Category Archives: Reviews

RIZ ORTOLANI on LP,CD and Digital.

 

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Composer Riz Ortolani literally burst onto the world music stage when he co wrote the song MORE which was originally utilised in the movie MONDO CANE. Since this early composition and a composition that was a renowned world wide hit that was recorded by literally hundreds of artists the composer has written the scores to hundreds of movies both in his native Italy and the United States, England and Europe. The composer sadly passed away in Rome in 2014, but the musical legacy he left is immense. He worked on so many differing genres of film and with each assignment the composer gave to us the film music fans tuneful scores and haunting melodies as well as so many memorable songs. He like so many other Italian composers from the 1960.s and 1970.s worked on his fair share of Italian westerns, but Ortolani very rarely generated the same raw and savage sound as his peers with the composer often opting for providing a more romantic sound for his westerns, DAY OF ANGER I suppose is the exception with its harsh sounding brass and percussion that acts as a background to a catchy guitar lead theme that rivals anything composed by the likes of Nicolai. De Masi and to a degree Morricone.

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What was different about Ortolani and made him stand out from other Italian composers was that he worked on numerous non-Italian productions which were box office successes, thus gaining the composer recognition with a wider cinema audience. Movies he scored that were a success at the box office outside of Italy included, THE YELLOW ROLLS ROYCE, THE 7TH DAWN, THE GLORY GUYS, ANZIO and THE MCKENZIE BREAK. I was prompted to write this piece and the reviews after re-visiting THE YELLOW ROLLS ROYCE and realising just how many themes the score included. Ortolani was big on the use of themes, and introduced themes for certain characters and also situations that he repeated throughout the film and built up a musical character for the movie that not only complimented and supported but had a life away from the images and on screen scenarios.

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For example his score for MADRON which was a western shot in Israel and starred Richard Boone and Leslie Carron, not only contained the award winning song TILL LOVE TOUCHES YOUR HEART but also had to it at least three other major thematic properties, each one individual and attached to a character or a scene. At times I felt that Ortolanis music did not really suit some of the movies he worked on, GLORY GUYS for example was a little overblown and over the top, and it is rumoured that Ortolani never saw the movie before writing the score, but instead took his cue from the script and also discussion with the films director. Whether this is correct or not I cannot say, but there were many rumours surrounding Italian film music composers during this period, like the one that said Morricone had a library of scores at his home and would simply select one he thought would suit the film, not true ? We shall never know. I am sure there were occasions when Ortolani did not see the movie and gauged it from a script or even a cue sheet with timings, but either way the music was good and always filled with melody. So lets begin with a western, MADRON, in many ways it was a more serious version of TWO MULES FOR SISTER SARA, with Boone playing the Eastwood character and Crron taking the role of the Nun which was played by Shirley Mc Claine. But its hard to say which film influenced which as they were both released in 1970, certainly TWO MULES was more of an audience draw simply because of the stars that headlined, but maybe MADRON was a better made movie in some ways.

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Ortolani’s score was quite unassuming and at times whilst watching the movie there is very little music at all or at least it seems that way, but I was always told if you notice the music too much then the movie cannot be that good, which when you think about it is very true. The song attracted much attention and the composers pleasant but understated scored is sometimes forgotten and overlooked by critics and fans alike. The LP on Quad records was issued in the latter part of 1970 and I think I am correct in saying no CD has ever been issued. Ortolani makes effective use of harmonica which could be performed by De Gemini on the soundtrack and enhances this with light and romantic sounding strings giving the work a pleasant and emotive sound. The song which opens and also closes the album is performed firstly by Richard Williams and then again at the end of the recording by Jan Daley, its a funny thing because the songs are the same as in lyrics and musical arrangements they both seem to have their own unique persona.
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From a western we head to England, for THE YELLOW ROLLS ROYCE a movie that was successful both in England, the USA and Europe, for this Ortolani penned a rather regal sounding work, which was filled with a richness that oozed pomp and ceremony right from the offset, it also contained the catchy and infectious song FORGET DOMANI which was given a vocal and instrumental outing within the movie. The score also featured the artistry of trumpet player Kenny Baker on the track entitled MAE, Ortolani created easy going themes that were laced with a Neapolitan sound and also fashioned beautifully romantic musical passages that were filled with a lush and lavish atmosphere. THE YELLOW ROLLS ROYCE is a score that should be in every film music collection, it is one of the composers best in my opinion as it combines the jaunty and the eloquent. Released originally on LP on MGM records the score has not received a CD release as a full score, but has been included on at least three compilations of Ortolani’s music.

