Wednesday, March 13, 2013
Megan Hilty, who's starred on Broadway as Glinda in Wicked and now appears weekly as Ivy on "Smash," has just released her first solo CD, "It Happens All the Time." •• Instead of what I expected, a collection of the usual show tunes and standards, Megan has collected 10 of her favorite songs, songs that speak to her and that she hopes will speak to us. And for the most part, she nails it. These are heartache songs, for the most part, and you can hear her heartbreak coming through each performance. •• By far the standout of the album is "Wise Up." Aimee Mann's version was used in the film Magnolia some years ago, and here Megan infuses it with a wistfulness and wisdom that I found very emotional. It sounds like she's singing to herself as much as to us, like she wants to save us some pain by sharing her own. Some of that's the song, but most of it is her performance. Same story with "The Heart of the Matter," to which Megan brings a real fierceness and sorrow. •• All in all, while this may not be a totally successful first CD, it has plenty of real emotion and a mountain of talent. I can't wait to see what Megan Hilty brings to her next CD.
Monday, February 11, 2013
22-song CD contains the entire Bombshell score as recorded for the TV series. While having it is terrific, I wish it had been a bit more than just the TV recordings: an actual cast recording of the show, not just the tracks already released on the "Smash" CD last year. But no matter, really, because in addition to last season's songs, there are plenty of new ones from this season, which has only just started airing. •• Stars Katherine McPhee and Megan Hilty do an outstanding job here, each bringing her own shade of characterization to Marilyn Monroe, the subject of the musical. The songs track of her life in Hollywood, her marriage to Joe DiMaggio, and her eventual death. They're truly spectacular, from the power-ballad yearning of "Let Me be Your Star" to the playfulness of "The 20th Century Fox Mambo," from the sexy come-ons of "I Never Met a Wolf Who Didn't Love to Howl" to the soaring finale, "Don't Forget Me," which echoes "Let Me be Your Star" and brings the score full circle. •• Regarding "Never Met a Wolf," I'd have chosen the version performed by McPhee, since it actually appears in the musical; the one here has appeared elsewhere and the other would have provided a compelling reason to buy this CD (it's also just plain better). But that's a minor beef. •• There's so much talent on display here, so much passion for the musical, so much songwriting and performing brilliance, that I keep wondering: Since the whole musical is written, how long will it be before Bombshell becomes what it really should be: an actual Broadway musical? See you there!
Tuesday, January 15, 2013
The score, which is available from La-La Land Records, is darkly melodic, and one can hear, now and then, the influences of John Williams, John Barry, and Michael Giacchino. But the sound is really all Kraemer, and his work is a breath of fresh air in a film-music environment that sounds very much the same from composer to composer. What comes through is Kraemer’s ideas, his thinking, and I was curious about a few things. ••• Kraemer agreed to answer some questions recently. I wanted to know, first of all, about his influences. ••• “Of course, John Williams tops the list for me,” Kraemer said. “I listen to and study his scores more than any other composers. I have noticed a tendency to sound like John Barry as well, but believe it or not, that is entirely accidental. All I can think is that we both rip off the same Brahmsian gestures. I have enjoyed Giancchino's work, especially on Lost, but any resemblance to him is coincidental. ••• “Other inspirations include Jerry Goldsmith, David Shire, Elmer Bernstein, Bernard Hermann, and Howard Shore. Shore in particular writes music that seems to please modern directors' desire to avoid histrionics while at the same time allowing some level of compositional detail into the score.” ••• My own view of composers has a lot to do with their approach. To my way of thinking, John Williams composes for characters. What they’re thinking and feeling as well as what they’re doing. Just about every other composer scores action. I wondered what Kraemer’s approach was. ••• “I try to score films from the point of view of the audience. That is, I want to reflect where I think the audience should be focusing their attention. That also means the score might react to the film rather than lead the film. My process begins with watching the film from beginning to end. I don't usually read the script unless the director has asked me to for a specific reason, such as music that needs to be on hand during filming or something like that. I prefer to react to the movie itself,” Kraemer told me, “rather than go into my first screening of it with preconceptions. Also, it can be valuable for the filmmakers for me to come in with as little baggage as