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CD Reviews: Fever and Bounce

Fever ***


Pacific Time Entertainment PTE 8528-2

16 tracks - 42:08

Joe Delia's score for Alex Winter's Fever creates (and sustains) an impressively-controlled tone throughout, which is more than can be said for many scores written these days. Delia is a composer who's still getting his musical feet under him, and scores like Fever, while not exactly anything new or particularly innovative, demonstrate how his skills are getting sharper and more finely honed.

I'll be honest -- I groaned inwardly when I flipped through the liner notes of the Fever CD, seeing that the score was performed by a four-person ensemble of piano, synthesizer, cello, drums and bass. "Great," I thought, "another cheesy straight-outta-Cinemax score." Fever took me slightly by surprise -- you can never quite forget you're listening to a tiny group of musicians, but Delia's skill for interesting textural writing tends to distract you. The lengthy "Greenpoint Nocturne" cue is a good example of the score's strength -- where it lacks in thematic constancy it makes up for in an admirably sustained mood, alternating from a pulsing rhythmic beat to ensemble writing to eerier synthesized effects. Fever is filled with many such cues -- music that adopts a droning, new-agey feel throughout.

Indeed, Delia doesn't seem interested in making you forget you're listening to a low-budget score, which is the trap that many composers scoring low-budget features fall into. He instead takes his materials and makes the best of them, which is all anyone could ask of him. "The Man Upstairs" and "The Cold Sweats" use an eerie piano motif over undulating electronic patches, creating a sense of disjointed urgency (appropriate for a film about, according to the liner notes, "the dialectic between a cynic and a downtrodden idealist"). "Dream of Mother" is a highlight of the album, featuring a beautifully melancholy cello solo atop wind-like synth textures that combine to spiral into a tense finish.

Unfortunately, music of this limited nature tends to work best in short increments, and the 42-minute-long disc seems longer than it actually is ("Another cue featuring eerie piano and synth effects over percussion!?") But all credit is due to Delia for making the best of a low-budget situation.  -- Jason Comerford

Bounce ***


Varèse Sarabande 302 066 194 2

18 tracks - 30:45

Mychael Danna isn't really known for scoring small romantic dramas. His music has more often always added surprising weight to moral and conscious-stirring dilemmas of such films as The Sweet Hereafter and The Ice Storm. Similar in tone and pacing to last year's idiosyncratic Girl, Interrupted, Danna's Bounce creates beautiful moments that work with the action on screen. On the other hand, these don't coalesce into a meaningful whole on an album. (Fans of the movie may beg to differ).

"Weather," the opening track, starts out like a lullaby -- perhaps winking at the fairy-tale aspects of this story of a man who finds true love in the wife of the man who died after taking his seat on an ill-fated airplane! Ben Affleck plays the man with likeable charm while Gwyneth Paltrow plays the widow with her usual sensitivity and grace. Together, the real-life ex-lovers create a chemistry that transcends the plot mechanisms that ultimately undermine much of the film.

One of the first things one will notice about Danna's score is the influence of Thomas Newman (such as the use of contemporary instruments like the electric guitar to drive the bigger moments of the score). Danna also believes in "the short cue," a pocket of music that belongs matched to a moment in the movie. These snippets are great to have if you love the tiny moment, but they're frustrating (like false starts) for the CD-listener who wants to be taken on a musical journey. A better and more interesting score (and album) for this type of movie is Patrick Doyle's hip and thematic Great Expectations, which commented on the urban stories of the characters while creating a beautiful listening experience. Of all the cues on Danna's album, "Testimony," comes the closest to matching this balance. It's not entirely fair to compare these two films (even though Paltrow is in both) and scores, but Great Expectations sets a bar that a lot of contemporary love stories should try to reach (at least to warrant an entire CD release).

That said, the Bounce album does have its virtues, especially for the more intimate moments of the movie like the heartbreaking "Crash" and "Moving Day." These tracks have a new age feel that effectively serves a story which wears the themes of rebirth and renewal as a proud badge of honor. And with equal weight given to guitar solos and piano solos, the score is, like the film, a nice rainy Saturday afternoon diversion. But be careful if you do head off to the CD store, since both the score and the separate song CD (mostly likeable and listenable Lilith Fair-type musical acts like Sarah McLauchlan and Dido) use the same cover art. If it helps, the score CD's art is slightly bigger...  -- Cary Wong

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