Saturday, 22 February 2014

LA Woman by the Doors

If there's one thing that must be obvious about my musical tastes from this blog, it's that I'm a jazz nut. But I'm not exclusively a jazz nut. And there are still rock albums that get me excited. Including the Doors’ masterpiece LA Woman.

The nice people at Rhino have reissued the Doors’ albums on vinyl and I couldn't resist snapping up a copy of LA Woman to replace — supplement actually — my worn original LP.

Rhino are to be congratulated on their painstaking attempt to replicate the elaborate original packaging of LA Woman — the rounded corners, the acetate window, the yellow inner sleeve with the telephone pole-crucifixion artwork on the reverse.

So it seems churlish to moan, yet moan I must. For a start the yellow inner sleeve in the Rhino reissue isn't really a sleeve. It's slashed along both sides and is in fact a yellow piece of paper that is folded (hinging at the bottom) around a conventional paper inner sleeve.

Now, if this replicates the original release, I will stand corrected. But I don't think it does. I think the original inner sleeve was just that, not some weird wrap-around. In fact, I've got one around here somewhere...

But much worse than that, despite boasting of its 180 gram vinyl, this is a bit of a sonic dog. The music sounds okay but there is constant surface noise, hissing and sizzling, throughout the gaps between the tracks, across the run-in grooves, and muttering away in the background throughout the quiet passages.

This is a very poor pressing indeed. Incompetent and unacceptable. In any sane world it would have been routinely rejected by quality control.

There's no point doing vinyl reissues unless you do them properly. And it’s easy enough. You just listen to samples from the pressing plant, and if they aren't noise free you send them back and tell the factory to junk them and press again, and do it right... That is their job. It's that simple.

(Image credits: front and back cover of the reissue are from Amazon. The inner sleeve is from The Celebrity Pix. The image of the inner sleeve half in and half out of the cover is from Collectors Frenzy and shows an original pressing.)

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Seconds & IQ by Jerry Goldsmith

I have long been a fan of the American film maker John Frankenheimer. One of his most eerie and disturbing films was Seconds, with a great early score by Jerry Goldsmith. When, nearly a century after the movie appeared, the music was finally released I jumped at the chance to get it.

The fact that the CD also featured another obscure Goldsmith score, for a romantic comedy called IQ, was at best a distraction, at worst a nuisance. But when I listened to the CD I was delighted to discover that IQ is actually one of Goldsmith's finest. It's an utterly uncharacteristic score for Goldsmith. It features a lot of classical and jazz sounds (and even doo-wop — check out 'Campus Morning'), and none of the neo-Copeland Americana I associate with the composer. And it is utterly beautiful.

What of Seconds?It is thunderously brooding, electronic-edged and modernist, with a satanic sounding violin and even a good old horror-movie organ which segues into a more modern, angular kind of unease ('Main Title'). The haunting solo piano on 'Isolation' is also a highlight.

This music reminds me that Goldsmith wrote for The Twilight Zone, both in its original 1960 incarnation and later remakes.

There were some issues with the surviving tapes of the music for Seconds, including "print through" which is when sounds migrate through layers of magnetic tape from one track to another. So we have some, very faint, dialogue on a few of the musical cues.

But these ghostly voices bleeding through actually add to the eerie atmosphere of the music.

(Image credits: The front cover of the CD is from Soundtrack Central. The back cover image is from FF Shrine. The alternative covers, featuring just one movie each, are from Willard's Wormholes (Seconds) and FF Shrine again (IQ). All these sites have interesting information about the movies, and the scores.)

Friday, 7 February 2014

Russ Garcia & Sounds in the Night (& Dennis Farnon!)

There is so much to say about Russ Garcia that it's hard to know where to start. Obviously I'm going to have write an in-depth post about this brilliant man. He was swindled out of an Oscar, literally wrote the book on arranging and has provided me with some of my favourite music.

But all that will have to wait for another time. For now just allow me to recommend Mark Myer's splendid blog JazzWax and his fine article on Garcia. And then pass along quickly to Sounds in the Night.

This eerie tapestry of vocals featuring singer Marni Nixon is one of Garcia's rarest records and I was lucky enough to track down a couple of copies of vinyl. (The true vinyl nut needs at least two copies because it was released on two different labels, Bethlehem and, originally, Aamco.) 

Recently it was reissued on CD by the enterprising Él label. And it is that CD which prompted this post. Last night I was listening to the irreplaceable Late Junction on Radio 3. And I heard an extraordinary track (actually, I heard several. But stay focused, Andrew). It featured Marni Nixon and was arranged by Dennis Farnon, talented brother of the more famous Robert. (The otherwise informative booklet notes for the Él CD are hopelessly confused about which Farnon brother did what. But we'll come to that CD in a minute...)

