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Editor's Choice

Best of the Month
April 2009

Sammy Award for Best Vintage Compilation of 2009

 

 

 

A JOHNNY MANDEL TRIO (3 CD Set)

MusicComposed by Johnny Mandel

 

Disc One: THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY -- 25 tracks (Playing Time = 66:23)
Disc Two: THE SANDPIPER -- 23 tracks (Playing Time = 72:08)
Disc Three: DRUMS OF AFRICA/ THE SANDPIPER (Original LP) -- 25 tracks (Playing Time = 72:34)

Disc One and Two conducted by Robert Armbruster. Song" Emily" (music: Johnny Mandel/ lyrics: Johnny Mercer). Song: "The Shadow of Your Smile" (music: Johnny Mandel/ lyrics: Paul Francis Webster). Song: "The RiverLove" (music & lyrics by Russell Faith and Robert Marcucci).

Reissue Produced by Lukas Kendall. Executive Producer: Craig Spaulding. Production Executive for Turner Entertainment Co.: George Feltenstein. Music Score Remix by Michael McDonald. Digital Mastering by Doug Schwartz. Production Assistance: Jeff Eldridge. CD Art Direction by Joe Sikoryak. CD notes by Deniz Cordell.

Film Score Monthly Silver Age Classics Vol. 12/ No. 4 (Limited edition of 2,000 copies)

Rating: ****

 

 

As someone who has admired the film scores and songs of Johnny Mandel, a talented arranger and composer, I was very pleased to see these soundtracks released in their complete form. I think of Mandel as basically a highly skilled craftsman who makes the most of simple melodic ideas, sometimes based on jazz and classical music styles.

His first significant film score was the powerful drama, I WANT TO LIVE (1958), which starred Susan Hayward, who received an Oscar for her searing performance. Mandel wisely chose to incorporate jazz into that score, similar to what had been done earlier in that decade by Alex North (A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE) and Elmer Bernstein (THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM). By the 1960s he was in peak form.

Now to the film scores on this 3 CD box set...

THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY (1964) is on Disc One and begins with the beautiful title song, "Emily" (track 1, 1:46), co-written with one of the greatest lyricists, Johnny Mercer. This song plays a prominent role in Mandel's score as it should because it's a wonderfully memorable love song as sung by a studio chorus. Since this takes place during World War II, there is an appropriate militaristic march in the Main Title (track 2, 4:51). But much of Mandel's score is on the quieter side with the title song reappearing in various guises.

The original soundtrack recording was rather short (tracks 1-14, 38:00), so also included on this dsic are added bonus tracks (14:23), plus seven tracks of instrumental jazz and Big Band source music (13:49), with these song titles: "At Last" (1:39); "I'll Walk Alone" (1:56) ; "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree" (1:30); "The White Cliffs of Dover" (2:15); "I Know Why and so Do You" (1:56); Chattanooga Choo Choo" (2:16); and a Mandel source music cue (2:03). All of this music provides a most enjoyable listening experience. The sound quality on this disc is superb.

Disc Two has Mandel's score for THE SANDPIPER (1965) and it features another classic movie song, "The Shadow of Your Smile," with lyrics by Paul Francis Webster. I believe this is the greatest love song written during the 1960s, and it received an Oscar for Best Song. Much credit should also be given to the gifted lyricist, Paul Francis Webster, who fasioned just the right lyrics to fit Mandel's exquisite melody. As with THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY, Mandel uses the song as the main theme. But this time he has composed a series of subtle sequences on portions of the song's theme. This is called a monothematic technique and is discussed in my book, A Guide to Film Music. What results is one of the most unique film scores of its time. Naturally, if you don't care much for the song then this score will become tedious. I felt that way about the film, which is billed as an "Adult Love Story" but is actually a rather silly story starring by Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. But the score is something else again.

