Wild Africa.

 

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Recently there have been a number of television series that could be referred to as super-documentaries or natural history epics, BLUE PLANET for example, and WALKING WITH BEASTS or the new series PLANET EARTH on the BBC. WILD AFRICA was screened some time ago on BBC 2, why I do not know because it was compulsive and entertaining viewing it also contained one of the most superior TV scores that I have heard for many years, and in fact I would go as far as to say that it is the most enjoyable and rhythmically melodic soundtrack that I have listened to in a long time. It is the work of one of Britain’s most accomplished and gifted composers Christopher Gunning. Many collectors will of course already be aware of the multi-talented Mr Gunning through his early film scores such as Hammer films HANDS OF THE RIPPER and his entertaining and inventive music for Poirot plus his haunting soundtrack for the movie WHEN THE WHALES CAME, just three examples of this composers amazing works for cinema and TV.

WILD AFRICA is a mix of styles and sounds that consist of ethnic, choral and orchestral. Sweeping and majestic sounding themes accompany the sights and sounds of the African Savannah, whether it be the frequent season changes, or the running of a cheetah pursuing its prey, the composer has managed to make the film and the music work as one, punctuating and enhancing every frame of film with his musical full stops, exclamation marks and commas. Poignant almost celestial sounding tone poems accompany images of snow-capped mountains, enormous lakes and deserts that seem to extend into infinity. The composer also utilizes to great effect the human voice, and there are some outstanding performances within the score by both female and male soloists. The score for the series is as diverse and variegated as it is entertaining, and the range of styles within the work is astonishing and staggering. The opening theme is in itself a multicoloured affair that contains a haunting string composition that is played in unison with a flawless and beautiful female voice, this is in turn embellished and supported by African voices and drums, the infectious sounding theme is also performed in certain passages by the woodwind section, there is a lull of sorts towards the end of the theme, but this is short-lived, the composition building once again to continue along its way with choir supporting female voice and joining with strings to take the cue to its conclusion. The second cue is also written in the same sort of style, strings and choir again being employed to great effect with the added inclusion of subtle percussion and horns. I try not to draw comparisons with other composers or other scores but I must say that WILD AFRICA contains music that is comparable to the styles of both John Barry and Ennio Morricone, it has the richness of Barrys string’s and faraway lonely sounding horns, with the quality of Morricones choral colours. This however does not mean that the music by Christopher Gunning is not original, on the contrary it is a cleverly constructed and orchestrated work, that interweaves many textures and colours to create a soundtrack that will be pleasing to many collectors of film and TV music, and also to viewers of the series.
If I was to highlight one cue as being outstanding, it would have to be ‘Snowcaps on the Equator’, again the composer brings together choir and strings to achieve a sound that has to be heard to be believed. But to single out one track among so many wonderful musical cues would be somewhat unfair as the entire score for this series is outstandingly beautiful. Christopher Gunning’s soundtrack not only supports and enhances the images on screen, but it also has a life of its own away from those images and will, I am sure, be listened to and enjoyed buy many for years to come. The score is exciting, dramatic, poignant, exhilarating, romantic, captivating, emotional and, above all, mesmerizing. Highly recommended, even if you did not catch the series please buy the CD.
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River Queen.

