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CD Review: Goldenthal's Frida

By Doug Adams


Frida *** 1/2

ELLIOT GOLDENTHAL

UMG Soundtracks 289 474 150-2

24 tracks - 52:33

Every composer strives for originality, for a musical voice that expresses a unique amalgam of technique, experience and perspective. Good composers succeed, and in establishing a private argot either illuminate or augment an ever-growing musical lexicon. However they accomplish this lofty goal at great risk. This individuality frontloads a time-release dilemma that can return to haunt composers should they visit a creative well too consistently. At worst, this regularity can invoke a perception change and reliability becomes repetition -- that distinctive musical fingerprint is suddenly seen as shtick. Great composers are those who can reinvent or restructure themselves and avoid this pitfall.

Frida does not represent a complete overhaul to the Goldenthal canon, but it does chart the composer's first steps in some new directions. The writing finds its closest antecedents in The Butcher Boy and the theater piece Juan Darien, but there's a streamlined sense of scale and a melodic freeness in Frida that sets it apart. In fact, this may be Goldenthal's most melodically oriented score to date. His central tunes are effectively catchy, full of impetuous momentum but tinged with an introspective sadness. Solo guitar plays a major role in this melodicism, and serves to highlight the sophisticated/naïve cast that colors both the score and the film. The guitar is virtuosic yet maintains strong ties to authentic Mexican folk styles, and while there are glimpses of Goldenthal's favorite harmonic twists, here he's more apt to give himself over to the Mexican flavors.

Although Goldenthal is well known for creating some of the most dense and expansive orchestral textures in modern film, Frida's writing conveys a chamber-like delicacy. The composer's trademark minimalist patterns reappear, but they're layered and moved off center so that the writing maintains a flexibility and expressiveness. There's a clarity to the textural layering in this score that draws the listener into a more intimate proximity with the performers. As in his score to Cobb, Goldenthal again allows disparate musical elements to impact upon one another, but in Frida it's a collision of miniatures: emotive female vocals over electronic soundscapes, Stravinskian guitar strumming (itself a collision of concepts) coupled with acrid marimba textures, traditional accordion patterns mutated by slippery modern harmonies. Goldenthal exercises a carefully selected palette, because each one of these colors, no matter how outlandishly treated, has to retain a readily apparent connection to its Mexican roots. Nearly half of the Frida CD is comprised of traditional Mexican tunes. Goldenthal's work moves in and out of these pieces flawlessly, sometimes in imperceptible cross fades. However, this seamlessness also constitutes the disc's one sticking point. Goldenthal fans may not also be fans of Mexican folk music and may therefore find the coexistence off-putting. Their inclusion is certainly valid, and I don't mean to imply that they don't deserve a place on the disc, but listeners may find themselves reluctantly in unfamiliar territory. (On a strictly personal note, I spent several years playing in a marimba band that regularly covered Mexican tunes, so several of these tunes were already familiar to me. They're all well performed and great examples of the style.) Still, the album serves as a great primer for those willing to stretch their ears -- though can't the same be said about any Goldenthal CD?

Frida is a satisfying next step for Elliot Goldenthal. There's an attention to detail and evidence of growth that's exciting both as a listening experience and as a promise for the future.
 

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