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Company Business

The penultimate film directed by Nicholas Meyer, Company Business was an unfortunate casualty of timing. A cold war thriller about a CIA/KGB prisoner exchange gone wrong, the film entered production as the Berlin Wall fell and real life was rendering its content immediately irrelevant – rushed rewrites ended up making it seem like a bit of a mess, despite it starring the great Gene Hackman and legendary Russian dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov.

Meyer certainly had a gift for picking composers for his projects and there was no hotter property in film music at the time when it came to action thrillers than Michael Kamen. Kamen was one of the most gifted in his field and it’s no wonder he got typecast for quite a while into this sort of film given he did Die Hard, Lethal Weapon and all the rest, but (as I’ve noted previously) even though this is what Hollywood generally asked him to do, I’ve never really thought this type of film enabled him to showcase his greatest strengths as a film composer – he was a real showman with a huge personality and his greatest gift was sharing his great joy through his music, which he could do routinely by the end of his career when he finally did manage to move away from the action genre.

Michael Kamen

Having said that, there’s no doubting how good he was at these things and actually Company Business is one of the best examples. The original album saw the action/thriller parts of the score meticulously assembled by Kamen and Steve McLaughlin into a couple of lengthy suites which showcase it so well. The opening “Journey to Alexanderplatz” actually begins deceptively – perhaps as all good spy movies should – with a colourful balalaika passage, but this quickly turns to taut orchestral action. Kamen’s style was so distinctive – he didn’t sound like other film composers and they didn’t sound like him – I always find myself breaking into a broad grin when that transition into that signature sound happens early in the cue. It’s eleven minutes long and is dominated by an action motif usually reserved for trombone but sometimes given colour from the rest of the brass section. Gradually a second motif emerges, this one more forthright and decisive and it takes over as the suite nears its end. (You would literally have no idea that this track is made up of edits of so many shorter ones, so skilfully is it assembled.)

The second of the suites is the fifteen-minute “Faisal’s Escape” and this one shifts the focus from action to suspense. Bursts of martial percussion offer the main relief from the dark, taut low strings – there are glimmers of light from occasional bells and chimes but this is murky stuff. Late in the cue there’s a delightful passage for violin giving local flavour and this sort of little vignette keeps the dramatic impetus right up.

After this the album presents a few standalone cues. In “Natasha” we get the first real sense of romance with a lovely piece of piano-led jazz sandwiched between more of the action; then “Cafe Jatte” dances around a compelling mix of source music and underscore, including the emergence of a great new saxophone tune backed by a luxurious jazz trio. The cue transitions from this into a very ominous passage of suspense – trademark Kamen oboe playing against shimmering strings and the deepest of brass to signal doom and gloom.

“Eiffel Tower” is the music from the film’s finale. It begins with some of the most florid material in the whole score, little figures for both winds and brass playing off in complex harmony, Kamen cleverly introducing a feel of organised chaos which perfectly reflects what’s happening on the screen. He then moves into a reprise of the suspense motif that dominated the second suite earlier on the album and ratchets up the tension through ever-increasing layers of strings, everything coming to a head with some ferocious explosions of brass and the slightly more heroic, secondary action motif. For the end titles, “The Island”, we get a full-bodied reprise of the romantic theme from “Cafe Jatte” which, while hardly in keeping with the general style of the score, provides an obvious “playlist track” and a really nice end to the album.

I love Michael Kamen and have done since I first heard his music, whenever that was. Of all the film composers whose music I’ve loved over the years, he seems to me to be the most underappreciated. Nobody is going to claim that Company Business is one of his most noteworthy efforts but it’s a great example of him just doing his thing, and doing it brilliantly well – it’s tremendously effective film music carefully assembled into the best album it could be. Intrada’s 2021 album adds a second disc with the full score in film order but I doubt anyone would choose that over the great original album experience. If you’re not already a fan of Kamen then this score won’t convert you, but if you are then it’s an unheralded gem and I would say a rather better album than the much better-known examples of this style from more famous and popular films.

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