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.)

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Parker by David Buckley

Parker, by Taylor Hackford and John J. McLaughlin, was a favourite film of mine from 2013. It was based on one of the classic Parker novels by Richard Stark, and was splendid fun. 

Since I'm a film music lover it was only natural that I picked up a copy of the CD of the Parker score by the British composer David Buckley, which is on the Varese Sarabande label. 

My memory of the music from the film was a dense electronic score, fast moving and menacing. And this was certainly what was apparent on my first playing of the CD. It's the kind of music which is highly effective in thrillers (in fact, it's the kind of music I listen to when I'm writing thrillers) and some recent classic examples would be the soundtracks to the Bourne movies by John Powell and, now, James Newton Howard.

But on further listening other textures began to emerge in David Buckley's music. Noticeably some very groovy electronic keyboard themes (sounds like a Fender Rhodes to me) on tracks like Leslie in Boca. This is lovely stuff, reminiscent of classic thrillers and cop movies of the 1960s and 70s by composers like Lalo Schifrin and Quincy Jones, or Michael Small (Klute).

I've been listening to the Parker CD constantly and it's steadily growing on me. I bought it initially as a souvenir of the film but now I'm beginning to realise that I lucked out with a great collection of film music.

I'll be looking into David Buckley's other work, pronto. In fact, I've just ordered From Paris With Love. I didn't think a great deal of the movie, but I'm more than ready to adore his music.

(Image credits: The front and back cover art for Parker are from Varese Sarabande.)