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CD Reviews: Ali II and Star Trek Enterprise

Ali II ***


Decca 440 016 967-2

11 tracks - 40:10

Director Michael Mann has always been a master of enhancing images with music, creating mini-music videos within his films. Granted, these are sometimes anachronistic, but they're always interesting. How else can you explain all the suspense created by Mann over a rather straight-forward story of a 60 Minutes expose in The Insider? In Ali, however, Mann seems to be at a loss. Mostly focusing on the years Ali wasn't boxing, the movie, starring Will Smith in his Oscar nominated role, doesn't have the depth of background as the documentary When We Were Kings had on the same subject. Maybe he has too much reverence for his lead character, or maybe he was trying to be politically correct with a controversial man who is still living, but Ali is more of a collage than a movie. All the highlights are there but the connecting tissue is sorely missing.

More of a true soundtrack than the earlier Interscope Records release, this Decca release includes more of the mood pieces that Michael Mann incorporated into his vision (as opposed to just the background songs). In fact, thematically, the CD is surprisingly unified, incorporating mostly songs with African American melodies. This is a plus and a minus. While as a listening experience, there are no jarring tracks that ruin the flow of the CD, but it seems a little disappointing in the Michael Mann oeuvre. It was Mann's odd placement of Gustavo Santaolalla's "Iguazu" in The Insider, as well as Moby's "God Moving Over the Face of the Water" in Heat that made those musical choices an inspiration. As the music in Ali is so closely related to the action on screen, Mann took the easy way out.

That said, the choices of source cues are both musically interesting and totally accessible, especially the beautiful "Papa," by Salif Keita, the Mali musician known for his African-Western music fusion. Another standout song is "Set Me Free," co-written by the film's composers. This one sounds too contemporary for the film's setting, but is still rousing and fun.

Lisa Gerrard and Pieter Bourke's Golden Globe nominated score is only represented by 16 minutes of music spanning 5 tracks. Add to that the one three-minute track in the Interscope release, and the score doesn't leave much of an impression -- in keeping with most Mann movies, (The Last of the Mohicans the notable exception). Evocative, haunting and professional as the score is, Gerrard and Bourke's chore seemed to have been to plaster over the holes between source cues. Filler music is seldom memorable.  -- Cary Wong

Enterprise ****


Decca 289 470 999-2

15 tracks - 49:30

When it comes to Star Trek, I have to admit to being a bit of a McCarthyite. Sure, Goldsmith's majestic The Motion Picture/ The Next Generation theme is great, but more recently, Voyager's theme was too much of the same, and the equally pedestrian New-Age Insurrection didn't win any bonus points. By contrast, I loved Dennis McCarthy's brassy theme for Deep Space Nine, his stirring finale for TNG's "All Good Things," and his rousing sweep for Generations. So, upon discovering that Jerry was not composing the title theme for new show Enterprise, and that the pilot "Broken Bow" was being scored by McCarthy, I assumed that Dennis would be on the opening titles. Wrong. In their infinite wisdom, Rick Berman and co. went for a cheesy '80s-style pop ballad by Diane Warren, sung with gravely angst (very Rod Stewart, as opposed to Patrick) by opera boy Russell Watson. Contrary to what was suggested, the song has not grown on me at all. After 26 episodes, it still grates, so let's hope the show gets a make-over for Season Two (Andromeda and Farscape did something similar). If you're not convinced, listen to both the TV version of the song and the full-length album version that appear on this disc. However, with a bit of simple tracking you can concentrate on McCarthy's music, which amounts to nearly 45 minutes of underscore.

"Enterprise First Flight" and "New Enterprise" are in the same vein as Goldsmith's "The Enterprise," both echoing "Archer's theme," a dignified paean to the wonderment of discovery. "Archer's Theme" underscores the end credits, although its effect is a little diminished by the rock guitar riffs, presumably added to bring it closer to the opening theme. "Klingon Chase-Shotgunned" is an exciting action cue with obligatory percussion as a motif for the Klingons.

Finally, don't worry that Star Trek soundtrack specialists GNP/Crescendo haven't released this disc -- it was still issued under the watchful eye of their front man Neil Norman (he of the Cosmic Orchestra). And because this is an enhanced CD you get to watch video of Watson signing the theme live at a concert, and you have access to text bios of the crew. Hopefully, this release will be popular enough to spawn a disc of suites from Velton ("Silent Enemy") Ray Bunch's, David Bell's and Jay Chattaway's Enterprise episodes.  -- Nick Joy

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