possible, since I am often one of the first people on the team to see the movie as a movie.” ••• And what’s his process after he watches the film? ••• “After I've seen the film, there is usually a spotting session where I discuss with the director where the music should begin and end, how the music should sound and where it should fall on the dramatic spectrum. I have a number of tricks that I use to spark the creative process at this point. Sometimes I'll use my mathematical understanding of music to devise a theme (such as the open fifths of Reacher's theme), sometimes I'll have an orchestral color in mind (i.e. the music for The Zec). ••• “The actual composing process probably resembles Max Steiner more than anyone else I know of. I start at the first frame of the movie and work my through to the end, chronologically, in order. What I find is that this procedure allows me to discover what I romantically refer to as ‘little treasures’ that I develop as I move through the score. Once I get to the end of the picture, I go back and do a revision draft where I reintegrate any of these little treasures into the earlier parts of the score as needed.” ••• Does he compose at a piano or at the computer? ••• “I work at the computer, where I compose and orchestrate using orchestral samples. I've done many films where the final product is a sample-based orchestra, so I make my work at this stage as realistic-sounding as I can. I have studied many symphonic works and conductors scores, including film cues by Williams and Goldsmith, and done mock-ups of their music to hone my skills at simulating a live orchestra with samples, so I've gotten to the point where I am confident in my orchestration choices and how they will translate from the samples to the stage. ••• “Once the score is recorded and mixed, I hand it off to the music editor who [handles] the final dub. I've reached the point where I think the film is best served with me staying out of the trenches during the [final mix]. Having a composer [there] is like having an actor in the cutting room. Too often a choice that is better for the movie might impact the score in a way that my ego may disagree with. I find by sitting out the dub and going in at the end for a playback of the full mix gives me a chance to voice any major concerns, while freeing the filmmakers from the burden of having someone there trying to protect the trees in spite of the forest.” ••• One thing I kept coming back to was the fact that Kraemer has jumped into major Hollywood scoring with a Tom Cruise movie. This isn’t a little film the composer can hide behind. His music is right up front with that larger-than-life persona. I asked how that reality affected his work this time. ••• “The size and scope of the project definitely factor into the production of a score,” said Kraemer. “If I know for sure we will be using a live orchestra, then there are certain musical gestures I can include in my arsenal that just aren't possible using samples exclusively, especially in the brass section. I believe Joni Mitchell once said that at a certain point you stop writing the song and it starts writing itself. I find that the film will tell you what kind of score it needs, and part of the specific skill set a composer needs is to listen to the film when it tells you something isn't working.” ••• Jack Reacher is as terrific and taut as its star. Better yet, so is the score.
Sunday, December 23, 2012
Skyfall, and it's a brilliant piece of work, as surprising and as welcome as the film itself. His score is fast, propulsive, and powerful -- and it has something recent 007 scores have lacked: melody. Newman brings his usual sense of melody to the film, upping the class factor...and the ante on suspense. •• The film's title song, sung by Adele, isn't on the CD, but it's easily downloaded. But beyond the song, which is terrific, there's a lot here to love. If you're into great movie music -- and Bond music in particular -- don't miss Skyfall, the soundtrack.
Tuesday, November 20, 2012
Lincoln. •• The score for this film is stunning. Recalling, in many ways, last year's War Horse score, Lincoln is a score made of simple themes used in big, emotional ways. At moments quiet and at others soaring, this score is one for the ages, a musical painting of Americana and struggle and war and resolution. Tough choices...and the knowledge that one is fighting the good and just fight. •• The main theme is presented on the CD right away in "The People's House," and it reaches its penultimate performance in an 11-minute cue called "The Peterson House and Finale," which weaves the theme into others and back upon itself in ways that left me breathless. •• This score seems is about the power of one's spirit. As Lincoln determines the fate and direction of our nation, he also determines the fate and direction of his life and the world for future generations. He feels the weight of his work -- and its grandeur. •• Lincoln's score will give you pause. And chills.
