Mark Isham is a composer that has been around now for a few years and is known for his highly innovative approach to scoring movies, he has a reputation for mainly being a brilliant jazz trumpet player, the composer has penned a number of highly inspiring film scores that are not only fully symphonic but are grandiose and powerful in their overall sound and style. Two of his scores have been released recently, GODFATHER OF HARLEM and TOGO, the latter being a Disney production. It is obvious when listening to both of these scores just how versatile and talented that Isham is, because each score has to it a very different sound both being innovative and entertaining. GODFATHER OF HARLEM is a more contemporary sounding work with the composer employing synthesised sounds and instrumentation. Isham employs a somewhat minimalist score within the movie, but it is an effective one, there are a number of upbeat and soulful tracks, with vocals provided by Emile Sandae the track RANSOM for example is quite retro sounding with organ, piano and brass leading and then becoming a backing track to wordless up tempo vocals. Isham, has created here a score that is perfect for the movie and fits like the proverbial glove, but it also entertains on another level and without the images it was written to enhance is still affecting. Track number four, MARGARET SNOOPS for example, there is no real melody or even a hint of an actual theme, but it still attracts and fixates because of the sound and the instrumentation employed. The same be said of track number five, REUNION, a slow and bluesy sounding guitar performs a simple theme accompanied by brushed timpani and a lazy sounding organ and strumming guitar, which all go to create an easy going but still effective piece. The score I wold say is 90 percent kind of laid back, but there are a few up tempo pieces which seem to appear out of nowhere that take the listener a little by surprise, these tracks elevate and heighten the overall sound of the soundtrack and make an effective score into an effective and entertaining one, its one of those albums that you put on and before you know it it’s finished, and that is because the music is totally absorbing and enthralling. Recommended.
available on sony classical.
Its an odd thing that at times you hear the latest score from a composer and you think, That’s his best yet, then the next release surpasses it, James Newton Howard is a composer I have followed from RUSSKIES onwards, and I have to say I think this every time I hear one of his soundtracks, one of his recent scores is for Terrence Malick’s A HIDDEN LIFE, and again the composer has created a work that is reflective, tranquil, emotive and affecting and one which underlines, punctuates and enhances perfectly. The story line is too a touching and thought-provoking piece which focuses upon the relationship between a husband and wife in small village in Austria during WWll, the husband being a conscientious objector. It’s a tale of love and morality, The composer has fashioned a beautiful score, which is laden with poignant and highly emotional compositions, the music is an important component of the story and the scenarios that are being acted out on screen, Newton Howard piecing together gentle and melodic nuances that are delicate and purvey a sense of fragility and melancholy, the heart breaking themes that run throughout the score are haunting and at times total consuming and mesmerising. Newton Howard is a composer of many colours musically and also, he has the ability to adapt to any genre of film giving each project a lasting and vibrant sound or musical personality. His score for A HIDDEN LIFE is I would say up ther with his best, it lays bare the emotional content of the story and underlines the dramatic content and also laces the romantic interludes wonderfully, this is a soundtrack that you will probably shed a tear or two over, its highly emotional content will sweep over you and infiltrate your mind, body and soul, tug at your heart strings and tantalise your senses. The low-key sound is appealing and although at times is sorrowful via the cello performances and also solo violin, and string section, it still has to it a shining and glinting aura, the music speaks of hope and also of loyalty and love. Certainly, one to check out.
I think everyone in the world of film music is still in a state of shock on hearing of the death of composer James Horner. They have also been waiting with baited breath for his score to the western THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN to be released, well the wait is over and the score is here. Yes of course many will be comparing both the movie and the score with the original but this I think is not the right way to go about it and I hope that I can review it without saying where is the original theme, sorry just said it but you know what I mean, I think we have to listen to the new score with open minds and fresh ears although there is a hint of that famous theme in track number four VOLCANO SPRINGS, I say a hint because Horner resists the temptation of going into a full rendition or arrangement of it, he teases us a little with a short burst of strings then dilutes the theme into something that is similar but also at the same time different. I love the way Horner and co-composer Simon Franglen have made use of various percussive elements and also an inventive inclusion of a pan pipe sound which at times is calming but then alters direction become more sinister and aggressive, these sounds are fused with soprano voice giving the work something of a connection with the spaghetti western score, al’ a composers such as Morricone, Nicolai and Baclov, but I have to say because of the pan pipes it is also somewhat reminiscent of Horner’s WILLOW and at times Goldsmith’s UNDER FIRE. The soprano is heard from the offset of proceedings in track number one, ROSE CREEK OPRESSION this opens with Horner’s trademark echoing trumpet flourishes which are embellished by both percussion and strings, with pipes being added as the track progresses, with two soprano voices performing in unison. This deployment of instrumentation is heard more prominently and in a sustained outing in track number five, STREET SLAUGHTER where Horner and Franglen successfully create a powerful and also a melodic piece that evokes both Italian and American westerns scores of days past, mixing a grand sound with a more unconventional approach to scoring a western. Track number two SEVEN ANGELS OF VENGEANCE, is a powerful addictive listen, driving strings are punctuated and supported by brass and percussion, with horns returning and taking on a core theme but soon being overwhelmed by percussion that is interspersed with bells, pan pipe stabs a wailing if but fleeting harmonica and then eventually the strings which give a short but effective rendition of the theme originally introduced by the horns, it is an interesting cue that also includes strident sounding guitar strumming and Hispanic sounding nuances. At times when listening to the score one forgets that this is a western, but there again define what music is western etc., it’s what works for the movie in the end, in my opinion this works well away from the movie.