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THE 7TH DAWN is an interesting score as the composer fuses both martial sounding music with romantic and Oriental flavoured themes, again the composer utilising brass and strings to great effect and underlining these elements with booming percussion and racing timpani especially in the action scenes, the harsh sounding brass is particularly effective and creates a hard hitting sound. There is also a lighter side to the work, again the composer provides a song, which is used as the love theme for the movie and performed by a chorus that would not be out of place in any of Mancini’s soundtracks. But then as now film companies looked at the soundtracks and encouraged the composer to include a song so that they could earn even more out of the movie after audiences had left the cinema. Ortolani’s surging and tragic sounding strings are stunning and work well within the movie as well as away from it. Dare I say that all the soundtracks I have mentioned so far are now on SPOTIFY, I know its not an ideal way to listen to them but at least one can get an idea what they are like at least.
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THE GLORY GUYS is another Ortolani soundtrack I remember buying on a United Artists LP many years ago, although it is a serviceable western score it does at times become quite abrasive and jagged because of the use of the brass, there is also an American sounding song, I say American sounding as in THE HORSE SOLDIERS type of style and sound. The song THE GLORY GUYS and the instrumental version entitled WARPAINT AND FEATHERS being the two stand out cues on the recording, both GLORY GUYS and 7TH DAWN were released as part of the Film Score Monthly FSM BOX 03 and are on disc number 11 of that set. Maybe in the very near future record companies will strat to release these gems onto CD and also I hope that one day Ortolani’s score for THE VALACHI PAPERS will make its way onto a compact disc./ Check out Ortolani, on LP on CD and on SPOTIFY/I TUNES. Enjoy.

 

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CUSTER OF THE WEST.

 

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Released in 1967 CUSTER OF THE WEST was met with mixed reaction from both cinema audiences and critics alike, the movie attempted to show how the native American Indians had been treated by the government at the time, but also at the same time portrayed George Custer as a hero. The conflicting views within the story confused and also mislead watching audiences. The movie almost did not get made, in fact 20th Century Fox had wanted to make a faithful rendition of the life and times of Custer, but the costs spiralled and the studio decided to pull out of the project. It was at this point that Philip Yordan decided to step in and cast Robert Shaw in the role of Custer. Yordan’s movie was far from a faithful version of events, in fact it was no better than the Errol Flynn movie THEY DIED WITH THEIR BOOTS ON, which too strayed from the truth and added bits and pieces that were pure fiction. Historians had numerous issues with the films storyline and were intensely critical of certain factors including the BATTLE OF THE LITTLE BIG HORN sequence which occurred at the end of the movie. For all its faults and criticisms however the movie was an entertaining enough production, and for me was a fusion of the earlier THEY DIED WITH THEIR BOOTS ON and elements of THE SON OF MORNING STAR. One of the most enduring things to do with the movie was its vibrant and action filled soundtrack which was written by Brazilian born composer Bernardo Segall and although to a degree the soundtrack was cliched and not exactly original the music worked so well in the context of the film, supporting and underscoring many of the scenes that would have fallen flat without the musical support.

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Segall created a fully symphonic score and also provided the movie with a rousing song. The score was performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the composer utilising to great effect the orchestras brass, string and woodwind sections and underlining these with thundering martial sounding percussion. There are a number of stand out cues on the soundtrack recording which I think I am right in saying has never had an official compact disc release, the only one being on a bootleg release which contained fifteen cues from CUSTER the remainder of the compact disc being given over to Nelson Riddles score for the western EL DORADO. I for one have the original LP on Stateside records (it was also issued on ABC and a single was available with a picture cover) The original LP release sports a wonderfully illustrated front cover. The score includes an alluringly poignant and emotive LOVE THEME which can be heard being performed by the orchestra in various guises throughout the soundtrack or more effectively being deployed over the end scene via a fragile sounding solo piano performance as we see Custer’s 7th cavalry laying dead in a circle falling where they fought, and Custer’s horse standing alone in the middle of the circle. I suppose one could say that CUSTER OF THE WEST was a fairly typical western score from the period and is sadly overlooked by many, but listening to it now it is obvious that this is a polished and quality score. My opinion for what its worth is that this deserves a compact disc or a digital release as it contains so many wonderfully stirring and emotive themes. The battle scene is scored in a forthright and commanding fashion, but the music never overpowers or acts as a distraction to the action that is unfolding on screen, the composer supports underlines and elevates, giving the scene an even greater depth and sense of despair and hopelessness as Custer makes his last stand against overwhelming odds.
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Segall worked only on a handful of films and TV projects, these included THE FISHERMAN AND HIS SOUL, THE JESUS TRIP, COLUMBO, AIRWOLF and MOON OF THE WOLF. He was not only a talented composer but was also a respected and gifted concert pianist. All I can say is surely there is a record company somewhere that would do this score justice with a CD release. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

THE NUTCRACKER AND THE FOUR REALMS.

