Monday, 14 July 2014

RCA's Classic Film Scores

Thank heavens for car boot sales (in America the equivalent would, I suppose, be swap meets). This year I attended the grand local annual event and came back with a bag of 19 LPs (and also a CD, but we'll pretend that didn't happen).

Amongst the treasures on vinyl was this soundtrack album. Ignore the slightly dodgy cover; it's a masterpiece. More importantly, it's one of a series of masterpieces. The music is by Erich Wolfgang Korngold, drawn from various classic movies.

These are not the original original soundtrack recordings. In other words, they're not the music which was originally attached to the print of the film. They are re-recordings. This is almost always the case with so-called "original" soundtrack recordings. But these are great re-recordings, and part of a magnificent series of 15 LPs (some sources say 14) issued by RCA in the early  1970s.

The project was the brainchild of Charles Gerhardt, who conducted the National Philharmonic Orchestra on the recordings. They featured music by Hollywood greats such as Korngold, Bernard Herrmann and Franz Waxman. The music was superb, the performances were magnificent and the recordings and pressings outstanding — this was the last hurrah of quality vinyl before things went digital.

Elizabeth and Essex is splendid, particularly the Sea Wolf score which features gorgeous use of harmonica. But if you are into the golden age of film music, then really any of these Gerhardt RCAs are worth seeking out. They're well worth hearing on CD, but it's the vinyl you really want, if you can find it.

(Image credits: the LP cover is from the reliable Soundtrack Collector. The photo of Gerhardt at the piano, baton in mouth, is from Classical CD Review.)

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Roland Kirk Meets Cy Coleman

One good thing about that fascinating little vixen of an American jazz singer I once knew (Hi, Kat!) was that she introduced me to the music of Cy Coleman. Coleman was an irresistible jazz pianist and a distinguished composer of popular songs and Broadway shows. He's probably best known for classics like Big Spender, Witchcraft, When in Rome and The Best is Yet to Come. Oh yes, and the Playboy Theme.

I just love his stuff, but he is definitely what you'd call mainstream, so I was astonished to discover that Roland Kirk, the mad genius of avant-garde jazz, had recorded a beautiful version of a Cy Coleman song. I only know this thanks to a recent episode of the excellent Radio 3 program Geoffrey Smith's Jazz devoted to Roland Kirk. The song in question is I've Got Your Number and it is just dynamite. 

As soon as I heard it, I had to have it. And when I saw what the cover of the relevant album looked like — a brilliant black and white caricature by Desző Csanàdy — I was totally lost. (Here's another great piece of art by Csanàdy, a pyschedelic book cover.)

Picture me hunched over the computer, after midnight, looking for this LP. I found one in a few minutes and ordered it. A very nice UK flipback copy.

This is a stupendous album, an irresistible blend of the far out and the popular — as exemplified both by the choice of songs (besides the wonderful Coleman composition there is also a lovely cover of A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square) and the presence of the Benny Golson Orchestra — hilariously listed on the Radio 3 Geoffrey Smith website as the Benny Goodman Orchestra. 

Now, that really would have been strange bedfellows.

This album is a revelation, and well worth seeking out.

(Image credits: The beautiful cartoon cover on the US LP is from Collector's Frenzy. The British version — the copy I own — is from the Ian Gourlay listing on Gemm, where I bought it (thank you, Ian!). The slightly less wonderful photographic cover is from Music Stack.)

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Temptation by Piero Piccioni

Kronos Records is an excellent boutique record label based in Malta who specialise in issuing CDs of rare film scores and other sought after music, most of which have never previously been available in any form. They are run by Godwin Borg, who is an eminently nice guy (Hi, Godwin!). I first got in touch with Kronos when I was in search of some choice items by Piero Umiliani. I bought these and soon began exploring other treats and treasures available from Kronos.

One of the most surprising was by another great Italian composer called Piero — Piero Piccioni. It's a soundtrack for an obscure 1968 film called Temptation. It's a beautiful, jazzy, bossa-influenced score and cut from the same cloth as Piccioni masterpieces like The Tenth Victim, particularly in its use of swirling electric organ and sensual saxophone. Utterly delightful and irresistible. Perfect music for a laid back dinner party, or enlightened easy listening.

On the same CD, which weighs in at a generous 74 minutes, is a TV score for La Figlia del Capitano (The Captain's Daughter) which is a very contrasting piece — bleak, classical and reminiscent of Bernard Herrmann, notably Herrmann's work in his CBS era, such as the Walt Whitman Suite.

