Sunday 7 December 2008
Like last year's Blade Runner release this is a much anticipated release just in time for Christmas. Featuring the work of Shirley Walker, Lolita Ritmanis and Michael McCuiston, this is a must have CD for all fans of the Ani-Bat.
A quick glance at the track listings on http://buysoundtrax.stores.yahoo.net/baanseorsoby.html, reveals some great cues from the first season of this groundbreaking animated series. In addition to Shirley Walker's stunning interpretation of Danny Elfman's classic theme, you also get Walker's own grandiose alternate Batman theme.
I've placed my order and will be waiting in anticipation for the sound of our postie's footfall on our doorstep.
For regular visitors to this blog, please accept my sincere apologies for a lack of new material recently. This will be remedied very soon when things calm down at work and aren't taken up with travelling and meeting print deadlines (and I stop trying to watch every episode of "24").
So with a thumbed nose to the credit crunch let's all enjoy the great music that's out there.
Saturday 25 October 2008
Rocky has spawned countless pastiches and imitators, from the gruelling training montages culminating in his triumphal ascent of the steps outside Philadelphia Museum of Art in Philadelphia, to the emotional scenes of bruised, battered but unbowed Rocky Balboa, refusing to go down. This latter image epitomised the America's "never give up" attitude, much more than Rambo, Stallone's other succesful franchise.
The music for the Rocky movies can really be epitomised by two tracks: Bill Conti's triumpant Rocky theme, actually called Gonna Fly Now; and Survivor's thumping Eye of the Tiger. It's a song that always seems to inspire men of a certain age to take the dancefloor at social gatherings and adopt a fighting pose and do that menacing marauding dinosaur dance.
Saturday 11 October 2008
There are wonderful scenes where Alex and his friends scour shops looking for food stuffs that were popular in the old days but are now no longer available. He even goes as far as to fake TV broadcasts to maintain the illusion where actual scenes of East Germans flooding in to the West is re-interpreted as West Germans seeking refuge in the East.
Saturday 27 September 2008
Tuesday 23 September 2008
Saturday 30 August 2008
Whilst Teen Titans is not technically a spinoff of Warners' other super hero series, Batman, Superman and Justice League, it shares good character-based plots and excellent animation albeit in a more stylized manga style and thus light years away from its noble predecessors.
Given that the show is aimed at a younger audience, it has perhaps not received the widespread attention by animation fans, that it warrants. This is partially true, but the episodes I have caught, have tackled adult themes and the animation is a welcome change from the slightly cliched anime style of some much lauded Japanese cartoons.
The delightfully bonkers theme tune for Teen Titans - which I have something of a soft spot for - is enthusiastically performed by J-Pop lovelies Ami Onuki and Yumi Yoshimura better known as Puffy Amiyumi. While Teen Titans is at the kiddie end of their portfololio Puffy Amiyumi's more recent material, which I strongly advise you check out, features some great pop and rock tunes that remind you of L7, Joan Jett, Shampoo, The Beatles, The Who, Abba, Bow Wow Wow, The Ramones, Polysics and Pizzicato Five. Massive in their home country, Ami and Yumi were appointed goodwill ambassadors to the United States to encourage tourism in Japan and looking at them, it's not hard to see why!
Sunday 24 August 2008
There was a time when Boy on A Dolphin was a popular staple of Saturday afternoon telly, which makes it inexplicable why it's not officially available on DVD. Even though it's not the greatest of adventures and the on-screen chemistry of the principals is somewhat lacking, the film looks great and Loren...well we've all see that photo!
Saturday 23 August 2008
Friday 15 August 2008
Surprisingly none of the child actors who took part in the filming bore any emotional scars. Many regarded it as a bit of fun during their holidays while others were prompted to confront the moral issue of whether they could truly kill a friend in order to survive.
To some Battle Royale is just a sadistic gore-fest where a lot of nice kids get killed, which is rather missing the point. It's more of a future vision of the extremes of reality TV and how far a government would be prepared to go to maintain control over wild youth.
