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CD Reviews: Milan Silver Screen Series

By Ian D. Thomas

Baraka ****


Milan M2-36109

12 tracks - 53:54

Naked Lunch ****


Milan M2-36110

18 tracks - 48:35

Both Baraka and Naked Lunch are part of Milan's new Silver Screen Series, launched to celebrate 25 years of soundtrack releases for the label. After taking exception with their recent remastering of Elmer Bernstein's tribute to Bernard Herrmann (Bernard Herrmann Film Scores: From Citizen Kane to Taxi Driver), I'm pleased to see Milan get things right with these two new reissues.

Baraka is director Ron Fricke's follow-up to his cinematic tone poem Chronos and follows the same form, with glorious, striking visuals shot on 70mm in locations around the globe. Like its predecessor, Baraka features no dialog and has only the soundtrack to help guide the viewer along a journey which explores Man's place on Earth. Composer Michael Stearns (who also wrote the score to Chronos), fuses recordings of indigenous music with his own synth-based compositions. While it might seem tempting to lump this score with all the "world music" CDs out there and dismiss it, doing so would prove foolish.

What sets this soundtrack apart from world music albums is the quality and variety of the music. It also helps that all the musicians featured sound genuine in their performances -- this ain't a bunch of hippie dudes in a drum circle, this is the real deal! Stearns does add his analog synths to many of the tracks, along with sound location recordings of people and nature, but it is done so tastefully that it doesn't distract from the overall presentation.

The remastering has brought out a lot more detail in the recordings, along with a more robust bottom end. Sure, it's louder than the original CD, but the dynamics seem to have been unaltered. A single bonus track restores the opening cut from the film, which had been left off of the original pressing. Varied and dynamic music with great recording quality -- what's not to like?

It seems an unlikely teaming, but Ornette Coleman and Howard Shore both contribute to David Cronenberg's adaptation of William S. Burroughs' Naked Lunch. Whether you'll like it or not really depends on your feelings toward Ornette Coleman: jazz master or abrasive noise maker? Obviously, you'll have to be able to dig Coleman's adventurous style (which he refers to as "harmolodic" in the liner notes); if not, the soundtrack may become a little grating.

Shore lays the groundwork with dark orchestrations for a smaller ensemble which Coleman often wails on top of. A few tracks also present Ornette's original compositions and are the wilder cuts on the CD.

Again, the remastering puts a high quality sheen on the original source material, and easily bests the original issue of the album with more detail and a sweeter top end.

Both albums are recommended, as long as you know what you're getting into. Baraka takes you on a musical trip around the world without leaving your easy chair, while Naked Lunch will either thrill you or make you run screaming from the room. Other releases in Milan's new series include A River Runs Through It and Backdraft.

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