Soundtrack Collection: Cartoon Concerto to Catch Me If You Can

 Cartoon Concerto

Cartoon Concerto (Bruce Broughton, 2003): I generally haven’t been including compilation albums in my reviews of my soundtrack collection (although I have many), but I am making an exception in order to call attention to this wonderful collection of cartoon scores composed by Bruce Broughton.  The scores are generally complete and not available anywhere else.  This is actually a promotional release, but copies can usually be tracked down with some searching.  At the time I’m writing this, there is one copy available at a reasonable price from the Amazon link above and Percepto Records (which, I believe, produced the album) has copies available from their website.

The CD includes complete scores to the Disney animated short “Off His Rockers” (which played with the Broughton-scored film Honey, I Blew Up the Kid) and the two Roger Rabbit shorts “Roller Coaster Rabbit” and “Trail Mix-Up”.  Also included is an 18-minute suite of music from Broughton’s numerous scores to the popular Steven Spielberg produced TV series “Tiny Toon Adventures”.  The CD also includes another 18 minute suite entitled “Scherzo Berzerko in 3 Portions”, which isn’t identified as coming from a specific source.  This is most likely a suite compiled from a variety of sources and, since this is a promo disc, it may be partly or entirely example music composed specifically for the promo.

Considering that the majority of the source music was pretty clearly inspired by the classic Warner Bros “Looney Toons” shorts, it isn’t surprising that Broughton’s style throughout this album calls to mind the work of Carl Stalling.  The music is all orchestral and extremely brass heavy with a very fast paced and lots of quick stings and humorous motifs, including occasional samples of familiar melodies.  The music is exceptionally well organized on this CD and it really does play like a cohesive symphonic work.  This disc is simply a lot of fun!

Casablanca

Casablanca (Max Steiner, 1942): Casablanca is a pretty likely candidate for being the most truly beloved of American films.  I’m sure there are people out there that don’t care for it, but I can’t say that I recall encountering any.  The movie was a nearly perfect mix of drama, romance, intrigue, and humor.  Max Steiner’s score and Dooley Wilson’s entertaining performances of several classic songs contributed a lot to the film’s success.

Rhino Records released a soundtrack CD, which contains a mix of dialog, songs, and score.  A better, purely score and songs release would certainly be welcome, although the Rhino release is probably a more commercially acceptable approach for this film.  The condition of the recordings is also surprisingly poor for such a famous film, with quite a bit of static and noise in many of the cues.  The orchestral score portions are in much better condition than the songs and dialog segments and sometimes there is a noticeable shift in quality even within a single cue.  In some cases, it sounds like the music may have come from LP sources.

The most famous music in the film is, of course, the song “As Time Goes By”, written by Herman Hupfeld.  The song wasn’t originally written for the film, but is now pretty much inseparably associated with it.  In addition to Wilson’s famous performance of the song, Steiner very frequently incorporates the melody into the score.  The rest of the score is extremely romantic, with extensive use of lush strings and piano melodies.  Some ethnic elements come into play, particularly during the medleys from the Paris sequences.

I’m generally not a fan of dialog on a soundtrack album and do feel that there is too much here.  On the other hand, Casablanca has such a rich selection of exceptionally well-known lines and speeches that it isn’t hard to understand why it was included.  Very little of the album features score that doesn’t have dialog and/or sound-effects over the top and it almost plays more like a story album than a score soundtrack.  At the end of the album, there are 3 cues, running about 15 minutes, that do present some of the score cues without the dialog.  A better presentation of Steiner’s score is definitely needed, but at least the key parts are there.

Casino Royale 

Casino Royale (David Arnold, 2006): For most of the history of the series, the producers of the James Bond movies had never been able to obtain the rights to Ian Fleming’s first novel featuring the character, Casino Royale.  Through various business deals, most notably one of the many times that MGM changed ownership, they were finally able to get the rights and produce a film that was released in 2006.  They took the opportunity to do a “reboot” of the series, casting Daniel Craig as a young and inexperienced Bond going on his first major mission after earning his license to kill.  The result was a the series’ biggest critical and financial success in years.

One major behind-the-scenes figure retained from the Pierce Brosnan starring Bond films was composer David Arnold, who was scoring his 4th consecutive film in the series.  Arnold really embraced the concept of the film, delivering a score that built the musical conventions of the series over time.  Over the course of the score, Arnold regularly hints at Monty Norman’s famous James Bond Theme, often presenting a couple recognizable notes of it, without playing it in full.  This all led up to a wonderfully full-blooded, orchestral performance of the classic theme that played over the film’s closing moments and end credits.  This works extremely well, allowing the music to play a definite role in the film’s concept of showing James Bond becoming the character the audience knows so well.

Arnold’s Bond scores have all shown a good balance between faithfulness to the series’ musical conventions that John Barry established, while still lending them a bit more of a contemporary sound.  The Barry style horns and fast paced strings are still there, but with a somewhat stronger emphasis on percussion.  The more direct jazz influences that dominated Barry’s work give way in Arnold’s scores to a bit more of a rock influence, including sparing use of electronics.  He also provides a nice piano and strings love theme, best presented in the cue “Vesper”.