The classic soundtrack for Battle Royale, by composer Masamichi Amano seamlessy mixes his own orchestral and choral cues with selected classical pieces by Verdi, Schubert, Bach and Strauss. It's hard to choose the real standout tracks but among my favourites are Teacher which introduces the menacing Kitano; the brooding Slaughter House; the touching Mimuras Determination and the deeply moving Reunion.
Thursday 14 August 2008
The film eschews the usual POW movie cliches and concentrates on the relationships between the four main characters. The taboo subject of homosexuality rears its head throughout the story with Captain Yonoi falling for Celliers. While bleached blonde Bowie looks suitably stunning which may account for Yonoi's feelings, how none of the commandant's colleagues fail to notice that he sports more makeup than the average Geisha is beyond me. Bowie also pushes the bounds of credibility when he has to play a schoolboy version of his adult self during a bizarre flashback sequence.
Bowie has made no secret of his thespian tendencies, though as a life long fan of the man, I've always felt that Bowie should stick to singing. That said, he puts in a pretty convincing performance in Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence, that is only eclipsed by his superior star turn in The Man Who Fell to Earth.
As well as playing the decidedly camp commandant, multi-instrumentalist and former Yellow Magic Orchestra frontman, Ryuichi Sakamoto contributes a moving and memorable electronic score to Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence. The well known title theme available in instrumental form and as a vocal version (Forbidden Colours) warbled by former Japan frontman David Sylvian, regularly turns up on cheesy Chillout compliations.
Thursday 7 August 2008
My eternal thanks go to Ron for taking the time to answer my geeky fan boy questions.
Ron Jones has worked as a composer for over 35 years. His classic underscores for Star Trek TNG have won him fans and awards the world over. His score CV includes coutless Hanna Barbera cues, the 1988 Superman cartoon series and latterly Family Guy and American Dad. His theme for the Fairly Odd Parents was awarded the BMI TV & Film award 3 years running for being the most performed theme in broadcasting worldwide.
After graduating from the Dick Grove School of Music and working with Lalo Schifrin, Ron got his initial break at Hanna-Barbera working with Hoyt Curtin scoring many animation projects. He later moved to Disney scoring the studio’s first syndicated cartoon series DuckTales.
In addition to regular scoring assignments, Ron has formed the Influence Jazz Orchestra comprised of many of the top session and recording musicians from both the scoring and jazz worlds of Los Angeles.
Ron is currently building a new website which will be up this Autumn. Ron’s new jazz band site, http://www.influencejazz.com/ is already up and running.
Ron Jones: I gravitated towards arranging and composing from when I was about 11 or 12 years old. I joined a local Drum and Bugle Corps in Bellevue Washington and played in a large brass section. Because Drum and Bugle Corps have no published scores to play, they always have arrangers doing their music. I just was so impressed by these guys that would come in with freshly arranged charts and teach them to us. With well over 30 brass and 20 or so percussion we could make amazing sounds. We were outside school systems. Really rebels, like a rock band, but we would play parades and contests on football stadiums. The music was always set to visual movement like ballet. Not like marching band, much more intensive and deeply hard core. I would get some friends together from the Corps and experiment with things. Eventually this grew and I was leading my own corps and composing and arranging professionally for all sorts of groups while still in High School.
Reel Cool: What was your primary instrument?
Ron Jones: I guess, French Horn. I only played that so I could set in the middle of the orchestra and hear everything from that position. Composing has always been my main thing. Second might be conducting.
Reel Cool: You were a protégé of Lalo Schifrin, how did that come about and what was it like working with him?
Ron Jones: He needed someone to copy a concerto for Guitar and orchestra and instead of paying bucks he taught me orchestration and conducting. What started out as a temporary thing turned into two-three years of very deep study with a master. I applied everything I learned on the very busy scoring assignments I had during that period. Really amazing.
Reel Cool: Assuming Lalo Schifrin was an influence do you have any other musical influences?
Ron Jones: I have many. I am a student of all aspects and styles of western and world musics. I know it all. Early influences were Aaron Copland, Don Ellis, Stravinsky, Bartok, Legiti and all that. I have dwelled with great affection and appreciation for the craft and inventiveness of John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith and Bernard Herrmann, as have many. I have lots of experience in Pop, Jazz, Classical, early music styles, music for Theater, Opera. I have written more Rap and Hip Hop than Jay-Z spanning over 25 years of that stuff. I know of and can write in the bag of all contemporary composers like John Adams, Steve Riech and all those post-minimalists cats. I lead an elite Jazz orchestra here in LA called Influence. It is made up of the very best session and jazz players on earth. We have sold out every concert and jazz gig. That has been very fun and interesting to explore.
