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CD Reviews: K-Pax, Mythodea and Bruce Broughton Concert Work

by Nick Joy


K-PAX *** 1/2


Decca 440 016 192-2

12 tracks - 43:19

Edward Shearmur is an enigma. Just when you think that you've tied down his particular "sound," he shifts approach and surprises you by throwing in something new from leftfield. From the period drama of Wings of a Dove to the schlock horror of Species II or overblown high drama of Charlie's Angels, this guy is a chameleon. To prove the point, his score to the Kevin Spacey "Is he or isn't he an alien" chart-topper is an electronic opus. A throwback to the mid- '80s, this score might be retro in style, but in no way is it a retro step for the composer.

I hesitate in using the word "ambient," but ultimately that's the best description of this selection of chill-out tracks that are predominantly structured around simple piano melodies with synth backing. Not dissimilar to Thomas Newman's score to previous Spacey drama American Beauty (did they temp this film with a Newman extravaganza?) the music also harks back to Jack Nitzsche's thematically-linked Starman. But this is a more robust multi-layered composition that works equally well away from the screen. Sure, read the listing and then deconstruct tracks as you try to recall how the music served the movie, but add another dimension to your listening experience by listening to it "cold" and appreciating it as a mood piece.

If you yearn for those halcyon days when Pink Floyd set the tone for a generation, and cutting-edge soundtracks featured Christopher Franke and his fellow Tangerine Dreamers pounding away at the keyboards, this is a must-buy. It's a frothy feel-good experience and, what's more, a good way to get a legal high.

Mythodea - Music for the NASA Mission: 2001 Mars Odyssey *** 1/2


Sony Classical SK 89191

11 tracks - 62:50

OK, so Mythodea isn't a movie or TV score, which raises questions as to what it's doing in FSM. But with a solid body of film work behind him, surely any new project by Vangelis is worthy of mention. In any event, this transcends mere movie soundtracks; it has the loftier ambition of being a soundtrack for the stars -- specifically the Red Planet of Mars.

Commissioned by NASA as a theme to their 2001 Mars Odyssey program (and there's plenty to read about this in the copious liner notes) Mythodea has the distinction of keeping one foot in the past, with another in the future, and this makes for some intriguing juxtaposition. The space program is, by definition, a forward-looking exploration of the stars, yet by the Greek composer's own admission, his theme music is rooted to his homeland's rich mythical heritage.

And perhaps this is why the music is so typically Vangelis -- another rich fusion of modern electronic passages that use ancient musical structures as their cue. As ably demonstrated in 1492: Conquest of Paradise, the composer has no qualms in using contemporary music for historical subject matter, though this time he uses a classical approach to underscore a futuristic setting. The two timeframes are interchangeable, and ultimately the subject matter of "discovering the unknown" is timeless.

Vangelis has taken the opportunity in this project to branch out beyond his keyboards by employing soloists Kathleen Battle and Jessye Norman and the London Metropolitan Orchestra. "The Introduction" is an intriguing series of beeps, whistles and textures more suited to a sound effects record, but then the project takes flight with "Movement 1," a grandiose fusion of 1492 and El Greco but with the added accompaniment of the orchestra. Arguably, the big orchestra sound might alienate some fans who are uncomfortable with the keyboard wizard delegating responsibilities to other musicians, but it's a glorious sound. And while "Movement" 1 throws everything into the mix, subsequent tracks feature the orchestra, choir and soloists in different capacities.

Following on from The Bounty and 1492, Vangelis embarks on another voyage of discovery. What a shame that the same approach wasn't adopted when that sappy song was chosen for Enterprise. It's not quite "Vangelis Unplugged" (now that would be interesting) but the inclusion of acoustic instrumentation reveals a welcome previously unseen side to the synth maestro.

Three Friends - The Music of Ian Krouse & Bruce Broughton, The Debussy Trio ***


RCM 12003

13 Tracks- 55:03

A brief mention for this disc which features the World Premiere Recording of Bruce Broughton's 1999 non-soundtrack suite Tyvek Wood. Clocking in at 18:41, the three-track movement leaps straight into "Fast, with energy," an initially frantic journey up and down the scales by harpist Marcia Dickstein, violist David Walther and flautist Angela Wiegand. "Reflectively expressive; dreamlike" and "Quick and determined" live up to their descriptions, and the trio of musician's tackle the Silverado composer's material with gusto and accomplished aplomb. Recommended with reservations for FSM readers, if only because it's light years away (literally) from the likes of Broughton's Lost in Space. But it's a revelation for serious music fans who thought the composer's range was limited to biblical TV movies or wild westerns.

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