Monday, November 05, 2012
Cloud Atlas yet. But I've been listening to the music for almost two weeks now. Along with the extraordinary visuals in the extended trailer online, I was taken with the music from the start. A little research told me most of the trailer's music wasn't from the film -- but one of the main themes was, and that was enough to whet my appetite for more. •• The movie is directed by three directors, Larry and Lana Wachowski and Tom Tykwer. And the score is composed by three composers, Johnny Klimek, Reinhold Heil, and Tom Tykwer. I've been a fan of the composer Tykwer as long as I've been a fan of the director. His work on Perfume and The International were fluid, melodic, and unforgettable. I knew Cloud Atlas would be no different -- especially because music plays such an important role in the narrative. •• The opening notes of the soundtrack are the opening notes of that trailer -- and for anyone who's into film music, the melody's plaintive, wistful longing is magnetic. The melody is heard throughout the score is one way or another, layered with different orchestration and variation as the film's many stories unfold. Sometimes adventurous, sometimes mysterious, sometimes symphonic, this main theme is a versatile beauty. Love theme, march, action set-piece. •• The score culminates in the full "Cloud Atlas Sextet for Orchestra," a 5-minute track that reaches for the classical stars and sometimes, at some moments, achieves it. It sounds like a very old piece of music, which is sort of the point. I kept wishing for more: more development, more variation. (Its brevity is my only beef, really.) I think I could listen to a half hour of it, in awe of unexpected arpeggios and turns of musical phrase. But as it is, there's just the 5 minutes and they'll have to do until (unless) someone sees fit to expand on it. •• For now, what we have is a film score that seems to bring to the film an emotional layer that can only be carried and realized by music. It is the characters' souls and inner longings. Cloud Atlas promises to be an epic film -- and its music more than fulfills that promise.
Sunday, October 14, 2012
new EP is just out, is Barbra Streisand and Elliott Gould's son. ••• Now that I've said that, I'm betting you're thinking: Oh God, nepotism strikes again. But you're wrong. Because Jason hasn't gone to a label to release this collection of five songs; he's done it himself, independently, expressly not banking on anyone's name but his own. ••• But that's not the cool part. The cool part is how damn fantastic Jason's voice is. ••• A few weeks ago I heard a preview of the songs on YouTube, and I was speechless. At the age of 45, after acting here and there and making a short film on his own, Jason has, in his own words, found his voice. And what a voice it is. He is an extraordinary singer -- but more than a singer, he's a voice. He gives his songs a point of view. Yes, his tone is beautiful, his phrasing, his way with a note. God knows his pipes have a pedigree, but it's not enough to have the pipes: it's about knowing what to do with them. And he knows what to do. ••• The Internet buzz is that he sounds a little like George Michael. Well, maybe the George Michael who sang "Jesus to a Child" many years ago. But really, George Michael wishes he could do with a song what Jason Gould does. ••• "Morning Prayer" is the EP's first song. Beyond the fact that this is a gorgeous piece of music, what strikes me is that Jason seems to have not one shred of self-consciousness as he sings. It doesn't feel like a performance. Rather, it feels as if he’s just woken up on one of those bright, rare days, and these are the thoughts going through his mind. It's as if he's thinking this, not singing it. There’s gratitude, wonder, and anticipation, all at once. ••• The other four songs on the EP are covers, but you'd never know it, what with all the heart Jason brings to them. On "This Masquerade," he sings simply, accompanied at first by just a guitar. You can almost picture him at a campfire with friends -- and everyone's wondering why no one has signed this guy. His singing here is almost matter-of-fact. He's got his eyes closed, and he's lost in the song, discovering its layers. ••• "Hello" is more dramatic, with Jason singing to a long lost love. There's a yearning here, a reaching, that really moved me. ••• The great classic "How Deep is the Ocean" is the most straightforward song on the EP. It's Jason and piano. There's more to this than meets the eye, though, for he brings to these poetic lyrics a certain gravitas, a knowledge that all this love carries with it a very real pain. ••• Finally, there's "Nature Boy," which has been recorded by just about every major singer out there (but no, not Streisand). To this Jason brings something new. The easy interpretation is that this song is about a boy, "a very strange, enchanted boy." But Jason's version brings it new meaning. My takeaway: This is Jason singing into a mirror, as if the boy is him. It's very special. ••• I urge you to order Jason's EP. It's the start of something, something rare. Listen to his voice. Don't dismiss him because of who he is. If you do that, you'll miss the emergence of a remarkable talent. If there's one thing Jason has in common with his extraordinary mother, he understands that a song can be a little 3-minute play, and the singer the lone actor. Songs can be stories, and Jason understands this as well as his mother always did. ••• I started this by telling you Jason is Barbra Streisand's son. One day, I predict, people will say, "I love Barbra Streisand's new CD. And you know what? She's Jason Gould's mom."