river_queen_383272Karl Jenkins is probably one of the most respected and highly regarded composers of classical music today, his THE ARMED MAN – A MASS FOR PEACE has to date been performed 200 times in the UK alone during the past 18 months and the CD release achieved Gold disc status within the UK. His REQUIEM also went to No 1 in the UK classical charts. In 2005 he was awarded the OBE by Her Majesty the Queen and in 2006 was made a Doctor of music by the University of Wales. This is the composer’s first work for the cinema, and I am positive that it will certainly not be his last. RIVER QUEEN is set in NEW ZEALAND in the 1870s, it tells the story of Sara O’Brien (Samantha Morton) who has grown up among the soldiers who guard the frontier on the Te Awa Nui-The Great river. She becomes pregnant by a Maori boy and gives birth to a son, the story then jumps forward seven years and her child BOY is kidnapped by his Maori Grandfather. Sarah is abandoned and shunned by her soldier Father (Stephen Rea) so she turns to Doyle (Keifer Sutherland) for help. The music is mainly orchestral, but the composer also utilises choir and wordless female vocal. Jenkins also incorporates DANNY BOY within his score, creating a Gaelic sound which he then builds upon with his own original and unique sounding themes. I am loathed to try and compare this with any other scores, but if I was pressed to do so I would have to say that RIVER QUEEN is a fusion of styles that maybe were reminiscent of THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS but also there is a sound to this score that is vaguely evocative of Morricone’s THE MISSION and QUIEMADA in sections, it is lush, poignant, romantic, dramatic, diverse and above all is a fine example of quality film music. Highly recommended, miss this one and you will regret it.

Captain Kronos Vampire Hunter.

captain_kronos02_bsxcd8831At last Laurie Johnson’s vibrant and powerful music for this classic Hammer horror is available on disc for collectors to savour over and over. The soundtrack release was announced some two years back by GDI records in the UK, but after repeated announcements it never saw the light of day and GDI seemed to vanish without trace. There was even talk that GDI were in fact a bootleg label and had not cleared all the appropriate copyrights for their releases, hopefully this release will put all those rumours to bed as I would hate to see any further projects fall foul of PRS etc because the rights had not been properly secured. There were countless announcements of GDI releasing certain soundtracks in association with other labels such as Silva Screen, Percepto, and even the Italian labels Hexachord and Digitmovies. This production is a collaboration between GDI and BSX records in the States, and is also rumoured to be the first of many such releases, in fact another classic Hammer score (which one we do not know) is being announced as I write this review. I remember seeing KRONOS for the first time and first impressions in my case were not that good, however after seeing the film again about five years ago I now think it is probably one of Hammers better efforts within the area of movies concentrating on vampires. I certainly picked up on the films spaghetti western influences, right from the outset with the hero riding into town and the fight in the tavern etc. This film is without doubt far removed from the style and appearance of Hammers early vampire films starring the ever popular Christopher Lee as the infamous Count Dracula. The score too is a far cry from James Bernard’s familiar Dracula music, even listening to it now it sounds modern and also more fitting, by this I mean that on occasion Bernard’s music was somewhat intrusive and dare I say over the top music, whereas Johnson’s score fully supports and enhances the storyline of the picture and although one is aware that music is playing on the soundtrack it never overpowers it just creates the required atmosphere. In many ways the music that Johnson composed for KRONOS is more akin to the style of the composers long time associate Bernard Herrmann. The use of strings and also the presence of low sombre sounding bassoon on many of the cues is certainly a Herrmann trademark. I am not going to select any particular cue as being outstanding or going to analyze the score track by track or note by note, let us just say it will suffice to comment that this soundtrack is a must have for any Hammer fan and also an essential purchase for collectors of good film music. Packaged well in the same way as GDI used to present their CD releases, with informative and easy to read notes by Randall D. Larson and decorated with various stills etc from the movie. Well worth having.

