as it appeared it is taken over by taut warlike chords once again from the brass. We hear yet another reference to the main melody. The final movement “Sehr langsam-belebt” slowly emerges with sounds like footsteps to a return to light from the darkness. There are disturbing noises from the contrabassoon. The development is slow but positive as we begin to hear an offering from the oboe and then from the flutes with brass harmony. There is a section in the movement that was definitely influenced by Beethoven’s 9th symphony. My only comment is what a work to model yours after. The finale of the 4th movement is a return to the proud majestic theme that we heard at the beginning.
It wasn’t until Acousence released this recording that my interest peaked to a point where I can tell you this should be part of your collection. There has been much discussion which has no relevance to the work at all. Almost every composer has been influenced by someone before him. While I admit there is somewhat of a patchwork feeling to the symphony it has little influence on the overall listening experience. The conductor Catherine Ruckwardt has taken a work to new levels of excitement and it should be one that will be given repeated listens. The orchestra flows under her baton from the grumbly contrabassoon to the harmonic fanfares of the brass section. They sounded well rehearsed. The recording, which was from a live performance, captured the sound of the orchestra nicely as well as the ambience of the hall making this a winner. Highly recommended
1… Alla breve (9:19)
2… Sehr langsam (10:56)
3… Frisch und lebhaft (12:48)
4… Sehr langsam-belebt
Total Time 56:14
October 10, 2013
“Wyatt Earp” was ambushed by a film “Tombstone” which also dealt with similar historical events specifically the gunfight at O.K. Corral which Hollywood has had a completely different take on what actually happened. “Tombstone” was released a few months before “Wyatt Earp” and became a successful money making film while “Wyatt Earp” became a copy cat film in the eyes of the general public. The 191 minute running time didn’t help matters and as a result its 63 million dollar budget only resulted in sales of 25 million dollars while “Tombstone’s” budget at 25 million grossed over 56 million at the theaters. The Lawrence Kasdan directed, produced, and written film starred Kevin Costner, Dennis Quaid, and Gene Hackman and chronicled the life of Wyatt Earp. Kasdan shot nearly one million feet of film over a period of five months plus another six months of editing. The film was actually nearly 4 hours but was trimmed to the three plus hour length.
Although the music should have been nominated for an Oscar it was in competition with “Lion King,” “Shawshank Redemption,” “Little Women,” “Forrest Gump,” and “Interview With A Vampire.” This new rerelease/expanded CD from La-La Land (LLLCD 1250) consists of three CD’s with over 160 minutes of all of the music written for the film written by James Newton Howard including alternate takes, music from the film which was cut, source cues, and even synth mockups. It is priced at $29.98 and includes a 28 page booklet, written by newcomer Tim Greiving, which tells you about the background, making, and the music in great detail. Tim and I would get along fine as we both agree that “Signs” is one of the greatest scores of all time. As is usually the case this release is of the limited edition variety (3000) and will at some point sell out so it is better to act sooner than later.
Disc One begins with a previously unreleased track which features a low growl from the orchestra before a trumpet fanfare briefly introduces a peaceful and laid back version of the Wyatt Earp theme, one you’ll hear often throughout the entire 3 CD set. It ends with a danger motif of what is to come in the film. The main title offers a “Big Country” style of expansive full symphonic treatment that is mixed in with touches of delicate romantic touches along with swirling passages that take you in other directions. “Boys Go to Town” features folk material, one of several tracks which have roots that go back to Celtic material as well as early American western times.
“The Wedding” is one of the more proud, majestic, and romantic cues that he has ever done. Just think about some of the work he did in “Prince of Tides” and you have a pretty good idea what you’re in store for. As “The Wedding” shows the beauty of life the contrasting “Urilla Dies” gives us the sadness of death in a dirge tempo that is also heart wrenching in a completely different way. After a C major rendition of the Wyatt theme we switch to a fiddle and guitar for the track “Skinning Buffalo” followed by a Celtic theme with a fiddle solo followed by the orchestra with pipes that makes you want to get up and dance. This is yet another contrasting piece to what we have heard. “Dodge City” is bright and full of vigor making you think about Copland’s “Rodeo” before it shifts gears in a section of danger. The lower register instruments shine as we’re waiting for something to happen. Howard makes fine use of the bassoon in “The River Seduction,” which is in contrast to the sweet higher register violins. He adds an oboe line for just the right touch. “Tombstone” is a short cue that offers more of the guitars, a brief appearance from the fiddle and a quick reference of the Wyatt theme from the strings. The “End Credits” which are known to appear on many a compilation CD will not disappoint as it conjures up the Wyatt, Dodge, and Wagon Chase (a theme that sounds like it came right out of “Signs”). It is a job well done by Howard. The third CD offers an additional 21 cues of the themes offered on the first two CD’s. They are shorter or longer with a different orchestration, an instrument added or deleted. It seems after listening to this 162 minute offering Howard left no stone unturned to make it perfect.
If you don’t own the original release from 1994 and want to hear the original presentation there is a track listing in the liner notes that will allow you to program the cues from all three CD’s. If you do own the original as many of us do I would still recommend that you get the expanded version as it will leave no stone unturned. I don’t think you can get too much of a good thing. Recommended!