Reel Cool: After graduation, you moved to Hanna Barbera, what was the environment like at HB?
Ron Jones: Strange. I and everyone else who scored all those shows during Hanna-Barbera's golden era, worked directly for Hoyt Curtin. He was great fun and a musical genius. I learned so many wonderful and deep lessons during that time and scored hundreds of shows, thousands of cues. People will never understand or be able to replicate that experience. Amazing.
Reel Cool: Were you given a level of creative freedom or was it ‘scores on demand’ and on a tight budget?
Ron Jones: Yes, it was super demanding in all senses of the expression. It always is demanding. It is not only the gig, the time, the money, it is ultimately, an inner challenge. I always, every single time, every single stroke of my pencil try to create the very best I can. I never say, crap this sucks, let me grind out some shit here. Never do I think that or do that. I write to please first myself. I have high standards. Second, I always regard the intelligence and inborn musicality of the human receptors which will view and listen to what is playing there. I believe that even a 2 or 3 year old knows what is right, what is good and interesting. I never patronize an audience. Never. So regardless of time, money, producers, studios, and all other limitations, I give it my all.
Reel Cool: You were selected to score Duck Tales – was that a direct commission from Disney or as result of an open casting?
Ron Jones: Chris Montan, a very intuitive guy who heads up Disney music had sat in a few sessions that we where doing for H-B. I did not know at all who he was. He heard some of my cues and said he thought they where pretty good. I told him how I regard the audience and its intelligence. When Duck Tales started out the composers took a low approach, talking down and being very patronizing with the score. Really too stupid and overtly "Cute". So Chris called and said, “Please come down to Disney and let's have you do this series.”
When I went down we met with the head of TV-Animation. He asked me what my approach would be. I said I would treat these Ducks like real people on real adventures. I would not play the score like a kid’s show at all. I said if they went on an adventure I would play it serious like Raiders of the Lost Ark. I guess they saw my point and gave me the job.
Reel Cool: Duck Tales debuted in 1987 – given the lead-time for cartoons at what point were you brought into the production schedule?
Ron Jones: In guess a few months before that.
Reel Cool: Were you shown footage of Duck Tales prior to composing?
Ron Jones: I scored to picture frame by frame of course.
Reel Cool: Did you have the chance to discuss the scenarios you would be scoring with the producers or were you just given broad based themes like ‘action sequence’, ‘dream sequence’, ‘mystery’ etc?
Ron Jones: Not really. They gave me a very wide creative area to operate in. That always allows for good things to happen. Here Ron, do something cool. That is all I need. Most producers micro manage and suppress the scores, it’s really a very sad situation and counter-intuitive.
Reel Cool: Assuming you created the initial demo scores on synths, did you write the final orchestral arrangements?
Ron Jones: There where no demos. I did everything, compose, orchestrate, arrange and conduct.
Reel Cool: Initially you oversaw the sequences you were scoring. As time went on were you involved in applying your cues to later episodes?
Ron Jones: I only scored a few shows. I designed the cues to not only score specific scenes but to be trackable. They tracked the vast majority of the episodes due to the effectiveness of this design. One of the best ever, I believe.
Reel Cool: Duck Tales ran for 100 episodes – many of your cues were reused throughout the seasons (this is why so many are so familiar and beloved by fans), how many cues did you actually compose?
Ron Jones: I composed it as a library. I had Adventure themes, Bad guy themes, chases, heart-felt cues, the gamut. My years at Hanna-Barbera came in very handy.
Reel Cool: How many sessions were there, what was the typical recording set up and size of the orchestra you used for the scoring sessions?
Ron Jones: I think about there were about 14 sessions. I packaged all the sessions. I had nearly 40 players for much of it. I had some sessions with contemporary rhythm section guys, and some synth with a small group of live players. We covered a lot of ground. Duckburg was a big freakin' place!
