Brussels Philharmonic – Terence Blanchard: Music For Film

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Title: Terence Blanchard: Music For Film

Artist: Brussels Philharmonic

Label: Silva Screen Records

Formats: CD, Digital

Release Date: November 17, 2017

Spike Lee’s new film, BlacKkKlansman, is set to open on August 10th. Winner of the Cannes Film Festival’s Grand Prix, the work has already received positive reviews. Composer and jazz musician Terence Blanchard’s soundtrack for the film has yet to be released, but his previous film compositions can give an idea of what the score might sound like.

Released in late 2017, Terence Blanchard: Music for Film spans his film work from the 1992 Malcolm X to 2015’s Chi-Raq, performed here by the Brussels Philharmonic under the direction of Dirk Brossé as part of the Film Fest Gent’s series of film composer spotlights. Like the upcoming BlacKkKlansman, many of Blanchard’s works presented on this album, including music from Malcolm X, 25th Hour, and When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts, have been in collaboration with director Spike Lee. The collaboration has proven fruitful for Blanchard, who has said that Lee always encourages him to write music that could be successful on its own.

Though each film presented has its own unique sound, the tracks are connected by a strong presence of trumpet, calling back to Blanchard’s own career as a jazz trumpeter. Many also make use of jazz idioms, most notably the two tracks from When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts (2006). Although he calls New Orleans home and this film is a documentary describing the destruction and aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Blanchard intentionally stays away from traditional New Orleans jazz. Instead, he explains that he wanted to create a more universal sound to appeal to a wider audience and the musical themes he created do just that, blending jazz with incredibly emotive melodies depicting the tragedy and despair of the city’s residents. The “Levees” track is particularly successful, combining a soulful trumpet line with descending, dissonant string patterns.

Another film directed by Spike Lee, 25th Hour, received much critical acclaim; Blanchard’s score was nominated for several awards, including the 2003 World Soundtrack Award and Golden Globes. Telling the story of a drug dealer’s last 24 hours of freedom before he is sent to jail, the music is haunting and memorable. Heavier on strings, particularly solo cello, than many of his other films, it features twisting musical themes above persistent ostinato patterns. Still, it is not without Blanchard’s signature jazz inflections, as the third track on the album, “Playground,” embraces a traditional lounge-style piano along with the lusher string sound and solos present in the other selections.

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Some selections, such as the suite from Inside Man (2006) and the opening title music of Miracle at St. Anna (2008), lean less on Blanchard’s jazz background and instead seem to be reminiscent of earlier film music styles like the compositions of James Horner. Tracks on this album from both films make use of a more militaristic style, emphasizing repetitive snare drum lines underneath epic brass and string melodies.

Two comedies, Bamboozled (2000) and She Hate Me (2004), showcase other sides of Blanchard’s work. The former’s biting satire and pointed social commentary are offset by a more somber, restrained musical theme. In contrast, the selections from She Hate Me are a bit less serious, incorporating several jazz styles including references to bebop, fusion, and cool jazz.

Blanchard’s skill in composing for a wide range of genres shines through the tracks presented in this album. His masterful usages of thematic material, blending of styles, and jazz inflections make this an incredibly rewarding listen. Blanchard’s score for BlacKkKlansman is sure to deliver the same exciting interplay of styles.

Reviewed by Emily Baumgart

Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song

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Title: Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (An Opera)

Artist: Melvin Van Peebles; Earth, Wind & Fire

Label: Concord/Stax

Formats: Vinyl, High-resolution digital

Release date: May 26, 2017

 

In the February issue we gave a brief preview of Concord Music Group’s year-long celebration of Stax Records 60th Anniversary, including the new compilation CDs paying tribute to the many iconic artists in the Stax roster. Now Concord has released the first of their Stax 60th anniversary remastered vinyl offerings—a 108 gram pressing of the original cast soundtrack album for Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song.

