The 20th Annual
Best Film Music Releases
Most online lists at this time of year have only recent films released during the past year.
Film Music Review has not followed this regimented routine and in the past has listed up to 20 releases on its Best of the Year lists, with an emphasis on vintage soundtrack releases or re-recordings since most online lists devote themselves exclusively to new film score releases.
It is customary to praise restored films but restored or re-issued soundtracks should also be praised and they have been included each year on these lists on Film Music Review.
Over the years these lists have been selected by two Film Music Review critics: Roger L. Hall and Steven A. Kennedy.
Both are members of the International Film Music Critics Association (IFMCA).
For this 20th anniversary edition on Film Music Review, one of the longest-running e-zines on the Internet,
here are ten CD releases chosen by FMR critic, Steven A. Kennedy.
For comments about his list, write to: Film Music Review
His 10 CD soundtracks selected for Best of the Year of 2017 are in these categories:
Best New Soundtracks (5)
Best Classic Soundtracks (3)
Best Compilations (2)
Opening comments by Steven A. Kennedy:
Once again we find ourselves taking a look back at the year in film music. There are a number of last-minute releases (such as THE POST and THE SHAPE OF WATER) which are still on my listening pile here.The year’s standout scores though are a rather unusual mix with releases of classic film scores tending to overshadow some of the newer accomplishments. First then, here are five scores worth revisiting from 2017 that represent perhaps the most memorable of specific genres this year as...
A documentary about the Boston Marathon may be an unlikely place to find a standout score, but Jeff Beal’s work teems with stunning emotional writing, connective thematic ideas, and a blend of post-modernism and Copland-esque Americana. Different runners each receive individual identifiable thematic work. This culminates in a suite-like extended track, “Team MR8” that blends superb solo
writing toward an emotionally satisfying finale.
One of the surprise horror film hits was Jordan Peele’s semi-social commentary that turned Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner upside down to create a creepy interracial horror film. Michael Abels begins his feature debut with this score. It is a fascinating blend of Swahili vocals, aleatoric techniques, and often mesmerizing moments. Interesting orchestration also serves the score well making it reminiscent of Goldsmith’s The Other with touches of Herrmann. Though the release itself might have some odd dial outs, and the film itself is more sparsely tracked, the score is an impressive first effort.
Simon Curtis’ uneven film was a bit overlooked at awards time and so this gorgeous Carter Burwell score was overlooked. Unlike his 3 BILLBOARDS score, this one feels like a more progressive development of the composer’s thematic writing. The play here between light and dark is really captured so well in this score. Solo lines, and some great harp moments, all make for a score that is quite delicate at times and melds some of Burwell’s signature harmonic shifts with often brilliantly orchestrated tracks. It falls more along the lines of his excellent score for CAROL (2015).
The eighth entry in the Star Wars saga finds John Williams crafting a sort of musical homage of sorts to all the bits, pieces, and themes the last four chapters of the story. The score is a sort of quotation music bonanza with some truly touching moments. Among them is a piano version of “Princess Leia’s Theme” which parallels the use of piano to present Rey’s theme when we met her in THE FORCE AWAKENS. That is but one of many moments where parallels musically are providing hints to possible larger connections. It is worth noting that the film was tracked with music from the previous films as a “guide” to possible directions of the score. The end result certainly exceeds a simple temp-score duplication as THE LAST JEDI is almost like a summation and a turning towards what may lie ahead.
The title of this POA release is in one sense misleading because what Giacchino does here is create a score that creates an emotional core to the CGI-filled film. A simple descending piano theme is the signpost to many of the scenes. A blend of vocalizations, unusual percussion, and a host of aleatoric effects brings the composer ever closer into that Goldsmith/Rosenman stylistic realm with this score. The visceral martial moments, bended with some intriguing jungle rhythmic touches and music that sometimes seems to hint at chimpanzee vocalizations all make this a rather arresting work.
