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Jagged Edge
  • Composed by John Barry
  • Varèse Sarabande CD Club / 2016 / 27m

A tense courtroom thriller, Jagged Edge stars Glenn Close as an attorney who falls in love with her client, Jeff Bridges, on trial for the vicious murder of his wife.  It was widely-praised on its release in 1985 as a smart film, forensically examining the crime but keeping the audience guessing throughout.  Written by the notorious Joe Eszterhas (who wasn’t so notorious at the time) and directed by Richard Marquand, the film was a big success.

Return of the Jedi director Marquand’s previous film Until September received a lush, beautiful score from the great John Barry and this was the second of their three films together (the third was Hearts of Fire).  But this was far from a typical Barry score: it’s got a sweet, lovely main theme but otherwise this is dark suspense music marked as being distinctive in the composer’s vast filmography thanks to its electronic nature, with Barry enlisting the help of Jonathan Elias to realise the various electronic sounds.  (He had previously done an all-electronic score, 1981’s entirely unreleased Bells, but as far as I know there aren’t any others.)

John Barry

John Barry

Having said that, the main theme is vintage Barry and features the only two acoustic elements in the score, piano and flute.  It’s simple and direct but so sweet and lovely, heard briefly in the main titles before being usurped by the first of the bleak suspense music.  It’s angry stuff, black textures at the fore, slowly-developing chords enticing the listener (and of course viewer) onwards even though the danger is well-telegraphed.

The textures of the two suspense cues which follow are interesting – “Burial at Sea” contrasts the murky electronics with the crystal clarity of the flute, then ominous low-end piano is joined by oppressively deep sounds in “Henry Stiles is Dead”.  Some of the dark action from the main title is reprised in “Jack and Teddy at Murder Scene”, crashing piano notes from the lowest end of the keyboard being joined by almost ethereal synth pads.

Some relief comes when the main theme gets an extended airing in “Love Theme”.  Even here, the sweet tune is initially presented with an underbelly of tension from the synths before a straight version emerges in the second half of the cue.  Barry cleverly avoids schmaltz with a hugely unexpected shift in the melody, quite brilliant when you hear it.  A secondary flute theme derived from the main theme opens up the subsequent “Teddy’s Betrayal” but it’s not long before action takes over, with powerful chords so typical of the composer’s darker music of this period (except for being synthesised).

After an untitled cue of suspense music, Barry pushes things even darker in “Bobby Slade Confrontation”, raising the tension to the level where it could be cut with a knife.  Melody takes a back seat to atmosphere, but it’s very effective.  The brief “Waiting for the Verdict” continues the suspense but then it is released, momentarily, in “Freedom and Typewriter”, as the main theme is heard on piano – the synths underneath grow before emerging alone to add a hugely dark feeling, dread and terror.  “Jack Calls” is downright sinister, various effects coming together to create a feverish tension which then all comes to a head in “Bye Sam”, pounding percussion effects heard briefly earlier in the score now coming to the fore along with stabbing synth effects and then the return of the low-end piano.

Resolution does appear to come in the end credits piece, the main theme given a beautiful reprise but even that’s deceptive because things quickly turn dark one final time, leaving a deliberately ambiguous feel to the end of the film.  Jagged Edge is a fascinating score, showing Barry as a composer unafraid to try doing something very different.  Even apart from the electronics, it’s an unusual score for him being so very dark.  It’s impressive really how well he pulled it off – I have to say though that as effective as it is as a film score, it’s not exactly a pleasant album, precisely because of how dark it is.  The original CD release became extremely rare so this reissue (resequenced and with cues given titles for the first time) was very welcome but it too sold out quickly, so maybe some people will have to remain curious about this Barry curiosity.

Rating: *** | |

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