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Colourful, complex action/drama score from Conti
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
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Album cover copyright (c) 2006 Columbia Pictures Industries; review copyright (c) 2006 James Southall
This slightly unusual crime drama, written and directed by John Cassavetes, must have seemed like a dream come true for composer Bill Conti: his interview in the liner notes reveal that when he met the director for the first time and tried to arrange the spotting session, Cassavetes said "I'm not doing that - it's why I hired you" - and Conti realised he had free reign to do anything he wanted with the score. I imagine that most film composers would be bursting at the seams for such a chance.
In the event, Conti wrote a flavourful score highlighting saxophone and guitar solos along with a slightly unusual orchestra including no fewer than sixteen clarinets! The main title piece is the score's highlight: opening with a hint of flamenco flair with a very brief passage for voices, it goes into a lovely guitar solo, an impassioned section for sax and finally an explosive fully-orchestral close. It's a blinding piece of music, arresting and colourful, vivid and memorable. Conti has written a number of impressively-portentous pieces of music for films, and in its own way this is right up there, not least because it's so original and perhaps demonstrates a more personal touch than is usual from the composer.
Inevitably, the main body of the score isn't quite up to that standard. It's interesting music, composed and performed with real flair, but for some reason far beyond anything I could comprehend, it occasionally seems to fail to sound as good as it should do on paper. That is not to say it's bad - it isn't - it's good. It remains constantly listenable, is frequently rather striking, and all very impressive - just lacking the touch of magic which seemed to infuse itself into the opening.
The score boasts some fine action music - "The Hit" in particular - which is a clear precursor to what I had previously thought of being the "Michael Kamen sound" (of course, this predated anything Kamen wrote) - the combination of swirling strings and powerful percussion hits being tremendously effective. Also impressive are the two "Chase" cues, which are dynamic and propulsive. Perhaps more notable, though, are the softer passages - the guitar solo of "Aftermath" is gorgeous - and "Gloria and the Boy" impassioned and full of emotion. "Bonding" manages to sound light and deft even though it still demonstrates orchestration as complex as elsewhere in the score (and that complex - emotionally, as well as technically - nature of the compositions is arguably the score's greatest asset). The album finishes strongly, too, with "Reunion and Finale" being a touching piece for guitar.
Needless to say, the sound of the saxophone is something of an acquired taste, but don't worry too much - this is not some lame Kenny G stuff, it's using the unique timbre of the instrument to bring extra colour to the score, not adding a touch of pop music which is no doubt what film composers of the 1980s were generally trying to do with various ill-advised trips down the saxophone path.
There's one superlative piece here - the opening title - and much music which is really very good, if not quite great. As I said above, it seems a more deeply personal score than some of Conti's others, and its release is certainly most welcome in the present reawakening of interest in the composer, one fuelled very much by Varese Sarabande's CD Club. As usual, the package is good - Julie Kirgo's insightful notes include a new interview with Conti, archive comments from Cassavetes and the usual touches of humour and wit. Sound quality is excellent. Recommended.