Sunshine *** 1/2
7 tracks - 36:05
Maurice Jarre has returned to his roots. For a long stretch during the
'80s, the French composer experimented with electronic scores very different
from his symphonic writing. Where was the brilliant composer who scored
the beautiful Lawrence of Arabia and Dr. Zhivago? His last
great score was for another David Lean epic, A Passage to India,
which won him an Oscar in 1984. After that point, most of his scores left
me high and dry...even the artistically accomplished ones like Dead
Poets Society and Witness. Of course, a composer has to grow
and mature, but this was an experiment that went on way too long.
Finally, the Jarre of orchestra-and-melody has made a triumphant return.
His score for A Walk in the Clouds in 1995 may have been the turning
point, creating a romantic and nostalgic score for the post-WW II tearjerker.
Sunshine, his latest score for Szabo's Hungarian epic (starring
Ralph Fiennes in three roles) has renewed my faith in his music once again.
The film, about three generations of a Hungarian Jewish family in the 20th
Century, is vast and sprawling, but also deeply personal. This is reflected
in Jarre's music, especially on the opening title track which seems tailored
for future concert hall presentation. This piece starts with a beautiful
piano solo which then builds to the main theme for orchestra and piano.
It's extremely melodic and shows up in many incarnations throughout the
entire score. When you get to the last track, "The Sonnenscheins,"
which incorporates a choir and soprano to re-invent the main theme one
more time, you feel you've been on a musical journey with this family --
this is a task which Jarre handles deftly.
The CD is remarkably short for a three hour epic, but Jarre often uses
the same motifs over and over again, from the patriotic flourishes to the
more intimate moments. Perhaps the short length helps weed out this repetition.
If you've been avoiding Jarre's scores in recent years, this is the one
that should win you back. -- Cary Wong
Escape From New York ***
JOHN CARPENTER & ALAN HOWARTH
Silva America SSD 1110
28 tracks - 57:33
John Carpenter has always been a sort of anomaly in the Hollywood system:
a dedicated proponent of the B-movie whose own films rarely have any aspirations
of grandeur. He was one of the early hyphenates (writer, producer, composer,
director), and while he's never matched the critical and financial success
of Halloween, he's managed to earn a respectable living kicking out his
modern B-flicks. Plus, he has a rabid Prince of Darkness-like following,
which probably accounts for Silva America's new expanded version of Carpenter's
score to his 1981 film Escape From New York.
The appeal of Carpenter's films has always been their refusal to take
low budgets as a stumbling block, and this idea extends to Carpenter's
music. He's self-taught -- just a guy banging away on synthesizers -- and
while there's always a just-out-of-film-school feel to many of his earlier
films and their music, the enthusiasm he has for his material is always
infectious. Escape From New York has this low-budget, workmanlike
energy to it, and while there's not much going on musically, it does the
job. Carpenter's music rarely works well away from his films, and Escape
From New York is no exception. Still, you have to give the man credit
for doing it his way and sticking to his guns.
Silva's new album is geared towards Carpenter's followers, with 5 new
cues added to the album (about 16 minutes worth), along with dialogue clips
here and there. (Purists will be happy to note that the dialogue clips
are separate cues.) This longer presentation of Carpenter and Howarth's
atmospheric music (remixed and remastered by Howarth from the original
masters) works in fits and spurts, and while there's hardly any fireworks,
there's a kicky minimalist edge to the album that makes it worthwhile in
a low-budget, "look, Ma...I made a movie" way. Many of the cues
feature throbbing, pulsating electronic textures underneath pseudo- Morricone-styled
melody -- the main theme alone is a funky Casio-keyboard riff on a Morricone
Western theme. "Engulfed Cathedral" is a clever electronica version
of a Debussy composition, while "Across The Roof" hearkens back
to Halloween territory with upper-register piano writing atop darker
synth patches. And the occasional dip into rock/funk material in the album's
second half ("The Duke Arrives / Barricade," "President
at the Train") is entertaining, although like the moodier material,
it becomes rote after a while.
As the album spools out, the music's minimalistic, undeveloped nature
tends to work against its success away from the film. There are a lot of
interesting textures and clever harmonic experimentations, but despite
the inclusion of oddball tracks like "Everyone's Coming to New York"
(imagine a bunch of psychos with kazoos doing a take on a Broadway showtune)
and the inclusion of the film's comic-ironic dialogue, the music becomes
a test of patience. Like many minimalist composers, the music of Carpenter
and Howarth works in small doses, and the success of an album like this
depends upon one's willingness to sift through a lot of sound-alike material.
Howarth deserves credit for trying to make the album an interesting listen,
but for the casual listener who's unfamiliar with the film and the music,
the album's 57-minute running time will seem longer than it really is.
-- Jason Comerford