Godwin regularly holds sales when selected CDs — such as this one — are offered at tremendous bargain prices. So you should sign up for email updates. And you can also follow Kronos on Facebook.

(Image credits: The CD cover is from the Kronos catalogue. The moody photo of Piccioni is from the Kronos biography page. Thanks, Godwin.)

Saturday, 7 June 2014

The Good, the Bad and the Record Store Day

Every year on Record Store Day all sorts of wonderful limited edition albums are released on vinyl. They're available briefly, first come first served, and then they're gone... Unless you're willing to buy them from the profiteers — the "flippers" who buy low and sell high on eBay.

This year I had a list of records I wanted to obtain, and high on that list was the reissue of Ennio Morricone's milestone score for The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. It came with a special illustrated insert sheet featuring different versions of the movie posters from all over the world and was pressed on transparent green vinyl.

I was all set to line up before opening time at my local record store (Banquet in Kingston — hi chaps!). But events conspired to keep me away. (My cat was fatally injured. I spent the day at the vets and sitting beside the phone waiting for the bad news. Not fun.)

But I managed to pick up this Morricone LP at a not-unreasonable price from a decent sort of flipper and I've now had the chance to listen to it. And I'm seriously impressed. And very surprised.

Often records which are pressed on coloured vinyl sound terrible. (Remind me to tell you about the orange Bride of Frankenstein some time.) So I'm always wary of anything that isn't plain old black. But this Record Store Day Morricone sounds terrific.

Indeed, I'm hearing details on here I've never noticed before. So much so that I'm wondering if they used alternate versions of some of the tracks. I'm going to do a comparison listening with other releases of the LP which I've got, and I shall report back. 

But in the meantime, this is well worth getting hold of, if you can find a copy at a reasonable price. (It originally retailed for about £30 in the UK and $30 in the USA.)

(Image credits: the cover shot is from groovy little Dusty Groove. My favourite record store in the whole world — sorry, Sister Ray! the Japanese movie poster is from Illustraction Gallery. The Italian one is from the Movie Poster Shop.)

Saturday, 31 May 2014

A Ligeti Odyssey

Like virtually everyone else of my generation I first became aware of the extraordinary music of György Ligeti — pronounced "Jurge" (rhymes with "surge") "Liggetty" (rhymes with higgetty-piggetty) — through Kubrick's use of it in 2001: A Space Odyssey. 

Ligeti wasn't entirely pleased by this exposure or, some say, by the fact that his music had been distorted in the film. 

You can read more about that here, but in the end Kubrick and Ligeti settled out of court and Ligeti came to be pleased by the association of his music with 2001. Kubrick, for his part, would return to Ligeti's music for The Shining.

These observations have been prompted by an excellent documentary on BBC Radio 3 about the life and work of Ligeti. It's fascinating and informative and Ligeti comes across as charmingly unpretentious. 

He describes how the Fourth Movement of his Piano Concerto, sometimes called The Fractal Movement was actually inspired by a Marx Brothers movie.

In Night at the Opera, Groucho packs his tiny ship's cabin with visitors, including a stream of waiters bringing him boiled eggs. The room rapidly fills to bursting point, just as the sparse sound world of the Fourth Movement begins steadily more dense. "It's not the Fractal Movement," said Ligeti with amusement. "It's the Boiled Egg Movement."

Even more appealing to me, it reveals that Ligeti admired the work of Henry Mancini and was influenced by him, consulting Mancini's book on orchestration and studying works like the Pink Panther Theme. Suddenly György Ligeti doesn't seem such a daunting, austere or formidable figure, but an approachable musician of genius.

There was also a first rate program of music accompanying the documentary on Radio 3, though by the time you read this it will probably have expired. The documentary however, looks like it will be available indefinitely. Have a listen.

(Image credits: The 2001 cover is from Amazon. The LP of the Shining, with great cover are by Saul Bass — and a surprisingly rare album — is from Flickr courtesy of William Creswell. The Pink Panther is from Jazz dot Com. Thank you all.)

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Finian’s Rainbow

I'm not normally a fan of Broadway musicals. To be frank I often find them too screamingly camp. Some I cotton to immediately — the noirish and sexy classics directed by Bob Fosse, like Cabaret and Chicago (both of which had songs by Kander and Ebb) are just great. But, as a rule, most Broadway songs need to be put through the purifying charcoal filter of jazz before I can endure them.