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THE NUTCRACKER AND THE FOUR REALMS, opens in cinemas soon. A Disney movie for all the family and just in time for the pre Christmas hype that whips up the kids into a frenzy about the season of goodwill etc. etc. The score for this latest Disney extravaganza is by revered and respected composer James Newton Howard. There is something about Newton Howard’s music that is particularly suited to this type of film. It has to it a magical sound and also contains so much sparkle and shimmer it is hard not to become attracted and mesmerised by it. This is a score that is brimming with that feel good sound that warmth and copious amounts of good cheer. When listening initially I was reminded of Henry Mancini? Dont ask me why, I just suddenly thought, Mancini, maybe it is the time of year r the lush strings that evoked memories of SANTA CLAUSE THE MOVIE not sure, any way, Newton Hoard’s score is a beautifully crafted one and has within it little trademarks that we now associate with the composer via his scores for films such as MALEFICENT, add to this little references to THE SUGAR PLUM FAIRY etc. and we have here a hit soundtrack.

 

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Based upon the story by E. Hoffman where we see a young girl transported into a magical world of gingerbread soldiers and an army of mice. All Clara wants is a one-of-a-kind key that she hopes will unlock a box that holds a priceless gift from her late mother. She is presented with a Golden thread at her godfather Drosselmeyer’s annual holiday party, the thread leads her to the key, but no sooner has you got the key that it vanishes, disappearing into a magical and mysterious parallel world. Clarameets a soldier named Phillip, a gang of mice and the heads of State who preside over three Realms, these are The Land of Snowflakes, The Land of Flowers, and The Land of Sweets (my favourite). Clara and Phillip must be brave and go to the fearsome Fourth Realm which is home to the tyrant Mother Ginger, where Clara’s key is and hopefully when they retrieve it they will return harmony to the unstable world. So are you hooked already, I am. I suppose we could say that it was originally scored by Tchaikovsky, but that would be stretching the truth a little, although he did write the NUTCRACKER before the advent of film or at least film according to Disney.

 

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The story has entertained and enthralled so many children and adults over the years and I am confident that this latest manifestation of it will be just as popular. Newton Howard’s music is perfect for the story and the movie, its fragile and otherworldly style underlining and elevating the storyline giving it greater depth and even more of a magical feel. The composer also references certain themes from THE NUTCRACKER and interweaves these elements into his original score. In a number of ways the music does evoke memories of his MALEFICENT score, it is bold, sweeping and Grandiose, Newton Howard utilising choir, strings and proud sounding brass throughout, the quieter moments of the score containing subtle tones for woods and strings, which are affecting and poignant. The work is filled with a vibrant energy that is powerful and commanding, the strings drive the work along at pace in the more upbeat sections of the score but also add melancholy and an emotive sound in the lighter or quieter sections.

 

 

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We are treated to a musical pallet of colourful thematic passages and an abundance of moods that are light, dark foreboding and richly romantic and filled with melody. Many may say that this is sugary sounding score, but I recommend it to you, two bonus cues include a performance of THE NUTCRACKER SUITE by Lang Lang accompanied by choir and orchestra which is stunning and a vocal performance by Andrea and Matteo Bocelli, who sing FALL ON ME.

 

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DRACULA.

 

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As I sit and read that John Williams has been taken ill and will sadly not be conducting the concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London on October 26th. I am sent the digital promo download for the expanded version of the composers score for DRACULA courtesy of Varese Sarabande. The movie itself I have always admired and I think that Frank Langella made a wonderful Count with great support from Laurence Olivier as Van Helsing, this for me was the best non Hammer films version of Bram Stokers dark and virulent tale but saying this the Hammer films have not aged well or stood the test of time and seem rather dated nowadays when watching them, don’t get me wrong they are still as enjoyable but somewhat lame and cliched in places. Whereas director John Badham’s DRACULA is still full of energy and vibrant passion, it has to it a spark a zest and also an alluring appearance. It was photographed beautifully and scored with sensitivity and style by John Williams, the composers somewhat wild sounding strings being well suited to the storyline and the locations in which the movie was shot. Many think of DRACULA as a horror movie or a tale of horrors and the macabre, a story of blood letting and evil, and yes to a degree these are the ingredients that are in the mix. But look closer and you will see a love story a sad and at the same time compelling tale of love lost. A story of a tormented soul who I think longs for peace but needs a companion so he can at last he can reach this. The move which was released in 1979 was met with mixed reactions, but has in recent years become a movie that is admired and applauded. The cast was an impressive one, not only Langella and Olivier produced believable and solid performances, but they were in turn complimented and supported by the likes of Donald Pleasance, Trevor Eve, Kate Nelligan and Jan Francis. The score by John Williams is a work that is sumptuous and lavish and one that is oozing with romantic undertones that accompany and enhance the darker and more dramatic parts of the work. In essence this is a score that deserves the title of Iconic. The composer was at the time of writing the score riding high on the success of the likes of STAR WARS, SUPERMAN, JAWS and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS. Williams was of course already a regular name on the credits of numerous movies and had scored blockbusters such as EARTHQUAKE and THE TOWERING INFERNO five years previous to working on DRACULA. Within DRACULA we hear the Williams sound or at least what was to become the sound and style that we associate with the composer. In many ways I liken the theme that Williams penned for Dracula to his work on the American TV movie JANE EYRE (1970), with its windswept strings and flyaway untamed sounding woods add to this the power and the lushness of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND and the inventive and commanding elements that we heard in STAR WARS and we have DRACULA. The new edition of the score comes in a superb two disc set, the first disc containing the actual film score and comprising of twenty six tracks two of which are alternate takes of the LOVE THEME and MAIN TITLE AND STORM SEQUENCE. This is a grandiose near operatic work that purveys not only atmospheres of romance that are edged and underlined with sinister undercurrents but moods that are compelling and attractive, it has to it an untamed almost frantic appeal and a highly melodious heart.

