September / October 2011
Selected suites of film music for your listening pleasure.
Enjoy while working or traveling.
New suites added regularly.
SPOTLIGHT: HERBIE HANCOCK AND "DEATH WISH" (1974)
It's no exaggeration to say Herbie Hancock's score to the 1974 thriller DEATH WISH altered the course of the art of film music composition. Embraced by followers of classical music as well as by jazz aficionados, lovers of rock, funk, R&B, film music buffs ... and those simply wanting "some good 'head' music to get baked to", it's influence continues today.
Born in April 1940, Hancock (a classical music child prodigy who performed Mozart's Piano Concerto No.5 with the Chicago Symphony at age 11) would become keyboardist with Miles Davis' "second great quintet" before stepping out on his own to fuse some of the music world's most divergent styles (some have equated his harmonics to that of Debussy and Ravel) into a seamless and popular whole.
After releasing a dozen straight-ahead jazz albums throughout the 1960s, Hancock would enter an experimental jazz-fusion / funk phase in the early 1970s, beginning with the innovative MWANDISHI (1970) and culminating with the legendary HEAD HUNTERS (1973). While it followed in the footsteps of Davis' prototypical BITCHES BREW - 1970 (the first jazz album to integrate the studio mixing board as a musical instrument - incorporating multi-layered audio overdub / edits and sound effects into the performance mix) HEAD HUNTERS would stake it's own claim as a defining moment in the history of jazz. The sheer audacity of it's ear-arrestingly "earthy" aural effects, combined with the popular R&B / "Sly And The Family Stone"-style funk groove of the day; then topping it off with imminently recognizable (if not common at the time) African-rhythms, it suddenly made the jazz genre more approachable to the masses, turning R&B fans into jazz aficionados and vice versa. HEAD HUNTERS would also greatly influence the later "Acid Jazz" movement (spearheaded by names like Donald Byrd and Roy Ayers) as well as the future hip-hop, that genre's studio effects and (what would come to be called) "sampling" largely inspired by HEAD HUNTERS' integration of disparate audio elements. Hancock himself would prove the beneficiary of his own innovation when his 1983 album FUTURE SHOCK (featuring the hit single "Rockit") became a world-wide crossover hit, borrowing elements from the burgeoning hip-hop movement (FUTURE SHOCK was the first mainstream hit to incorporate "scratching") just as hip-hop had earlier borrowed from HEAD HUNTERS. HEAD HUNTERS would also directly lead to DEATH WISH.
Originally, DEATH WISH producer Dino De Laurentiss had instructed director Michael Winner to "Get a cheap English band" because such groups were all the rage at the time. Winner's girlfriend however, actress Sonia Monzano (who actually has a small part in DEATH WISH as a supermarket checkout girl) was a jazz fan who had recently heard Hancock's HEAD HUNTERS. She gave Winner the album, the director was blown away, and he said to De Laurentiss "Dino, never mind a cheap English band, we'll have Herbie Hancock". The rest was history.
The jazz idiom had certainly already influenced contemporary film scoring in the form of Lalo Schifrin's MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, BULLIT and DIRTY HARRY, Jerry Goldsmith's OUR MAN FLINT, Quincy Jones' THE ITALIAN JOB and THE ANDERSON TAPES, Henry Mancini's PETER GUNN and THE PINK PANTHER, and Issac Hayes' SHAFT. Hancock himself had even already received accolades for his scores to Michelangelo Antonioni's BLOW UP (1966), the animated FAT ALBERT AND THE COSBY KIDS (1968) and the controversial 1973 film THE SPOOK WHO SAT BY THE DOOR. But DEATH WISH would forever change the face of contemporary scoring like no other. In the same manner in which Alex North's A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (1951) took film music craft further away from the traditionalism of the European-style leitmotif and closer to a distinctly American musical idiom (folk and jazz) as a more "native element" which would penetrate the psychology of American characters, so would DEATH WISH make it acceptable (and later expected) to integrate the "profane" sound of American street rhythms, studio effects and international ethnic instrumentation into the orchestral melange to speak for and to the modern American characters' alternating mental and emotional states. As DEATH WISH's urban vigilante yarn takes place in New York City (mostly at night) and Charles Bronson's revenge-minded Paul Kersey character begins (towards film's climax) to unravel mentally, so does Hancock's score take on the form and feel of Avant-garde mental / emotional musical confusion in the midst of a dangerous techno-jungle. This approach would influence nearly every other urban set score from that point on, from jazz keyboardist / composer Dave Grusin's THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR (1975) and BARETTA (1974 - '78), all the way up to and including James Horner's 48HRS. (1982), David Holmes' OUT OF SIGHT (1998) and OCEAN'S 11 (2001) and many others.
Herbie Hancock in concert (2005)
film sequel DEATH WISH II (the first in an endless series of
sub-standard follow-ups) was also helmed by Michael Winner. Issac Hayes
was originally suggested for the scoring duties, but director Winner eventually settled upon former Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page to bring another type of raw urban sensibility. While effective as a
rock album (replete with Page's reverbed drums), as a score it created
nary a ripple on the innovation radar, and it was quickly
Of the pieces presented in our DEATH WISH suite, the first track "Main Title" is the most traditional - a jazz orchestral "concert presentation" version of the film's opening title sequence music. The lengthy "Suite Revenge" (9:23) is the standout however - an editing together of the film's various "vigilante strikes back" action / suspense set pieces. Pay particular attention to the "back masking" (realized by playing reel to reel audio tape and / or an lp backwards) on display in the jungle-like "Last Stop" musical movement (entering "Suite Revenge" at the 6:05 mark). Heard when an attempted subway mugging of Bronson's Kersey character goes violently awry, the "masking" effect fits "hand in glove" with Director of Photography Arthur Ornitz's hypnotic "strobe-light pulse" outside the windows of the speeding subway car, creating a visual and aural psychedelic "fever dream" vibe, one of the film's cinematographic highlights.
CEJ - October 2011
Main Title (6:11) Suite Revenge (9:23)
Party People (3:32)
* note* DEATH WISH is from an analog source