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CD Reviews

Sunshine *** 1/2


Milan 73138-35902-2

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 ***


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

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