As most already know, this landmark independent film was written, produced, scored, and directed by Melvin Van Peebles, who also portrayed Sweetback: “a black protagonist who not only overpowers the oppressive white cops, but he manages to get away with it.” Released in 1971, the film contributed to the creation of the Blaxploitation era and was promoted by the Black Panthers, who filled theaters with members for whom it was required viewing.

The soundtrack album, distributed prior to the release of the film to raise cash and garner publicity through airplay, was also notable for introducing an unknown group by the name of Earth, Wind & Fire. Van Peebles also performs as his alter ego, Brer Soul. Without the Sweetback soundtrack and contributions of EWF, who transformed Van Peebles hummed musical ideas into a funky soul-jazz score, the film may never have made it into theaters. And without Sweetback to pave the way, there may never have been a string of soulful ‘70s soundtracks scored by the likes of Isaac Hayes, Marvin Gaye, Bobby Womack, Curtis Mayfield, Donny Hathaway, Gene Page, Johnny Pate, James Brown, Roy Ayers, and Willie Hutch. As EWF’s Verdine White noted, “at the time there weren’t a lot of movies that had black music” (Quincy Jones was the only black composer with a string of film scores to his credit).

Concord’s 180-gram vinyl gatefold edition features audio remastered from the original analog tapes and cut on the original Stax lathe at Ardent studios in Memphis. Newly penned notes are provided by Jeff Weiss, who credits Van Peebles with the birth of “badass cinema” via a film “that captured the spirit of rebellion, frustration and the refusal to accept injustice.” Mario Van Peebles, whose 2003 film Baadasssss! chronicled the making of his father’s famous film, also reflects on the film’s profound influence in the liner notes.

Long out of print with the exception of foreign pressings, this remastered vinyl release of Sweetback belongs in everyone’s collection!

Editor’s note: Melvin Van Peebles has recently performed with other bands featured in Black Grooves, including the Heliocentrics.  

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

Terence Blanchard – The Comedian OST

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Title: The Comedian (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

Artist: Terence Blanchard

Label: Blue Note

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: April 7, 2017

 

Terence Blanchard is a name you are probably familiar with, even if you’re not a jazz person.  Apart of the scene for quite some time, Blanchard replaced his fellow New Orleans mate, Wynton Marsalis, in Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers. Before Blakey, Blanchard made his bones with the great Lionel Hampton.  Now, if you are still in the dark and the name just don’t ring a chime, Blanchard is perhaps best known for his collaborations with filmmaker Spike Lee. Together, they have become quite a tandem, with Blanchard scoring many of Lee’s films including Summer of Sam, Clockers, Miracle at St. Anna, Mo Better Blues, When The Levee Breaks, Jungle Fever, X and Chi-Raq. Blanchard has also worked with other filmmakers, including Kasi Lemmon. With over forty film scores to his credit he’s one of the most productive jazz musicians ever.

Most recently, Blanchard composed the score for the 2016 motion picture The Comedian, starring Robert De Niro. On the original soundtrack album, the multi Grammy winning composer gives his audience eight tracks of hard bop featuring Kenny Barron on piano, David Pulphus on bass, Carl Allen on drums, Ravi Coltrane on tenor sax and Khari Allen on alto sax.

The album starts off with “Jackie in the Rain,” which could be mistaken for the Vince Guaraldi Trio. Yes, it has a very identical sound, but hip and catchy. Maybe it’s Kenny Barron on piano that makes it sound like a scene from Charlie Brown. Please don’t be offended

All the tracks have cool titles. “Electricity On MacDougal” features bass playing at very rapid speed by David Pulphus, but Blanchard stays with him, note for note. Almost as if he was toying with him. Yes! “Tit For Tat Nocturne” is mellow 10pm cocktail jazz. Again Kenny Barron on piano shines bright. The band members all get their shine on The Comedian.  After all, that’s what jazz is all about.

Terence Blanchard’s score for The Comedian is nothing to laugh at. It better be taken serious, by a serious trumpet player in the game.

Reviewed by Eddie Bowman