The soundtrack as presented on Disc Two (track 1-14, 48:09) begins with the End Credits Vers. #2 (1:56) as the title song sung softly by a chorus. This song has haunted me every since I heard it. When I first purchased the LP album, I played it over and over again on my inexpensive record player until the pops and skips made it almost playable. Then years later I replaced it with another LP copy and sure enough that had the same sorts of pops and skips. What this demonstrates is those who love this score will keep playing it as if having a musical "addiction"-- but a positive one. Though Mandel uses a slow tempo throughout, the subtle changes of harmony and orchestration, including the haunting trumpet solos by Jack Sheldon on the Main Title (track 2, 5:21) and other tracks are smooth and soothing to listen to. This is surely one of the best scores for romancing your love partner, or it you need something completely relaxing after a hard day's work. But it surely isn't just background music for your daily activities. It's much more of a musical treat if you so inclined to listen carefully.

In addition to the soundtrack there are also alternates and source music (tracks 15-23, 22:53. This is another superbly remastered disc by Doug Schwartz, whose father Wilbur "Willie" Schwartz actually played on THE SANDPIPER soundtrack. And for comparison sake there is the original Mercury LP album on Disc Three (tracks 16-25, 36:58), which I listened to on a scratchy disc so long ago. I would say that of the two, the full soundtrack on Disc Three is the superior one because of more music and more of Jack Sheldon's sensitive trumpet playing. The other musicians in the orchestra include such L.A. jazz greats as: saxophonist Plas Johnson (who played the theme from Mancinci's THE PINK PANTHER), Bud Shank, and pianist Artie Kane (also used on the DRUMS OF AFRICA soundtrack).

On Disc Three is DRUMS OF AFRICA (1963), a lesser effort but still not without its strong melodic elements. The opening Main Title (2:31) is kind of Africanish jazz funky but it works well to introduce the locale of the story. This is similar in style to THE SANDPIPER with its use of lots of solo instruments and small instrumental combinations that give it a more soothing sound, even with the added drums and other percussion instruments which sometimes just carry the soundtrack along. One of the highlights is "Love Scene by the River Bank" (track 6, 4:42), with beautiful writing for a small combo of flutes and other instruments. There is also another song, "The River Love" this time sung by Frankie Avalon (track 7, 2:20). It is not as good a song as "Emily" or "The Shadow of Your Smile" but still quite appealing and nicely performed by Avalon. Listening to this very appealing score might be a pleasant surprise if you haven't seen the film or heard it before. Once again the sound is superb.

The excellent notes by Deniz Cordell tell the background on the the three films and analyze the scores and songs in detail (might be too technical for some people). Cordell also mentions the classic recording of the song by Tony Bennett in the '60s, and the beautiful lyrics which Johnny Mercer wrote but were never used. It's seldom that movie songs get this kind of deep thinking!

When summarizing his film scoring, Cordell quotes Johnny Mandel as saying: "I think transparency characterizes my sound. I don't like denseness., not unless you want denseness to a certain effect -- but as a general orchestra sound, no...Transparency is the thing."

And that's what you'll hear with these three wonderful M-GM scores, composed within a three year period in the 1960s. I would say of the three that THE SANDPIPER is the most innovative and memorable. In fact, I believe it is Mandel's best film score of the 1960s.

There are no blaring bursts of instrumental bombast in these scores.

Instead you'll hear a very satisfying blend of simple and satisfying instrumental combinations. All three scores have no complexity of orchestral sound. As Mandel said, what you hear is -- "Transparency."

The booklet and case are tastefully and attractively illustrated by Joe Sikoryak.

The CD set is a trio of marvelous Mandel musical treats and he fully deserves the deluxe treatment.

It is my pleasure to name this excellent 3 CD box set as Best of the Month. This is yet another first class release from Film Score Monthly.

I highly recommend it, especially for the listener in search of memorable scores from the '60s.


-- Roger Hall, 24 April 2009

 

This CD is available from

Screen Archives Entertainment

 

Also recommended are these DVDs of the films...

 

The Americanization of Emily

THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY DVD

 

 

Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton Film Collection (Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf 2-Disc Special Edition / The Comedians / The Sandpiper / The V.I.P.s)  5 Disc Set

Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton Film Collection

 

 

 

DRUMS OF AFRICA DVD

 

 

 

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