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  • Composed by Bill Conti
  • Intrada Special Collection volume 96 / 2009 / 39:49

The Rocky producers tried to recapture the success of that film in Uncle Joe Shannon, about a down-on-his-luck trumpeter who attempts to rebuild his life following a family tragedy.  It was written by its star, Burt Young, who of course was also in Rocky – and the composer of that film’s iconic music, Bill Conti, was brought on board to provide the music here too. A key contributor to the score is trumpeter Maynard Ferguson, who “ghosts” Young’s on-screen performing, and has a big part to play in Conti’s score.  Even with the recent spate of releases filling a number of gaps in the criminally-unrepresented Conti’s discography, he is still a generally-underappreciated composer, capable of writing some wonderful music but rarely appearing in anyone’s list of favourites.  While really good music would appear at points throughout his career, it was probably during the late 1970s that he was at his creative peak – not just the obvious Rocky, but lesser-known scores like FIST and in particular the exceptional Slow Dancing in the Big City – and Uncle Joe Shannon belongs in that company.

As might be expected, the score is largely jazzy.  But this isn’t your typical Hollywood jazz – Ferguson’s performances take the trumpet into territories I don’t remember hearing in any film score, “proper” jazz you might say.  Conti’s orchestral accompaniment leaves you in no doubt that this is a film score – but it’s one that goes in very unusual directions.  Your tolerance for this kind of (for film music) hard-core jazz trumpeting will of course dictate your enjoyment of the score (and I realise that my description of this as “hard-core” is going to send all jazz fans into fits of unrestrained hilarity).  It’s not entirely my cup of tea – impressive, certainly, but not something I particularly enjoy.  I can appreciate Conti’s craft in coming up with the music and Ferguson’s incredible skill in playing it – but save for a couple of cues, I can’t see me playing it very often, which – let’s face it – is the whole point of owning an album. ***

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