Of course, distinctive opening title songs are another convention of James Bond films and this one has one of the best of recent memory.  Chris Cornell performed “You Know My Name”, which Cornell and Arnold co-wrote.  The song has a classic style that makes it recognizable as a James Bond theme, although it has a somewhat rougher, grittier sound in keeping with the film’s style.  Cornell’s somewhat gravelly voice gives it this grittier sound, while Arnold helps to deliver a melody that still sounds like a Bond theme, and which is incorporated periodically into the score.  Oddly, rights issues resulted in the song not being included on the soundtrack album.  It is available as a CD single or as an individual song download from the usual sources such as Amazon and iTunes.  The extra effort to obtain the song is definitely worthwhile.

The soundtrack album as included on the CD is a very good album presentation of the score, organized to provide a good overall listening experience.  It contains about an hour and 15 minutes of Arnold’s score and covers all the key thematic material.  Sony also made a deal with Apple to offer an exclusive to iTunes version that includes an additional 14 minutes of score as bonus tracks.  While the extra music isn’t essential, it does include some nice to have bits, particularly the music from the film’s prologue sequence.

Those extra tracks are all marked as “album only”, meaning that they can’t be purchased separately.  Unless you are willing to buy the standard album twice, you are basically faced with a choice between the higher sound quality of a lossless presentation on CD or getting the extra music but at the price of reduced sound quality.  I did opt to purchase the album from iTunes for the extra tracks, but I find it lamentable that the full score isn’t available with the best sound quality.

Casper

Casper (James Horner, 1995): The Steven Spielberg produced live action adaptation of the “Casper the Friendly Ghost” cartoons was a film that was much better than the source material ever would have suggested was possible.  Much of that was a result of an overqualified cast and crew, including a highly entertaining score from composer James Horner.

The score is one of the better, if somewhat lesser known, examples of the type of melodic, sentimental fantasy adventure scoring that was common to Horner’s output in the late 1980s and the early part of the 1990s.  The score’s strongest parts are built around variations of one primary theme, which is presented in a concert arrangement in the cue “Casper’s Lullaby”.  It is a gentle, sensitive theme that is played at various points on solo piano, woodwinds, strings, and even a few brass arrangements.  Choral elements also are used to elevate the theme at some points as well.  It is one of Horner’s strongest melodies from that period of his career and it is very well used in the score.

The film’s format as a family friendly, kind of sentimentally comedic haunted house movie does also provide Horner the opportunity to write some light suspense cues, sometimes with a bit of a comic tone.  The cue “First Haunting/The Swordfight” is a good example of this aspect of the score.  Particularly during the first half, it includes some harsh strings, sudden bursts of brass, minor key piano, and a few brief choral outbursts.  It then transitions into a more fully adventure-oriented conclusion, with lots of strings and brass.

While Horner does not use the well-known TV series theme song in the score, the soundtrack album does include a performance of it by Little Richard, which I believe played over the first part of the end credits.  The album also includes another song entitled “Remember Me This Way”, which is performed by Jordan Hill.  This song was written by David Foster and Linda Thompson and is a fairly typical early 90s pop song.

The Cassandra Crossing

The Cassandra Crossing (Jerry Goldsmith, 1978): This score comes from one of Jerry Goldsmith’s strongest periods both creatively and in the caliber of films that he was being hired to score.  While a fairly short LP program was released with the film and has been re-issued a few times, the best representation of this score is definitely the 2-CD set put out by the Belgian label Prometheus Records, which includes both the full score and the LP program.

One of Goldsmith’s trademark strengths was his skill at composing lush, romantic main themes, usually with a strong string and woodwind base, as a central component to action film scores.  These themes would help to provide a strong emotional anchor, something that was especially helpful in films like this one that have a strong focus on ordinary people in peril.  First presented during the “Main Title” cue, the main theme to The Cassandra Crossing is well used during most of the score’s quieter, more character driven segments and is also effectively dropped in during some of suspense and action sequences to better connect them with the human element.

The score also has some great, driving action cues.  The second cue on the soundtrack, “Break In”, includes some extremely wild and aggressive string playing that is very impressive.  In the cue “Train on the Move”, he includes some atonal, basically mechanical sounding elements that eventually transition into some really kinetic action music, all of which really plays up the on-board a train setting of the film.  Many of the action cues also have a progressive rhythm that helps to convey the sense of the moving vehicle.  Occasional atonal elements somewhat resemble the style Goldsmith used in his famous Planet of the Apes score, making this a very rare example of him mixing that approach with his usual, more melodic action scoring.

The original LP program was a much shorter (less than 30 minutes) presentation of the score that, not surprisingly, focused mainly on the melodic main theme and some of the more accessible action music.  While there are a few hints of the score’s more atonal elements, the bulk of that material was absent. 