LO VOGLIO MORTO

Lo_voglio_morto_4101Another Spaghetti western from the latter part of the 1960’s LO VOGLIO MORTO was released in 1968, and starred Craig Hill in the role of Clayton the films main protagonist. The storyline is a one of revenge. After his sister is raped and murdered by bandits Clayton reports it to the sheriff who refuse to help, so takes it upon himself to hunt down the perpetrators. Directed by Paolo Bianchi, the movie includes certain scenes that are a gentle nod in the direction of Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. An entertaining movie which is popular among  devotees of the genre. The infectious and driving musical score is by composer Nico Fidenco, and has never been issued in its complete form before now, again only excerpts were released on vinyl back in 1968 on CAM. The compact disc opens with CLAYTON BALLADE, Fidenco employing woodwind to begin with and then taking the cue slightly up-tempo and adding choir and strategically placed electric guitar, the cue then moves into a mid tempo composition that utilises a lazy sounding but infectious trumpet solo performance, that is interspersed with a bass saxophone that is surprisingly effective, this is all backed by effective use of Alessandroni’s IL CANTORI MODERNI. The track is a perfect opener to the soundtrack and sets the mood wonderfully for what is to follow. The theme that we hear in the opening cue is present throughout the score, but is arranged and orchestrated in various guises keeping it fresh and vibrant upon each outing. Track 2, CLAYTON GUITAR is a solo guitar version of the central theme and is a somewhat haunting and easy going version of the central theme. Track 3, GALOPPATA TRAGICA, I know is a cue that collectors will adore, it is text book Spaghetti western score. It begins with a harmonica solo by Franco de Gemini and then leads into one of those great galloping tracks, bass guitar, harmonica, French horn and racing snares are punctuated by a barking male choir, its classic spaghetti music. Tracks 4 and 5 are vocal versions of the CLAYTON BALLAD, sung firstly in English then again in Italian, both versions are sung by Lida Lu, who’s distinct vocals are impressive, IL CANTORI MODERNI, Franco De Gemini and Alessandro Alessandroni also perform on these cues.
There are a staggering 21 previously unreleased tracks included on this compact disc, and every single one of the 26 cues on the disc is a unique listening experience. Most definitely recommended, again some fantastic art work has been included within the booklet. You will kick yourself if you don’t get this one.

ALL’ULTIMO SANGUE (To the last drop of blood)

All_ultimo_sangue_4102ALL’ULTIMO SANGUE, is for me another classic example of Nico Fidenco’s, flair and originality when it comes to scoring Italian westerns, and I rank this up there with the likes of JOHN IL BASTARDO and RINGO THE TEXICAN also penned by Fidenco, and other examples such as A MAN A HORSE AND A GUN by Cipriani and ARIZONA COLT by De Masi. Released in 1968 in Italy but not given a theatrical release 1971 outside of its country of origin, this is an interesting example of the spaghetti western genre. Directed by Paolo Moffa under the alias of John Byrd, the filmmaker cleverly utilized many of the original sets that were used in Leone’s FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE. Actor Craig Hill portrays Clive Norton a bounty killer who is employed to track down a desperate outlaw Johnny Gunn played by Giovanni Cianfriglia, and his gang who are responsible for robbing an army payroll. Norton saves Gunn’s brother from the hangman’s noose in exchange for his help in finding the outlaws, the pair also enlist the aid of a Mexican bandito played by Francesco Santoveti, but he eventually betrays them and joins forces with Gunn. The final shootout although impressive is somewhat predictable, as is the films plot. The most memorable performance within in the movie has to come from Giovanni Cianfriglia, who interestingly enough started his acting career as a stunt double for the mighty Steve Reeves. Fidenco’s score is probably one of the more interesting in his impressive canon.
As always Fidenco seems to have been able to produce a score that not only matches the action on screen, but also remains interesting and entertaining away from the images it was intended to enhance and support. The compact disc includes an remarkable number of cues, 38 in all, and it is split into three sections, firstly we have 9 cues that are taken from the original mono album tapes, these are followed by a further 6 cues that are alternate takes in mono and then finally 21 cues taken from the original score in full stereo. This is a great compact disc to just put on and listen to on repeat, there are so many themes and interesting tracks included here that no one could ever become bored listening to it. CHALECO, CHALECO MARCETTA, CHALECO GALLOPATA and CHALECO TRISTE, probably being the stand out cues, but saying this the orchestration the performance and the sound achieved here by Fidenco is outstanding. It is a text book spaghetti score, solo trumpet, racing snare drums, choir, electric guitar, suspense filled cues and quirky little trills, squeaks and musical sounds all combine to make this a worthwhile purchase and an enjoyable listening experience. If you are a connoisseur of Italian western music then what are you waiting for order it now, again this is a limited edition, and we all know these do not hang around for long, illustrated wonderfully with stills from the movie, the original theatrical publicity poster and the original CAM LP cover. Sound quality is outstanding, another formidable release from Hillside.