The track was called Very Contrary Mary based on the nursery rhyme. And it was, believe it or not, originally written for the Mr Magoo cartoon series. It was rediscovered by the legendary Jonny Trunk and reissued on a collection called Mr Magoo in Hi-Fi

This was once an LP from RCA. Now, unfortunately it is a download-only entity. So I dropped Jonny a line and asked if he might be prevailed upon to  release it in a physical format (even a CD would do). Jonny tantalisingly hinted that there might be a vinyl sampler featuring the track sometime in the future.

But then I realised something. The Él CD I had of Sounds in the Night... Didn't that have some bonus tracks at the end of the disc? Not by Russ Garcia but featuring Marni Nixon? I scrambled around in my CD collection and... sure enough. There it was. Track 14: Very Contrary Mary. 

Plus six other tracks featuring Dennis Farnon and Marni Nixon. They are all based on nursery rhymes and originally featured in Mr Magoo. Hence the umbrella title, The Mother Magoo Suite.

I'd never paid much attention to them, foolishly curtailing my listening after the Russ Garcia tracks ended. Well I'm playing the CD now, and after the last of Russ's music, baby I'm going to go on playing.
And here's a heads-up for you. You can still pick up this CD at a bargain price. 

Or, if you're impatient and don't want to shop around, buy it straight from the nice people at Él right here. In any case, I urge you to grab a copy.

(Image credits: The cover of the Él CD is from Last FM because Él's own image is not very good. Pull yourselves together, guys! The Aamco cover is from Space Age Pop, an old favourite and a great site. The Bethelehem cover is from the Spanish La Red Chair blog, a new discovery and also very cool. The original Mr Magoo LP cover is from Technology Tell, an intriguing blog about vinyl hunting.)

Friday, 31 January 2014

Dark of the Sun by Jacques Loussier

The French composer Jacques Loussier is best known for his wildly successful Jazz Bach LPs which were multi-million sellers in the 1960s and 1970s. 

However he also did considerable soundtrack work, both for motion pictures and French television. Dark of the Sun — an adventure movie about mercenaries, diamonds and insurgents in the Congo, based on the Wilbur Smith novel — is one of his few English language films

It has also become quite a collectors item among soundtrack fans. I picked up a Japanese pressing of the LP some years ago and now I've just got a copy of Film Score Monthly's excellent CD issue, featuring considerably more music.

It's an instantly engaging score, more moody and evocative than the frenetic action themes you might expect in a movie of this sort, with a definite jazz feel and admirable use of percussion throughout (check out 'The Simbas Attack'). The minimalist percussion is particularly suspenseful when used with whistling ('Ruffo's Death'). There are also highly effective wordless vocals, notably on 'The Mission' and the hilariously titled 'Friendly Natives Having Fun Part 1 and 2'. 

The latter also features a penny whistle, calling to mind, perhaps deliberately, Bert Kaempfert's Kwela-inspired 'A Swingin' Safari'. There is also a distorted militaristic theme ('Dr Wreid') which stands as a kind of sarcastic commentary of the military mindset and some delicious, jazzy electric organ ('Claire and Curry'). 

My most immediate impression was of Ennio Morricone, especially his music for The Battle of Algiers or The Burglars — check out 'The Fight/Port Reprieve' here, although Loussier's work here is more conventionally melodic. But on closer listening there is far more to this score, and Loussier's diversity, originality and invention is impressive. 

I'm particularly taken with the lovely flute ('Curry and the Diamonds Part 1', 'Claire and Curry', 'Curry's Drive with Claire'). And since the score was recorded in London in 1968 I am wondering if it might be the work of the great Tubby Hayes.

An enormously rich and enjoyable score.

(Image credits: The LP cover is from Cidudadano Noodles ('Citizen Noodles') an impressive blog with an extensive post on the film. The Japanese LP cover is from Discogs, an excellent resource for tracking down and buying music which is also full of useful data. The CD cover, with its early use of a chainsaw as an offensive weapon — Tobe Hooper, eat your heart out — is from the Film Score Monthly page where you can buy the CD, which I advise you to do.)

Friday, 24 January 2014

The Ninth Gate by Wojciech Kilar

When I saw Roman Polanski's The Ninth Gate in its opening week, at the only cinema bothering to screen it, a small London venue now called the Cineworld Haymarket, I might well have been the only person in the audience. 

I was certainly the only one to go out and complain when the film started and a misaligned projector began to show the movie halfway up the screen, with a wide band of blank screen underneath and the top of the image lost in the dusty curtains above.

Such was the unbelievable, miserable, reception of this film masterpiece. You wouldn't know from the way it was treated, but it is an outstanding movie and among Polanski's best. One of the many exceptional elements of The Ninth Gate was the hypnotic, haunting score by Polish composer Wojciech Kilar. 

