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CD Reviews 9/25/00


Jaws: The Revenge ***

MICHAEL SMALL

Intrada MSML 1001

8 tracks - 27:38

Jaws: The Revenge was the fourth Jaws film and the final nail in the coffin of the franchise. Today, the film remains as engagingly unwatchable as it was back in 1987. Intrada's promo begins with Michael Small's arrangement of John Williams' classic shark theme, incorporating bits that don't even appear in the original film (but they were on the concert arrangement from the old album). Jeff Bond thinks that the bridge of Williams' shark theme lends an almost supernatural quality to Jaws. In Jaws The Revenge, the shark is supernatural (it follows Mrs. Brody to the Bahamas) so Small replies with an eerie synth motive based on a see-sawing major third -- very '80s.

Most of the tracks on this album alternate between nautical, impressionistic writing, and orchestral violence for the shark attacks, as in "Underwater." "The Shark" underscores an underwater chase, with Small shaping Williams' exciting original material into syncopated octatonic developments, along with his own synth motive later taken up by a full string section. Its effect in the film makes for big laughs. The most straight-faced action music in the world cannot make the shark of this film more threatening than the gray Styrofoam banana that it is. On the other hand, the effortless simplicity and beauty of "The Bahamas" remind us that Small used to write terrific scores for the likes of Marathon Man and The Parallax View.

On a CD, Small's material fares better since it's not accompanied by the film. Sadly missing from the album is the cue for Mike Brody's daughter mimicking his movements in the same way Shawn Brody imitates Chief Brody (Roy Scheider) in the first film. Williams was working with a poignant scene and he handled it brilliantly: a low, subtly disturbing pedal for the depressed Brody, with a delicate bitonal music-box melody for Mike copying his father's movements. In Jaws 4, Small actually Mickey-mouses the little girl's every move. These two approaches to the same basic scene encapsulate the differences between the Jaws and Jaws The Revenge films. Small certainly gave Revenge a lot more than it deserved -- and this a much better score than Deep Blue Sea...whatever that means. The hysterical coda tacked onto the end of "Revenge and Finale" is almost worth the price of the disc, as it no doubt sums up Small's opinion of the film. It's sad that the great Michael Small was delegated utter crap like Jaws the Revenge in the late '80s -- and even worse that he never found his way back to the material that he deserves. -- AK Benjamin


Guns for San Sebastian/Dark of the Sun ****

ENNIO MORRICONE/JAQUES LOUSSIER

Chapter III CHA 0134

26 tracks - 62:29

Ennio Morricone's score for the 1968 western Guns of San Sebastian kicks off Chapter III's "Chapter III Classics" reissue series, and despite the inevitable similarities to The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (written a year later), it's a terrific score and hopefully a harbinger of things to come from the Chapter III label. Morricone's score (33:20 on the CD) is, at times, more varied an effort than Ugly, with Morricone's usual sweeping, melodic writing counterbalanced by a handful of terrific action cues ("The Chase," "The Attack") that would be at home in any action film made today. Interestingly enough, Morricone's usual through-composition style doesn't result in many slow spots in the first half of this album. There's more variation than with a typical Morricone album, and his lyric writing develops an interestingly secular feel towards the end (i.e., "Teclo's Death", "End Title") that is markedly different from the sweeping "Overture" that opens the album. Like many a western scored by Morricone in this time period, he's evoking an emotional soundscape without being action-specific, giving the film and its characters a mythological profundity that probably wouldn't work if any other composer tried it. Guns of San Sebastian doesn't have Morricone's usual instrumentational trickery; it's a somewhat standard-issue score for him, but standard Morricone usually puts much else to shame.

Dark of the Sun, on the other hand, was composed by Jaques Loussier, a French jazz pianist-turned- composer. Surprisingly enough, Loussier's work in an orchestral idiom (29:09 worth) is more eclectic than one might think, and actually makes a good match with Morricone's music. "Claire's First Appearance" showcases some terrific, throbbing string chords over a steady pulse of percussion and harpsichord, and "The Mercenaries" features some crazy pool-hall-jazz writing undercut with tense, sawing string chords. "The Doctor is Found" is a beautifully elegiac cue for with undulating piano and string writing, evoking a sense of tragic emotion without sanctimoniousness. The album slows down in the middle section, burdened by repetitive jazz writing ("Curry and the Diamonds", "Claire and Curry") but it picks up momentum again with the marvelously subdued cues "The Fight" and "Curry Kills Henlein," two eerily underwritten cues that don't resort to banshee melodramatics, and instead opt for a nuanced, tragic feel. And despite the unaccountable weirdness of "Friendly Natives Having Fun" -- which, honestly, is a cue that fully lives up to its title -- the reprise of Loussier's "Main Theme" provides the album with a great send-off.

The sound quality on these releases is somewhat pinched and dry -- there's distortion here and there, and some evident tape hiss, but for enthusiasts of this material, having this long-unavailable music on CD will be worth it. And while there isn't any extra material, these albums were well-put-together to begin with, and remain entertaining listens. -- Jason Comerford

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