Reel Cool: There are many varied styles of music evident on DuckTales, were you given creative freedom on this project?
Ron Jones: Yes. I did whatever I chose to do.
Reel Cool: Do you have any specific or lasting memories of this project?
Ron Jones: After I scored the first episode (Armstrong) the music editor called me up and was very excited. He said , "Drop everything and come over, I want to show you something." When I got there, in a little editing room he played back the first few cues with pictures on an old movieola. It was magical. Everything worked so well. My approach of playing things real helped elevate the show, gave it a wonderment. Everyone could tell we had something very special. I just did my thing and it worked out nicely.
DUCK TALES AND BEYOND
Reel Cool: I’ll keep this brief as I guess you’ve probably answered this a zillion times! Getting the Star Trek TNG gig must have been equally daunting and thrilling, how did it feel to be in the same elite group as composers like Jerry Goldsmith and James Horner?
Ron Jones: Yes, it was. I had always in my own mind, pretended every show was great. In the case of ST:TNG, it really was cool. So I did not have to imagine as much. They laid it out - I scored it. I treated each episode like a feature, in every way possible.
Reel Cool: Were you ever tempted to emulate Goldsmith or determined to carve your own niche with your TNG scores?
Ron Jones: Well, we had to in a way. The studio (Paramount) was worried at first. They wanted the music at least, to bridge from the original series to the shockingly different ST:TNG. Sure, there was that element, but my music is still mine. Close your eyes sometime and really listen. You can hear it.
Reel Cool: Seth MacFarlane has made no secret of his love of Big Band Jazz - was it fun scoring Family Guy?
Ron Jones: Yes, we have enjoyed FG and it's fun, crazy dimensions for 10 years now. We are just starting the 6th season. Seth supports the music so deeply. If it where not for him, it would have been screwed down, like most of the crappy scores on broadcast today. He creates a zone where music can live. He knows and values what music does to a film or TV show. It is a vital element on may levels and he uses that to make the shows better. I guess that is why it is a billion dollar franchise world-wide. There are typically like, 20 styles in each show. It really makes you stretch. I love that. I love the challenge.
Reel Cool: The Fairly Odd Parents theme harks back to Swing Band Jazz and the classic 60’s Hanna Barbera themes – was that your idea or Butch Hartman’s?
Ron Jones: Seth recommended me to his close friend, Butch. Butch is a great person. He just trusted me to come up with something, and I did. He sent me a fax with some hand-written lyrics. i messed with them a bit and composed two different themes and sent them over for him to listen to. He took them home and played them for his young daughters. They loved the one that is used in the show. Yes, I brought into the theme the notion of a big Hoyt Curtin type thing. Of course it was fun.
Reel Cool: What new scores are you working on?
Ron Jones: Family Guy, American Dad and I think I will be doing part of the new Cleveland series. I am composing a lot of new things outside TV, like for my Jazz Orchestra-influence and for symphony orchestras. I just composed a new work called, The Ascent. I will premier it with the Las Vegas Philharmonic this weekend. Also, I am doing some free-form improvisational performance with Brad Dutz (my main Percussionist and dear friend) in the more artzy clubs around LA. I want to expand myself, and get out of the groove of just doing sessions in closed studios. I want to share with real people, live. This has been going very well.
Reel Cool: You’ve branched into film with your documentary with the musical group "Obliteration" and you series of shows Cookin' Carribean, - is that where your future lies or is scoring still your bread and butter?
Ron Jones: Look, Hollywood is about many things. In features it's about box office. The studios select composers, primarily because the last film they did made money. It is a factory. I still hold out great hope and possibility in scoring for features, even though many have dismissed me and all that. I feel that I have learned and experienced so much. I know my craft very well. Eventually Seth or someone else will look around and see what is available and choose to give me the creative opportunity. My life is so full of joy and thought and humanity that I really don't worry about it. I just do my best at all times. I let all that other stuff come or not. If I am given a great film to score, I know I will create something on a high level with meaning.
Reel Cool: Thank you for taking the time to speak with me
Sunday 3 August 2008
DuckTales followed the exploits of quadzillionaire businessman Scrooge McDuck and his great nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie who with Webbigale Vanderquack found themselves in exotic Indiana Jones style adventures that included trips on sea, on land, around the world, in outer space and occasionally through time.