Some other scores worth exploring that are among favorites of the past year include: ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD (Daniel Pemberton); ANNABELLE: CREATION (Benjamin Wallfisch); THE SPACE BETWEEN US (Andrew Lockington); A GHOST STORY (Daniel Hart); THE BLACK PRINCE (George Kallis); GIFTED (Rob Simonsen); MY COUSIN RACHEL (Rael Jones); RINGS (Mathew Margeson) and UNREST (Bear McCreary).
Hands down, Tadlow’s re-recording of this classic Rozsa score is basically the best release of 2017. The performance of this score is enhanced further by a recording that captures so many of the details that are harder to discern in the original soundtrack release. The performance is well-balanced, and manages to create great clarity for the syncopated and accented aspects of the music. From the superb opening “Overture” through the touching music in “Valley of the Lepers”, listeners will be transfixed by Rozsa’s themes and wonderful modal harmonic shifts. The result is about as complete an overview of BEN-HUR as we are likely to get.
The Franz Waxman Collection (1936-1961) – Franz Waxman (Intrada)
With almost five hours of music across four CDS, this collection of original soundtracks is a major addition to the Waxman discography. Eleven scores are represented here with a host of “extras”. There are plenty of wonderful moments here in this well-organized set. The delightful score for COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS (1959) is but one of them. A more complete presentation of DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (1941) along with existing music for THE DEVIL DOLL (1936), FURY (1936), and SUSPICION (1941) are among additional highlights. A delightful surprise is the jazzier score for a 1961 documentary: KING OF THE ROARING 20’s-THE STORY OF ARNOLD ROTHSTEIN. Best of all is that one gets an overview of Waxman’s evolving scoring style across the decades. There is even a track of him conducting some Tchaikovsky.
Aaron Copland provided music for very few occasions and generally were only available through his own re-cast symphonic suites. Intrada managed to locate these two Americana scores. Though the sound shows some of its age, it is well mastered here. There is an opportunity to actually hear some of the music that went away in the orchestral versions. And of course, there is the opportunity to hear the composer’s own interpretations of his work from the Paramount Sound Stage.
There were certainly plenty of other releases, though labels are tending to focus more in the 1990s. A couple that might you might have missed include La-La Land’s THUNDER ROAD: FILM MUSIC OF JACK MARSHALL and ADAM RESURRECTED on Caldera featuring a 2008 Yared score.
One of the better new film music compilations came from live concerts in Boston celebrating John Williams’ music. Keith Lockhart and the Boston Pops put together a program that included some of the first concert versions to appear on disc. Most welcome was “The Men of the Yorktown March” from MIDWAY (1976) which, though a bit fast, is one of the maestro’s finest pieces from that decade. A performance of music from SLEEPERS (1996) is also a good reminder of that fine score. The release kicks off with music from HEIDI (1968) and concludes with the new suite for STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015). The program works quite well and while it surveys music from many of Williams’ familiar scores, it tends to incorporate less-familiar music to better complement earlier Pops traversals of his music.
Ghent film music festival puts out an album each year highlighting one composer. This year the focus was on jazz trumpeter Terrance Blanchard and the resulting release is likely one of the festivals finest yet (and that includes an equally stellar traversal of Takemitsu not long ago!). Blanchard works a great deal with Spike Lee and there are plenty of excerpts here from scores across that collaboration including some highlights from 25th HOUR (2002), INSIDE MAN (2006); CLOCKERS (1995), and more recently CHI-RAQ (2015). While many are more contemporary settings, there are some samples from MIRACLE AT ST. ANNA (2008), a rare WWII drama, that is represented by a couple of strong, emotional moments.
Though compilation albums tend to be a bit on the rarer side these days, you may want to also track down DEBBIE WISEMAN: LIVE AT THE BARBICAN from Silva which presents a host of wonderful film music by this excellent composer; and an intriguing jazz album on Varese Sarabande: JEAN-MICHEL BERNARD PLAYS LALO SCHIFRIN.
Best Film Music Releases for 2016
Best Film Music Releases for 2015
Best Film Music Releases for 2014
Best Film Music Releases for 2013
Best Film Music Releases for 2012
Best Film Music Releases for 2011
Best Film Music Releases for 2010
The 30th Annual
Sammy Film Music Awards
will be announced
on 18 February 2018
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