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Lalo Schifrin CD Reviews

Bullitt ****

LALO SCHIFRIN

Aleph 018

18 tracks - 55:47

Bullitt is a film that's become something of an oddity; it's removed from the cynicism that earmarked later police dramas like Dirty Harry and The French Connection, but its stylistic influence on those films is always evident in its documentary-like depiction of a hard-boiled yet indefatigably photogenic world. It made world-weary cops "cool" in their burned-out suffering, and star Steve McQueen was the first to turn that sense of self-destruction into something fascinating to watch.

Lalo Schifrin's score was designed to cash in on the then-contemporary jazz craze, and it's a real testament to Schifrin's amazing longevity that the music hasn't lost its funky edge. This new recording, played by the "WDR Big Band," is crisp and close-miked, giving Schifrin's smooth jazz compositions a tight, in-your-face edge that updates their sound without sacrificing anything along the way. There are a few slow spots on the album, with some of Schifrin's laid-back jazz arrangements becoming redundant, but on the whole the album is a welcome addition to the composer's discography.

Schifrin's inimitable main theme kicks off the album proper in its edgier, darker film arrangement; the original album arrangement, a more sedate and laid-back take, is also presented later in the album (track 8). The theme is a refreshingly non-cynical groove for bass guitar that does a terrific job of catching the title character's malaise without wallowing in it self-righteously. "Shifting Gears" follows, a terrific, low-key suspense cue with a generous helping of forward motion provided by the rhythm section. The album's highlight, the film version of "Ice Pick Mike," occurs awfully early, but Schifrin fans will be more than willing to stick it through with the rest of the album.

"Ice Pick Mike" is a terrific piece of music, laying a sleepy sax solo atop eerie chime and percussion effects, giving a topically casual feeling with a menacing urgency beneath. However, the through-composed jazz stylings of "Cantata for Combo" and "Room 26" break up the album's momentum. "On the Way to San Mateo" is another similarly constructed cue, but "Just Coffee" hearkens nicely back to "Ice Pick Mike" with up-tempo plucked-string effects atop queasy solos. "The Aftermath of Love" places the Bullitt theme into a lounge-style arrangement with muted brass, and the record version of "Ice Pick Mike" robs the original's energy; it's watered down and far less eerie, turning the original cue's construction inside out and having solos become throughlines throughout. The only hint of the original cue's menace is near the conclusion, when a piano plays delicately with less sedate material.

"Hotel Daniels" threatens to be another jazz-filler track until a funky honky-tonk-style organ juices things up; Schifrin lies blasting brass atop the organ and up-tempo drum rhythms. A strange guitar-solo version of the main theme breaks up the album's momentum -- it's a sloppily-played solo arrangement that has practically none of the original theme's laid-back vibe. "The First Snow Fall" edges into cheesy territory, with muted-horn writing, wind and sax support, and laid-back rhythms that date the album more than anything else.

Things pick up again with the album arrangement of "Room 26"; at first it threatens to be as interchangeable as the film version, but a smashing flute solo saves it. Another virtuoso solo carries "The Architect's Building," while "Song for Cathy" offers a lovely melody for piano atop gentle bass-guitar writing. "Music to Interrogate By" offers jaunty, punchy brass writing -- this clearly isn't a cue for "NYPD Blue." The album smoothly winds itself out with the "End Credits" cue, an arrangement of the Bullitt theme for flute, with gentle support from drums and guitar. -- Jason Comerford


The Fox *** 1/2

LALO SCHIFRIN

Aleph 017

19 tracks - 60:47

Lalo Schifrin's score for The Fox captures the proper feel of the D. H. Lawrence story it's based on; there are plenty of gentle, pastoral textures kissed with dissonance and darkness -- these are appropriate musical embodiments of Lawrence's typical themes of destruction of innocence and sexual angst. The album's opening track, "The Fox, Main Title," sets the stage with a dark piano opening which leads into a simple, lyric main theme. Uneasy piano patterns underneath hint at darker tidings to come, and Schifrin follows through; "Paul's Memories" showcases sawing string and harp patterns with dissonant winds and subtle percussion effects. Later cues like "The Proposal" and the aptly titled "Snowy Bushes" have a similar feel: lyricism that's shot through with edgy darkness. There's also a lot of fascinating writing in cues like "Frost Trees" and "Lonely Road," where dancing strings and winds let the gentle main theme breezily drift around without becoming redundant.

This album is another in Schifrin's series of rerecordings of his film scores, this one performed by the Sinfonia of London Orchestra. The recording is exemplary, but Schifrin's tendency to pad the album out with additional concert-style arrangements of his themes doesn't always succeed. The Fox is a simple, lyric score with darker elements, but concert-hall cues like "Fox Variation #1" and "Minuet in C," scored for string quartets and solo flutes, are awfully mundane considering the complexity of Schifrin's textural and harmonic developments and combinations. The sequencing works some of the time -- "Fox Variation #2" breaks up a darker portion of the album with a charming section for pizzicato strings and a flute solo -- but its success runs out by the end of the disc. "The Foxhole" is the climax of the album's aggressive, black and dissonant writing, but just as the cue comes to an end, the lounge-style "Fox Symphony" breaks up the energy. Fortunately, the strength of the rest of the album makes it worth a listen. -- Jason Comerford

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