On the other hand, I love the songs of lyricist Yip Harburg. His left wing masterpieces like Buddy Can You Spare a Dime and, especially, Dusty Shoes seem to me powerful, moving and relevant. Not to mention brilliantly written. My admiration for E.Y. Harburg ('Yip' is a nickname, Yiddish for squirrel, given to him when he was a skinny redheaded kid dashing everywhere) has even led me to reassess The Wizard of Oz (yes, he's the guy who penned those blood-chilling words, "Somewhere over the rainbow...").

The one Yip Harburg musical I really wanted to catch was Finian's Rainbow (Music by Burton Lane, lyrics by Harburg, book by Harburg and Fred Saidy). I used to assume this was some kind of cod Irish nonsense about Leprechauns and crocks of gold. Well, it does feature both of those items, but it's set in the deep south of the USA and wrestles with issues of racism and hostility to immigrants. It features this great one-liner: "My family has been having trouble with immigrants ever since we came to this country."

It also features some truly classic songs, including Old Devil Moon. So when an acclaimed production turned up at the Charing Cross Theatre I zipped along to see it like an eager squirrel. Smart move. It was an outstanding production with a notably jazzy score played by some gifted pit musicians. And Christina Bennington was a knockout in the role of Sharon.

If you get a chance to see this production — adapted by Charlotte Moore, directed by Phil Willmott — drop everything and rush along. In the meantime you can listen to the superb (and jazzy) version recorded in 1963 by the Reprise Musical Repertory Theatre, Frank Sinatra's record label, which turned me on to the glories of these songs in the first place.

(Image credits: The poster for the production I saw is from West End Whingers. The Reprise LP cover is from EIL.)

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Moira Stuart on Sunday Nights

I used to have a Sunday night ritual. I'd retire to bed early, set the sleep timer on my radio and drift off listening to the best music show of the week. This was on Radio 2 and it was the Russell Davies Song Show. It was magnificent — erudite, informative and full of good music. Occasionally it veered down musical byways which were not my ways. My kind of music is jazz, big band and swing and what they did to the great American (and occasionally British) songbook. But even on the oddest tangents, the huge charm and intelligence of Russell Davies kept me interested and listening.

And then, just like that, the Russell Davies Song Show was gone. 

Some mad axeman at the BBC simply decided to get rid of it. It was too good to be allowed to live. I was bereft — and furious. Cue a cutting letter to the Radio Times. (They didn't publish it, of course.) 

But things change. And on Sunday nights on Radio 2, things kept on changing. After Russell Davies's departure there were further alterations to the schedule. And Don Black's late night (11pm) show has now given way to Moira Stuart.

And Moira Stuart is just wonderful. She did a fine, short, series of programs about great jazzmen for Radio 2 last year, and that has now paved the way to her regular slot. I love Moira Stuart's show. It's described in the schedules as "the best in easy listening and timeless standards." 

But it's much more heavy on the jazz than that suggests — last week she played Mark Murphy, Ramsey Lewis, Mel Tormé, Julie London and Count Basie, in addition to the Hi-Lo's and Nelson Riddle. Or how about the week before — Blossom Dearie, Carmen McRae, Horace Silver, Oscar Peterson, Georgie Fame, Billie Holiday and Joni Mitchell.

Moira Stuart has great, eclectic taste, playing famous performers alongside rarities like the Italian singer Mario Biondi or Brazil's Elis Regina. And she has introduced me to people I'd never heard of before, treasures like the Dutch chanteuse Trijntje Oosterhuis. 

Moira's knowledgeable, crediting the great jazz photographer Pete Turner with the classic cover for Wes Monrgomery's Road Song. 

She's perceptive, pointing out how Lalo Schifrin's composition 'The Wave' was a precursor of his unforgettable theme for Mission Impossible. 
And she's witty, remarking after a space age Esquivel exotica track, "You can almost see the flying saucers landing."

A wonderful show. Check it out here.

(Image credits. The LP cover images are all from the BBC web pages for various episodes of the show. Like this one. And this one. And this one. Yawn, and this one... And so is the shot of Moira herself.)

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Star Trek by Gerald Fried et al

I've recently had a run of buying soundtrack music from TV shows of the 1960s and 70s and it's providing a lot of pleasurable listening. There's a wealth of wonderful material lying more or less forgotten in the studio vaults. So when I saw a bargain copy of a 3 CD set of vintage Star Trek scores, I thought about it for a split second and then scooped it up.