This charming and genuinely enjoyable cartoon series was based on a popular comic strip by Carl Barks and unusually for a 'movie' adaptation, included many of Bark's characters and plots. Of the regular cast of characters there was absent-minded inventor Gyro Gearloose, accident prone pilot Launchpad McQuack, Scrooge's butler Duckworth, his loyal housekeeper Mrs Beakley and last but not least Fenton Crackshell, who in times of trouble utters the words "Blatherin' Blatherskite!" and became super hero Gizmo Duck. Regular villains included Magica De Spell, Flintheart Glomgold and the Beagle Boys - check out the boys' prison numbers.
Apart from excellent animation and imaginative plots, DuckTales the TV series boasted an extremely catchy theme tune composed by Mark Mueller and sung by Jeff Pescetto. The memorable orchestral score for the TV series was composed by Star Trek supremo Ron Jones. Alas Jones' score is not available officially though a short suite of cues has surfaced on the web. A feature film called DuckTales Treasure of the Lost Lamp followed in 1990 scored by David Newman. Good though Newman's score may be, it sticks to a rather predictable "John Williams in action adventure mode" mixed with Carl Stalling's Looney Tunes sound. Jones on the other hand mixes his musical styles utilising strings, keyboards and guitars as necessary. Of course his cues were re-used for many different scenarios throughout the series and had to be flexible. It does however display a definite deftness of touch that when heard after all these years still sounds fresh.
I got into DuckTales while my daughter was growing up and like a dutiful dad I sat and watched it with her and very soon became hooked. Like The Simpsons you had a regular cast of characters with their own back stories. The plots were well written with some clever and knowing touches. With so many less sophisticated cartoons dominating the airwaves and the digital domain, DuckTales seems from a time gone by. Now that Disney has begun releasing the series on DVD, there is an opportunity to enjoy them again. If you grew up in the 80's, have a party and watch DuckTales all night with your pals. If you haven't got kids, borrow one and use that as excuse to watch the series.
Thursday 26 June 2008
As relevant now as it was then, The Harder They Come is based on a true story and tells the tale of Ivanhoe Martin (Cliff) a poor Jamaican country boy who comes to Kingston in search of a job. Despite a promising start as a singer, Ivan gets ripped off and soon descends into crime and violence and ultimately pays the price for his guns and ganja lifestyle.
Jimmy Cliff is not only a great singer and songwriter but is also a convincing actor in his role as Ivan the anti-hero of The Harder They Come. While the film pulls no punches in its bleak and tough depiction of life in the shanty towns of Kingston Jamaica, it is also a testament to the strength of its inhabitants.
There are some great scenes notably the palpable joy when Ivan gets his bid for fame in a studio and performs The Harder They Come with the cream of reggae session men.
To those unfamiliar with the dense Jamaican patois spoken in the movie, some of the dialogue may be hard to follow, but the film is so visual that it doesn't take a classical linguist to understand this modern day parable of corrupted youth. The image of pistol toting Ivan in his rude boy threads has been perhaps taken at face value and come to represent a call to arms for the Gangtsa culture, which is at odds with Perry Henzell's more measured and moralistic message.
The soundtrack for The Harder They Come is a goldmine of late 60's / early 70's classic reggae which no music fan should be without. It includes Jimmy Cliff's optimistic Stax soul influenced You Can Get It If You Really Want, the defiant title track The Harder They Come and the soulful, hymnal Many Rivers to Cross. Elsewhere you get Rude Boy anthems like Desmond Dekker's 007 and The Slickers' Johnny Too Bad plus The Melodians' Rivers of Babylon in its pure original form before Boney-M's butchery. Karaoke fans can also enjoy singing along to a second version of You Can Get It If you Really Want with the verses faded out!
The film is a classic and its central character Ivan is immortalised in a million wall posters not to mention the Clash's Guns of Brixton. Latterly it has become a stage musical currently doing the rounds in London's West End. Whilst I've not seen the musical in full, I saw a decidedly dazzling excerpt last week and was bowled over by it.
If you like films like City of God, you cannot afford to miss The Harder They Come.