Review: Reel Life - The Private Music of Film Composers
3.5 / 5 Stars
This first track is by long-time jazz composer, some-time film composer Bob James, and does offer a different tack on his usual work. James usual jazz compositions lend toward the more traditional arrangements whereas "Odyssey", the track represented here is more akin to the works of Claude Bolling mixed in with a bit of Phillip Glass. Its a nice duet with piano and flute that is likened to a schizophrenic music recital, with its melodic structure bounding here and there, no doubt modernistic. The second track, one of two by composer Howard Shore, known mostly for brooding, dark works and tone poems. Once again, were led into the modern arena of music with a piece that throws aside traditional arrangements of classical music and reaches for the jugular of minimalistic taste. Obviously influenced by French composer, Eric Satie, and current contemporary, Michael Nyman, Shores "Hughie" stretches into the rhythmically bizarre by setting counterpoint of a bass clarinet and English horn in the latter part of the composition. Its a truly "inspired" piece of music.
The third track here on the CD is composed by Michael Kamen, who most recently composed a Millennium Symphony for the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C.. This piece, however, is not it. It is, though, a glimpse into what Mr. Kamen can do when he isnt directed by film folks as to what mood to set or action to underscore. Its a "gentle" piece, somewhat subtler than his Concerto for Saxophone, which I happen to have on laserdisc, and is just as good or better than the entire piece. Kamens oboe influence is kindly injected into this track when accompanying harp, cello, and flute on this piece, entitled "Cut Sleeves," and is resemblant to some of his early film scores. For those looking for a score comparison, you can listen to a bit of Robin Hood Prince of Thieves for reference, but it will only take you so far. On track four is the first of two pieces by Rachel Portman, known mostly for very off-beat and quirky scores, but with last years Cider House Rules, has proven that she can span the breadth of musical styles and melodic constructions. This piece is, as was Michael Kamens, a more traditional composition, which is a very flowing melody and simple orchestrations of violin, clarinet and piano that hark back to Portmans British roots. I could easily have seen this as a sample submission for a film like Michael Collins or any of a thousand small poignant independent films with stories about small town or island life. This is truly a beautiful piece of music and should be heard by all fans of Ms. Portmans.
The middle section of this album is dedicated to veteran film composer Bruce Borughtons five-movement work, "A Primer for Malachi". If there is any work on this album that represents a polar opposite from what we hear in their film score compositions, this would be the prime example. The piece, inspired from the impending birth of Borughtons grandson, could be best put into motion accompanying a contemporary dance or ballet. The first movement is a very rich, and as the title suggests, "Flowing," piece that transitions into the very upbeat and sporadically played "Faster". Its hard to actually bring the first two together until you pick up the third movement, in which the "excitement" inherent in the second movement slows and broadens into a more quizzical "dance" between the flute and clarinet. Later in the third movement, the piano brashly chimes in and attempts to take over control of the emotion and direction of the melody just before it slows down with a cello solo. The fourth movement rushes off with the flute and clarinet playing a kind of musical game of tag, a very playful and fun fugue-type arrangement, probably the least serious in tone of all of the movements. Its also the closest to what kind of arrangements and melodies Mr. Broughton brings to his film scores, albeit involving fewer overall instruments. The break between this section and the last, the fifth, is almost too abrupt in the change of pace. As the title suggests, "Very Calm," is exactly how this movement proceeds, slowing to a lethargic crawl that involves the piano and cello almost exclusively. The tempo of the entire piece follows a bell curve of rising action and excitement with slow flowing edges; almost cookie-cutter in its presentation.
The last three tracks are comprised of the second pieces from Howard Shore and Rachel Portman, broken by an entry from the well respected, and veteran to the veteran, composer David Raksin. Shores second piece, titled "Paino Four," is another dark piece, resonating a sense of brooding sorrow. Its a solo piano piece that encompasses a loathsome melody, an almost embittering sense of despair. If it was meant to be a happy piece, I think Shore missed his mark, otherwise, its a nice contrast to his earlier entry on this CD, and definitely carries a bit more emotion. Maestro Raksins entry is actually a piece that was written to be presented as a film score but was rejected by the composer upon hearing that the director had a different tact for the films attitude. Written originally in 1948, its musical sensibility is much different than all of the pieces so far presented on the album. "A Song After Sundown," as it is titled, does sound, in its string arrangements and tempo, like its arrived here from a bygone era where you can write romantic and beautiful melodies and get away with it and not sound sappy. Raksins contemporaries at the time were such greats as Aaron Copland, Bela Bartok, Maurice Ravel, Leonard Bernstein, and Igor Stravinsky, and their influences in his overall style are definitely heard in this piece. This is not to say that its strictly classic in its approach, but it definitely shows a sense of maturity in developing melodies and the proper instrumentation to color those melodies to make the end output something to marvel at. Overall, its the best piece on the album. The last piece on the album is from Rachel Portman, entitled "For Julian" is also a very mature, yet simple melody. Its mature in a different sense that it seems to have a point that its trying to get across to the listener. This attempt to instill some emotional context to the listener has recently shown up in some of Portmans more emboldened works of the past two years. Once again I evoke similarities to her work in The Cider House Rules since it was one of her more coherent and better formed works to date. Each has a few simple melodies, but when tied into a whole, they kind of tell a musical story without words. I enjoy both of the works I mentioned because of that fact. I believe if more composers were given this kind of opportunity to contribute their time and talent to works such as this, while also being allowed a little bit more creative freedom while working on films, we could hear the output of some of the best musicians in the world.
I would highly recommend this album to any fan of film compositions, as well as any of the more classical in genre. Albums like this demonstrate that there are hearts and brains behind the music that is nowadays cancelled out by as many sound effects and dialogue clips you can slip into a run-of-the-mill 90 minute movie. I would encourage not just the listeners, but other composers in the industry to stretch your time and talents and do something outside the Hollywood arena on a regular basis, it can only do you good. Ive enjoyed this little treat and I hope other listeners will take the same time to as well.
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