The deciding factor for me was the presence in this collection of Gerald Fried. Fried is an intriguing composer. He was a friend of Stanley Kubrick and got his start on Kubrick's first feature Fear and Desire. The groovy label Film Score Monthly have released an excellent 2 CD set of Fried's obscure horror scores which provide an excellent starting point for any acquaintance with his work.

The Star Trek set consists of the music from six episodes, two of them by Fried, three by Alexander Courage  and one by Sol Kaplan. When I started listening to the discs, naturally enough I was mostly concentrating on Fried's compositions. Yet Alexander Courage also immediately made an impression. 

Courage wrote the famed Star Trek main title theme which begins with Jerry Goldsmith-style Americana horns and then transforms into Les Baxter-style exotica female voices. For some reason I thought his music for the series would alll sound the same, but it's spiritedly diverse, evoking everything from crime jazz to electronic sonar noises.

But it was Gerald Fried who is the hero of this week's post, particularly his music for the episode Amok Time. This lovely score is distinguished by the unexpected presence of an electric bass guitar, an inspired choice and an unexpected one in a richly orchestral science fiction context. The bass guitar features strongly on the theme Contrary Order, with mysterioso strings. That electric bass creeps back in, giving a Spaghetti Western feel after some beautifully angular Hebraic strings, on Marriage Council. And the bass is back on Processional, twanging fatly in a track that sounds like a stripped down version of a march from Rozsa's Ben Hur, with ram horns that call to mind Jerry Goldsmith's Planet of the Apes themes. Meanwhile, The Ritual, another stand out track, is also reminiscent of Alex North's Cleopatra.

In fact, this cue The Ritual (full title The Ritual/Ancient Battle/2nd Kroykah) has achieved legendary status among fans, known simply as the 'Star Trek Fight Music'. It has appeared in the movie Cable Guy and the TV cartoons Futurama and The Simpsons. These links, showing the various uses of the music were helpfully listed in Wikipedia's Gerald Fried entry.

If you only listen to one of these Star Trek CDs I recommend the one featuring this music from Fried's Amok Time and Sol Kaplan's Doomsday Machine. But I suspect any of the releases will repay your attention. This is wonderful stuff and it emphasises the point that I'm coming to realise: vintage TV music is a treasure trove. 

(Image credits: The cover shot of the boxed set is from Zyx Music. The individual CD covers are all from the extremely useful Soundtrack Collector.)

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Piero Umiliani’s Svezia Variations

The late great Piero Umiliani was an Italian jazz man and film composer and is one of my favourite musicians. I've previously written about him here and here. And Umiliani's film score for Svezia Inferno e Paradiso (rendered in English, not quite exactly, as Sweden Heaven and Hell) is one of his finest works. 

It is also one of his most well known, and has enjoyed numerous releases in many different forms. This is not just because the soundtrack is a masterpiece, but because it features the splendid, insanely catchy song Mah-Ná Mah-Ná (you will have heard the Muppets singing it).

The score was recently reissued on CD in a new version from Beat Records and I wrote an extensive and (modest fluttering of eyelashes) fairly authoritative review of it for the great London Jazz website here. But there were some topics — of a train-spottingly technical nature — which I couldn't cover in the space of that review and which I'd like to go through now.

There are a number of different versions of this soundtrack floating around and any Umiliani enthusiast will want the most complete one possible. But what is the most complete one?  I'm going to try and help with that. Buckle up your safety belt, though, because it might be a bumpy ride.

The soundtrack was recorded in Rome in 1968 and Umiliani originally issued selections from it on vinyl on his own label, Omicron in the same year (see the first picture for this post). This very rare Omicron LP had 14 tracks. Surprisingly — or perhaps not so surprisingly, considering how great the music was, and the presence of Mah-Ná Mah-Ná — the score also got a US album release, on the obscure Ariel label. 

This American LP only featured 10 cuts. But it did include Mah-Ná Mah-Ná. Indeed, as you can see above, the LP cover touts the single. Amazingly, Umiliani left this track off his Omicron album — maybe he felt it was too lightweight.

But Mah-Ná Mah-Ná took off (despite those annoying accents over the letter 'a'), all over the world. Ariel records released it as a single in America and, in 1968 and 1969, other 45rpm versions appeared in Spain, France, Germany, Sweden (despite the less than flattering portrait painted of their country by the film attached to the song) and in the Netherlands (the Dutch liked it so much they released it twice, in two different forms).

