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Tuesday, October 26, 2010


Well, here I am with my first catch-up attempt, and I'll begin with three recent releases from Lakeshore Records, starting with the digital download only release of Christopher Gordon's score for Bruce Bereford's Mao's Last Dancer, which is based on the autobiography of ballet dancer Li Cunxin, who went from a life of poverty to one of great acclaim as a world-class performer.
I briefly mentioned Christopher Gordon's acclaimed score for the film when reviewing his music for Daybreakers and, like buses, it seems you wait an age and then two come along at once, as was the case with these two fine scores. If only we heard more of this talented composer.
Of his score for Mao's Last Dancer, Gordon says: "There can be few movies that require such a broad array of musical ideas. From the simple exercises for piano to the complex pseudo-jazz of "Free Dance;" from the delicate "Pas de Deux" to the martial bombast of "Madame's Model Ballet;" from the joyous "Becoming a Dancer" to the sorrow of "Dance of Longing;" from the dramatic underscore of "The Consulate" to the chaste emotion of"Brush Dance," and from the Chinese folk-sounds of "Village Life" to the Hollywood orchestral epic of "Finale."
The score is simply gorgeous, but don't take my word for it, check out reviews at and
I should say that Gordon's music accounts for 18 of the 23 tracks on the album, with the remainder given over to ballet pieces by the likes of Tchaikovsky and Mozart.

Next up we have Philip Sheppards's music for The Tillman Story, a documentary dealing with the life and death of Pat Tillman, who, in 2002, gave up his glittering life as a pro-footballer to join the military, and whose subsequent tragic demise was exploited by the government for propaganda purposes.
Sheppard first came to my attention with his music for 2007's In the Shadow of the Moon and, whilst writing scores for the odd fictional tale, is mostly known for his work in the field of documentary. Dedicating the album to Pat's mother, Mary "Dannie" Tillman, Sheppard says: "I didn't want to apply a heroic sheen to the seductive images of sport and war, as this would only be adding to the myths that this film so eloquently deconstructs." He continues: "In writing documentary music I believe it is the composer's job to lead the viewer to a place where they can think, but not to tell them what to feel, so in a sense the music has to act as a clean slate. This is essential in a story where the original facts of the matter have been distorted an re-imagined in the first place."
Comprising no less than 32 tracks, Sheppard's score is somewhat fragmented, which is not unusual for a documentary of this nature, but many cues are of a decent length, and there is the odd lengthy offering along the way, like the tense "Into the Valley." Largely utilising strings, with telling solos by the likes of cello, violin, piano and trumpet, the music is very much emotion-filled, mixing the suitably solemn and tragic, with moments of warmth and nostalgia, and the odd upbeat moment, like the paranoid "Suspicion," with its insistent plucked stringed opening, an element that features further in subsequent tracks; the airy "Flight;" the rhythmic exotica of "The Afghan;" and the flowing string quartet of "The Hearing." Electronics are used sparingly, often when an element of threat is required. The standout, for me, are the strident brass and strings of the "Jessica Lynch Waltz."
Already available as a digital download, The Tillman Story soundtrack is released in U.S. stores today.

The final release here from Lakeshore is Mark Kilian's score for Legacy, which focuses on a decorated anti-terrorist black-ops soldier as he reflects on a botched mission in Eastern Europe.
Kilian describes his music as: "an exciting blend of retro flavoured orchestral writing, reminiscent of Bernard Herrmann's work with Alfred Hitchcock, and a modern electronica sensibility applied to the writing and manipulation of acoustic and electronic instruments and percussion." He continues: "to give the sense of psychological breakdown and the loss of reality, the music never lets the audience settle into a comfortable thematic development pattern, but rather keeps the 'nail on the chalkboard' idea throughout, where many sounds are not quite right."
There's actually very little of the Herrmann style on display here, with the more modern sensibilities very much to the fore. Standout tracks, for me, include the menacing percussion and brass of "Dead End;" the brief, but haunting "Valentina;" the exotic and somewhat unhinged "Dancing with the Enemy;" the pounding "Descent;" and the fragile, out-of-tune piano of "Scars," which is reprised in the closing "Goodbye Again."
Mark Kilian's score for Legacy is available now as a digital download only.
My thanks to Beth Krakower of CineMedia Promotions, without whose press releases I would have been hard pressed to put together this piece.


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