The LP also included two songs, including “It’s All a Game” which is based on Goldsmith’s primary theme and featured lyrics by Hal Shaper.   The version on the Prometheus album is instrumental only and I am not sure if the original album included an actual vocal version.  The instrumental basically sounds like a pop/disco version of the theme.  The other song is called “I’m Still on My Way” and was written by Dave Jordan and performed by Ann Turkel.  The Prometheus album includes the album version of Turkel’s performance of the song plus an instrumental version (which also has the backing vocals) and a vocal-only track.  The song has kind of a folksy/country sound and doesn’t really fit too well with the score.

Cast a Long Shadow

Cast a Long Shadow (Gerald Fried, 1959): This score was included as part of a Film Score Monthly 3-CD collection of scores from five different movie westerns released by United Artists.  The collection was originally released for $35, but is now out of print and used copies tend to go for much higher prices.

Fried’s score was from a fairly lesser known western that was classified as a B-movie.  The score is a generally colorful, fully-orchestral score that follows a lot of the standard western conventions.  The “Main Title’ cue opens with big brassy fanfares, with a strong emphasis on trumpet.  At various points, the score incorporates the other various instruments most commonly associated with westerns, including harmonica, banjo, and acoustic guitar. 

Despite it being a fairly conventional western score, Fried creates some very good melodies and it is a fun score to listen to.  The set includes a fairly generous 41 minutes of the score, which the liner notes indicate to be a complete presentation.

Cast Away

Cast Away (Alan Silvestri, 2001): This score is an extremely unusual case.  Robert Zemeckis hired his usual collaborator, Alan Silvestri, to score this film which, of course, generated interest in the music within the soundtrack community.  Zemeckis made the artistic decision, though, to leave the film unscored for the first 1 hour and 24 minutes of its 2 hour and 20 minute running time, which didn’t really leave enough music for a full soundtrack album. 

While there is about 20 minutes or so of score during the final act of the film, it is all built around a single theme that Silvestri wrote for a relatively small ensemble.  It is a fairly quiet, melancholy theme that principally features the oboe, piano, and the orchestra’s string section.  It is a great theme and this musical approach works amazingly well in the film.  The scene where the Tom Hanks character leaves the island where he had been stranded and the score swells up for the very first time is rather breathtaking.

Obviously, the nature of the score made a full soundtrack release a difficult prospect at best.  Varese Sarabande came up with a pretty good solution, though.  They licensed the 7 minute closing credits suite and released it as the anchor for a compilation album that contained suites from each of Silvestri’s scores for Zemeckis’ films to date.  The suite contains a complete presentation of Silvestri’s theme and then ends with a couple minutes of ocean sounds intermixed with brief orchestral bursts.  The result is a very effective orchestral suite that is quite evocative of the film.  The inclusion of the other Silvestri/Zemeckis scores makes for an overall great compilation album as well.

Catch Me If You Can

Catch Me If You Can (John Williams, 2002): This is one of the most atypical scores in John Williams’ catalog.  The jazz style certainly really stands out as a significant stylistic change of pace among his scores for Steven Spielberg’s films, although I don’t want to overstate it as the score contains many orchestral melodies that are distinctly and recognizably Williams’.  This score has become one of Williams’ favorites to include during his concerts as it provides a great opportunity both to showcase skilled jazz instrumental soloists and the performances of the full orchestra.

As a primary approach, Williams chose to score this film using a predominantly jazz-inspired orchestral approach.  Substantial sections of the score feature solo saxophone, sometimes playing clearly defined melodies but also frequently performing in a highly improvisational-sounding (but not truly improvisation) manner.  One of the most impressive accomplishments of this score is Williams’ success at making the music sound like improvisational jazz even as though the players are still performing to a fully defined score.  Piano is also more dominant in this score than is often the case for Williams, with the pianist occasionally joining with the saxophone in the pseudo-improvisation.

Even with the jazz inspired approach, Williams still makes substantial use of the full orchestra.  The solo saxophone and piano segments are nearly always eventually joined by the full orchestra, often providing highly melodic counterpoints.  As I noted at the top, the orchestral elements are recognizably in Williams’ traditional style, bringing an impressive fullness to the music.  One of the most impressive examples of this is in the cue “Reflections (The Father’s Theme)” which opens with a lengthy solo saxophone section, before having the full orchestra join in to bring the piece to a finish.

Spielberg worked hard to clearly depict the film’s period settings and, thus, very effectively made us of period contemporary popular songs during several key sequences.  The soundtrack CD includes Frank Sinatra’s “Come Fly With Me”, Stan Getz’s “The Girl from Ipanema”, Judy Garland’s “Embraceable You”, Nat King Cole’s “The Christmas Song” and Dusty Springfield’s "The Look of Love”.  All of these are the original recordings that are available elsewhere, but their inclusion does make the album an effective representation of the film’s overall musical identity.  Even with the songs, the CD still contains a pretty generous 44 minutes of Williams’ score.

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