Monday, October 08, 2012
The Words, composing a score that helps to fill the movie with tension and pathos just when it needs it most. The movie itself is only so-so, and often the score is what keeps it from falling apart altogether. What impresses me most is that this could have been a score that was all about artifice. That is, Zarvos could have fallen on to synthesizers and non-acoustical instrumentation, all with the justification that the movie itself about artifice. But instead, he uses the orchestra to paint a broad schematic that's mysterious, hopeful, romantic, and downright lovely. If I had more time, or if it were more obvious, it'd be interesting to write about his way of nesting themes within themes, for the movie is about that, too, things help inside other things, like Russian dolls. But I didn't pick up any of that. There are times when Zarvos's score is thematic and lush, and moments when it sounds a lot like Philip Glass or the sometimes frenetic side of Alexandre Desplat or the Nico Muhly. That is, lots of the same notes or motifs, urgently repeated. Not my favorite kind of music, I admit, but here Zarvos juxtaposes it with slower, thoughtful material, creating a wonderful contrast. See The Words at your own risk. But by all means, listen to it.
Monday, September 24, 2012
"highlights" CD was released in 1990, with Colm Wilkinson as Jekyll and an unknown Linda Eder as Lucy, the doomed prostitute. It was a magical recording. Wilkinson was famous for recently playing Jean Valjean in Les Miserables, and Eder had been a contestant on "Star Search." But it was the music that was remarkable, the otherworldly melodies, the emotions as high-pitched as the notes they floated on. Then, in 1994, there was another concept CD, this time with two discs. Once again Eder was Lucy, but now there was another Jekyll, Anthony Warlow. This set featured even more music, a more fully realized telling of the tale. It been retooled a bit, and it worked even better than the original highlights CD. Anyone who had doubts about a musical of this story were assured. It was one powerful recording. Then came Broadway in 1997, and things changed. Eder played her role on the stage, and Robert Cuccioli's take on Jekyll was rather lightweight. He sang it well enough, but the acting was a bit thin. And the direction was horrible. The unfortunate problem was that the second recording had been so lush, the Broadway production seemed like an imitation, and not a good one. It ran for a good while, but no one I know thought it delivered on the musical's promise. Since then, there have been other productions and other recordings. David Hasselhoff played Jekyll in Europe. There was a touring company, if memory serves. And now, in preparation for a new Broadway production starring "American Idol" veteran Constanine Maroulis and Deborah Cox, yet another concept CD. And the result? Unfortunately, the whole thing is getting worse. Exponentially. Every time the musical gets a new life, it gets further and further away from what makes it so great. The new recording offers yet another reorganization of the songs, but it isn't a better version. And this time around, the voices themselves are problematic. Maroulis isn't up to the task of Jekyll. He might look right, but really he doesn't. The thing is, casting Jekyll and Hyde is like casting Bruce Wayne and Batman. You have to cast the guy, not the alter-ego. What I mean is, anyone can be Hyde with the right makeup and the right menace, but it takes more than a voice to play Jekyll. It takes acting. And this time around, Lucy is all but destroyed. Cox just about kills the part, but not in a good way. Instead of performing the songs in character, especially her signature anthem, "Someone Like You," she sings it as though she's on "American Idol," with totally unnecessary flourishes that make it sound like a contemporary ballad, not the character study that it is. And I won't even go into the whole heavy-metal orchestration that's present; doing so would be a waste of pixels, to be honest. I will say this: composer Frank Wildhorn should have left well enough alone. Jekyll & Hyde doesn't need more concept albums. It's had two or three two many at this point. What it needs is someone who understands the brilliance of the two-CD set from 1994. It needs someone who gets it -- not what it could be, but what what it already was.
Friday, September 21, 2012
"Music from the Batman Trilogy" CD. Fifteen tracks of moody, dark, pulsating, sometimes thrilling, always bombastic music from the trilogy that began with Batman Begins, then went onto The Dark Knight, and recently concluded with The Dark Knight Rises. What I don't get is why anyone thinks we need (or want) this CD. I mean, the soundtracks are readily available, and there's even an expanded album of Dark Knight music. At any rate, this CD clocks in at 73 minutes of music to fight crime in Gotham by. It's got a pretty good selection of themes composed by James Newton Howard and Hans Zimmer. At moments it's thoughtful. At others, it's over the top. Presented in chronological order, these tracks tell the story of the movies musically, and it's a fairly satisfying program. I wish the music itself were more interesting, though. I've never been a fan of this kind of themeless, percussive scoring. I couldn't discern a theme that runs through the series; if anything its tone is set by heavy electronic orchestration, a sort of musical violence that propels the action relentlessly forward. It's as if the music is a newfangled Batmobile; nothing will stand in its way. As performed by London Music Works and the City of Prague Philaharmonic Orchestra, the whole affair comes off as an exercise in how to score something in a decidedly sinister style in which something always seems about to happen but never quite does. Here's to hoping this is all the Batman music we see for a while. It's plenty, and it may even be too much.