The Music of John Barry: The Definitive CollectionSilva Screen (SILCD1445)
Released: May 5, 2014
Formats: CD, Digital (432 min)
4 / 5 Stars
Produced by Francis Ford Coppola, Hammett is the fictional story about a time in real-life writer Dashiell Hammett's ("The Maltese Falcoln") life. Directed by Wim Wenders, the 1920's era noir mystery contained an equally noir score by veteran composer John Barry. Fresh off of Body Heat and Somewhere in Time, Barry had no problem writing the jazzy score, which contains an interesting combination of slinky jazz numbers and ethnic Chinese cues.
Beginning with the "Main Titles", which is performed by a single piano and clarinet, Barry immediately draws the listener in to this dark seductive world. The theme is simple and elegant, yet has an underlying sensuality about it. That sensuality is never fully realized in full orchestral form - except for a small moment in "The Wrap Up / Finale" - but it's still a very enjoyable theme.
The other motif Barry comes up with is the Chinese one. As much of the film takes place in San Francisco's Chinatown, the use of ethnic percussion and instruments (as heard in "Chinatown Incident" and "Wild Pipa") certainly helps to set the film in that location. The "Chinatown Incident" cue integrates the ethnic percussion into a tense dramatic suspense cue that segues back into the main theme towards the end. The "Wild Pipa" cue, conversely, is closer to a source cue than part of the score - it seems like it sticks out a bit compared to the rest of the score.
The tense nail-biting cues, with harsh strings and low bass (such as "The Opium Den / Escape From Fong's") have plenty of tension to go around, but at the same time manage to integrate a slight variation on the main theme. "Waterfront Rendezvous" is rather like some of Barry's suspense work on the Bond films.
There is also quite a bit of source material included on the album. Some of it sounds like 1920's speakeasy jazz music, and the title's are apt descriptions: "Gumshoe Piano" is smooth soft jazz; "Cookie's Speakeasy" is a bit more slinky and ribald; "Shoeshine Blues" is a soft blues tune; "Dixieland Tune" is, well, a Dixieland tune. You get the idea. None of these source cues contain the Hammett themes, and it feels like it might even be considered a second album on the CD.
All in all, there are still some really enjoyable jazz cues on this album, and the suspense cues are pure Barry. Hammett is a rather good period score, and if you ever have the urge to relax to enjoyable jazz, I highly recommend most of the cues on the album. Hammett is released through Prometheus Records as a limited edition, and can be purchased online through Soundtrack Magazine
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