But no release in Italy. The first Italian single of the song didn't appear until 1975. Since then, of course, there have been too many versions and variations of Mah-Ná Mah-Ná as singles to be enumerated. At least by me. Plus I'm fed up with typing that accent over the 'a'.

The long playing version of the score, however,  appeared a third time and in its finest form, as a double LP from the great Roco Pandiani and his equally great Easy Tempo label in 1997. 

This is the definitive version of Svezia Inferno e Paradiso on vinyl. It's a beautiful record, a labour of love, and features a whopping (or whooping — with delight) 28 cuts, including Mah-Ná Mah-Ná... argh, those god-damned accents... 

It also has, joy of joys, details of who played what instrument on which track. Credits for musicians on soundtrack sessions are a rarity and this sort of thing is priceless. Thank you, Rocco.

Now we come to the incarnations of the score on CD. In 1997 Rocco also issued a CD version of his wonderful double vinyl album, again with 28 tracks, with a running time of about one hour, nine minutes and 30 seconds. As is usual with Rocco's releases, the artwork and packaging of both the vinyl and CD versions were beautiful.

In 1998 there was a second CD release, from the Volcano label in Japan. The CD sounds great but it is is rather an eccentric piece of design. No conventional CD booklet or cover, just an undersized booklet which resembles an "obi" (the thin paper strip or belt which they used to put on the cover of Japanese LPs). The mini booklet does, however, make a brave stab at crediting the musicians. This edition had 30 tracks and runs a smidgen over one hour, fifteen minutes and 40 seconds.

The two tracks which weren't featured on the Easy Tempo CD are Viaggio nell'Inconscio (Journey into the Unconscious) and Contestazione (Dispute).

Both of these CD issues are now out of print and difficult to find, so it's great news that Beat Records in Rome, in association with DigitMovies, have issued Umiliani's masterpiece again this year (2014). This release, which has the original Omicron cover, is like the Easy Tempo one in that it contains a full size and lavish booklet (though sadly without the information on musicians). And it has the same 30 tracks as the Volcano release, though in a slightly more sensible sequence — the elegiac song Sleep Now Little One, performed by Lydia MacDonald, comes at the very end.

The Beat CD is a lovely piece of work and since it is limited to 500 copies, you should rush out and buy yourself a copy.

However, our little piece of musical detective work doesn't quite end here. Although the Beat CD and Volcano CD feature a definitive version of the soundtrack, they aren't necessarily complete...

Both of those releases, and the Easy Tempo ones, include three tracks by a crack jazz combo, consisting of (in various configurations) Gato Barbieri on tenor sax, Giovanni Tommaso on bass, Bruno Biriaco on drums, Enzo Grillini on guitar, Antonello Vannucchi on vibes,  Enzo Grillini on guitar and Piero Umiliani himself on piano.

But there are more than three Svezia tracks in existence featuring this combo. See if you can track down a very scarce CD from Liuto Records (another of Umiliani's own labels). The catalogue number is LRS063/2 and it is less than euphoniously entitled Gato Barbieri Two Pictures, Years 1965-1968. 

It does indeed feature Barbieri playing as a session man on two motion picture scores by Umiliani, Una Bella Grinta and Svezia Inferno e Paradiso. The Svezia portion of the CD consists of eight tracks: Solitudine, Free in Minore and Piano Bossa Nova — all of which appear on the above releases, as well as an instrumental version of Sleep Now Little One, which doesn't, plus three more versions of Solitudine which aren't available elsewhere and — crucially — a track called Sotto il Tallone (Under the Heel) which runs for about four minutes and, to my knowledge, has never featured in any of the other recordings of Svezia Inferno e Paradiso in any form.

Completists, or simply music lovers, should try and get hold of it. Seriously pricey copies of the CD are currently available here and here. But you may prefer to look for a digital download here.

(Image credits: Most of the cover shots are from the websites where I gleaned a lot of the information for this piece, Discogs and Soundtrack Collector. Both extremely helpful, valuable and informative sites. But each have their weakness. Discogs seems unaware of any CDs of Svezia except for the Easy Tempo issue. And on the Soundtrack Collector page, one of the CD timings (for the Beat release) is out by at least a minute. Tut tut. The Barbieri CD cover is from Jazz Music Archives who also have a download of the disc.) 

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.)