Previously best known for Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula, The Ninth Gate is probably Kilar's masterpiece, at least as far as film music goes. And the composer's tragic death last month has prompted me to listen again to this gorgeous score.

The music features menacing, sawing double basses and spine tingling strings (Opening Titles), eerie, lovely, mysterioso female vocalise sung by soprano Sumi Jo (Theme From The Ninth Gate, The Motorbike), rolling, relentless and almost jaunty trumpet and harpsichord (Corso), marching brass and bouncing keyboards (Bernie is Dead) delicate, descending piano and strings creating a spellbinding spiral (Liana) and a relentless militaresque march — a bolero, in fact (Plane to Spain).

The first thing that struck me about the score, hearing it in the cinema, was Sumi Jo's fabulous, ghostly singing. It reminded me of Edda Dell'Orso's wordless vocals for classic Morricone soundtracks. And it's quite marvellous. But there is much more to enjoy here than one singer. This is wonderful music which deserves your attention.


(Image credits: The cigarette smoking Johnny Depp cover is for an unofficial (read 'bootleg') Argentinian double CD release of the complete score. It is taken from the site FF Shrine. The Depp and gate cover is from Funky Souls. The Neuvieme Porte  cover is the one on the CD I own and is taken from Amazon. Some of these sites offer shady downloads but you should go to Amazon or another proper dealer and buy a legitimate copy of the music.)

Thursday, 16 January 2014

12 Years a Slave by Hans Zimmer

Yesterday I saw the film 12 Years a Slave. I have to say it wasn't, in my view, a complete success. But in one area it was immediately clear to me that it was an unqualified masterpiece — the use of music.

The picture has a brooding, terrifying avant-garde score. It was completely effective in supporting the mood of the movie while also being an impressive piece of work in its own right. There were no credits at the beginning of the film, so I didn't know who was responsible for the music. I assumed that it was an unknown, experimental young composer. I made a note to watch for the name at the end.

To my astonishment it was the work of Hans Zimmer, one of the most prolific of mainstream Hollywood composers. This revelation compounded a process that has been going on for a few years now. For the longest time I'd dismissed Zimmer's work. I was turned off by some early synthesiser scores like Point of No Return and my attitude had subsequently hardened to what I thought was my own personal point of no return.

But then I heard his delightful music for Sherlock Holmes. It was such a quirky, engaging score that I was forced to approach Zimmer with a newly open mind. And I was rewarded with the pleasure of such soundtracks as Inception (kind of a post modern John Barry 007 soundtrack).

Anyway, 12 Years a Slave is great, and this morning I sat down at the computer to order the CD. Which is where we come to the tragic part of our tale. There is a soundtrack CD available. Yippee. And it's available at a bargain price. Double yippee. But it's one of those dread "Music From and Inspired By the Film" confections. These loathsome, bastardised compilations are aimed at cashing in and usually have none of the film's actual score. This one is no different, featuring two meagre tracks by Zimmer (out of a total of 16).

There is an unofficial promotional release of Zimmer's music (a total of almost 39 minutes) but it isn't generally available. I can only hope someone in the music division of Columbia has a burst of sanity and issues the entire score on a legitimate CD.

(Image credits: The front and back cover of the "From and Inspired By" CD are from Amazon where you can buy the CD, though I can't imagine why you'd want to. The cover for the much more appealing promotional release is from Hans Zimmer Dot Com, a very informative "almost official" site.)

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

FX2 by Lalo Schifrin

Lalo Schifrin is probably my favourite musician, and also the first one I became aware of by name when I was a child — it was his addictive, propulsive theme for Mission: Impossible which made me, and millions of others, take note of the composer.

Given my enthusiasm for Schifrin it's a little odd that it's taken me so long (over four years) to get around to writing about him on this music blog. Also perhaps a little odd to chose an obscure work like this soundtrack as the first one to discuss. But it's the latest Schifrin to come my way, and it's a fascinating score.

Since the late 20th century there's been a proliferation of small record labels devoted to releasing forgotten movie soundtracks. Thanks to them lot of wonderful music which seemed lost forever has been rescued. One of the latest of these labels to emerge is Quartet Records in Spain. And one of their most recent issues is Schifrin's FX2

Written for the 1991 sequel about a special effects man who fights crime, at first listening FX2 sounds like a brash, slick pop-style thriller soundtrack which moves swiftly but doesn't have a great deal of depth. But subsequent listenings begin to reveal extraordinary detail and variety.

How many action scores have you heard which combine Philip Glass serial modernism with fat, funky guitars? Or include an homage to Nino Rota's music for the films of Fellini ('Bluey')? 

FX2 is obviously going to repay further listening, and may well turn out to be a milestone among the composer's later movie work.

(Image credits: The CD cover is from the Quartet Records website where you can buy the CD. The movie poster is from Soundtrack Collector, which is a very useful resource for information.)