 

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The soundtrack was originally released in 1979 on MCA records and received a re-issue on LP and CD on the Varese Sarabande label. It has been crying out for an expanded release as it is an important score not only within the canon of Williams but also within the history of cinema and film music. Most DRACULA movies had contained scores that were typical of the majority of horror soundtracks, (dare I say crash bang and thump with the accent of using the repeat indicator on the manuscript) the chance for romance or hints of it being very few and far between. Composer James Bernard who scored the lions share of Hammer films Dracula cycle, only dipped his toe into the romantic side of things a couple of times for a Dracula score most notably in TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA in the composition entitled THE YOUNG LOVERS, which he did only on the instruction of the films producer who asked him to take a softer approach.

 

 

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The sound and style achieved by John Williams for DRACULA was a combination of the dramatic, the romantic and also the mysterious, there is a rich and dark atmosphere surrounding each and every cue that supports and ingratiates, punctuates and enhances, the music colours and adds texture and depth to every scene that is scored, bringing the already vibrant images to even more intensity. The foreboding and brooding musical persona being present and unrelenting throughout the work. It is I think difficult to review a score that so many are familiar with, we all know its good, so what can I say? Well the sound quality is excellent and the presentation is marvellous. The release has a second disc which is a re-issue of the original LP soundtrack which has been re-mastered. Stand out tracks, are the same as they have always been, but it is unfair to highlight any one or two cues as all are equally outstanding as in NIGHT JOURNEYS, THE LOVE THEME, MAIN TITLE AND STORM SEQUENCE etc. All I can really say is this is an epic work and a score that every self respecting film music fan should have in their

 

 

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collection.https://www.varesesarabande.com/products/dracula-the-deluxe-edition

 

 

MODIGLIANI.

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Sometimes I do not review certain soundtracks, Why because they are not good? No not really its sometimes because they are so good, that I am not sure if my review or my words to describe them will be enough or eloquent enough to describe what I am hearing. This is the case with one of composer Guy Farley’s scores. MODIGLIANI is such a theme laden work and also one that is filled with so many emotive, poignant and heart wrenching musical moments, I struggle to put into words the emotions and feelings I am experiencing. It is a score that contains beautifully crafted tone poems and wonderfully created musical passages, that are at times intricate and on other occasions are simple. Delicate, fragile and romantic the work also has to it a dramatic and highly addictive sound and style. The touching and alluring melodies caress and envelope the listener and send tantalising shivers through their mind, soul and body. Guy Farley is a composer who is I think underrated, but in recent years this is changing as more and more collectors become aware of his talent and superb gift for melody. I think that MODIGLIANI is probably one of his best works for cinema and that is certainly saying something as the composer has fashioned so many scores for both TV and cinema it is hard to even single out four or five let alone just one. However, MODIGLIANI I have to say has immense qualities in composition, orchestration and performance that for me just stand out. The haunting and attractive melodies are in my opinion not to distant from the style of John Williams when that composer is in romantic mode, there is a richness and also a lush and lavish sound present and although the melodious parts are intimate rather than grandiose, they still are affecting and effective. Morricone also manages to achieve this mood in a number of his scores, i.e., THE RED TENT, ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA etc., Farley also includes some interesting ethnic sounding pieces which are percussive and vocal, which keep the work fresh and add depth and vibrancy to it. That is all I can say really, apart from, please check this score out if you have not done so already, it is an enriching and rewarding listening experience.