I found it enjoyable and yes I admit to listening out for similarities between it and Elmer Bernstein’s scores for the MAGNIFICENT SEVEN cycle of movies, but I was not disappointed when it did not explode at every opportunity into arrangements or different takes on those scores and their central and secondary themes. This is an original score no doubt of that as in the way it is orchestrated, it contains some surprises and also a number of moments when one could say Oh yes typical James Horner, but is that a bad thing. For the many devoted fans of the original films score there is a snippet at the end of the compact disc in THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN and its credited to Mr Bernstein, but this is the only direct reference to Bernstein’s slice of classic sounding Americana, and even this is different it’s a more subdued version or arrangement but one that still hits the spot. One of the highlights for me is track number, twenty-one, FARADAYS RIDE, this is a full working of what can I suppose be called the scores central theme, complete with vocal backing and those proud sounding horns that are carried along by strings and supported by timpani and strumming guitars, its proud, hopeful and anthem like and a compulsive listen, by this I mean as soon as cue finishes you want to go back and listen again. Overall a good score and entertaining listen and another reason to mourn the loss of such a gifted composer. Just go buy it……….
In cinema history there have been many what people call re-makes of classic movies, one of the latest stories to get a make over is BEN HUR, now the 1959 version of the movie with CHARLTON HESTON,(did you hear the fanfare, and see the cast of thousands, when I said his name, in that booming trailer voice over style) was and still is a remarkable movie, it is a great film, and in fact every thing about it is epic and iconic. Its ironic however that the new version which seems to be annoying cinema goers or watchers of the film rather than entertain them is being compared with the 1959 version, which when you think about it was itself a re-make of the silent version of the story. But, Hey come on guys everything should be given a chance ,right? Hello that’s right isn’t it people? Anybody there? Seriously I don’t expect this new version of BEN HUR to be anything like the 1959 take on the story, it cant be can it? But I was in fact not that interested in the film but was intrigued by the film score by Marco Beltrami, when I saw it announced that he would score the film I was interested to see or hear what he would do with it musically. Beltrami in my opinion is a very talented composer, I have followed his career right from the early days and it was evident right from the off that he was a composer of note that could easily adapt his musical style to any genre of film. He is not as many thought merely a slasher/horror film music smith but can also turn his hand to create rousing themes for westerns, adventure movies and also tender romantic scenarios and when you think about it his scores for the horror genre are pretty operatic and imposing. So BEN HUR, would this be a chariot race to many, well I am pleased to say he has risen to the challenge and created a score that is stirring and filled with strong and melodic thematic material. Ok its not Miklos Rozsa but was he trying to be I doubt it very much, anyone who aspires to outshine Rozsa,s inspirational, gorgeously rich and momentous soundtrack is surely going to be thrown to the lions in the arena. Or given a bad review… Released by Sony Classical BEN HUR (2016) contains a soundtrack that although is suitably periodic in its sound and style evoking images of the pomp and ceremony and brutality of ancient Rome also has to it a somewhat contemporary feel and atmosphere. I am not sure but I think I do detect the use of synthetic strings in certain parts which for me did spoil the effect and the ambience a little, but I suppose in these days of restricted budgets things have to be adapted and also approaches and working practices alter.
The opening track THE BEN HUR THEME is a lilting and highly emotional piece, with layered strings acting as a background to a poignant violin solo, which introduces a pleasant and effecting soprano solo, this in turn acts as an introduction to a more pronounced version of the central theme performed by strings woodwind and brass with choir giving its support. The theme reaches its crescendo and then the track melts away with woodwind taking the cue to its end. Track number two BEN AND ESTHER is a short lived but haunting piece again the composer bringing into play the BEN HUR THEME, performed on woods with subtle support from the string section. Track number three is where for me it all goes a little out of kilter with the subject matter, JERUSALEM 33 AD is dramatic yes, but it is for me too contemporary sounding and it’s a theme that would not be out of place in any one of the thousands of Marvel comic book superhero movies that are doing the rounds at the moment. So moving on we go to track number four, CARRYING JUDAH, the composer re-introduces briefly female solo voice, but this is just a fleeting performance, the cue then transforming into a more down tempo dramatic piece for strings and percussive elements. I once spoke to Gabriel Yared about his score for TROY he said the reason he was given for its rejection was that it was too modern sounding, well I think I have the same problem here with Beltrami,s BEN HUR, its true to say that there are numerous references that can be deemed as being suitable for a story set in this period in history, but for me there are just to many modern sounding nuances and quirks of orchestration. This is a good soundtrack, as in there are many themes and beautiful melodies listen to the cue MESSALA AND TIRZAH and you will hear evidence of the romanticism and delicate colours that the composer employs , but is it suitable for a story set in the times of Ancient Rome? I will leave that up to you to decide, take a listen.