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UNKNOWN SOLDIER (2004)

Music by Peter Calandra

13 tracks (Playing Time = 33:37)

MovieScore Media MMS-6001

Rating: ***1/2

It is an amazing world we live in for film music fans. Each month a new label appears to offer film scores old and new, the obscure and famous, the critically-acclaimed and the fan favorite.

This month MovieScore Media enters the fray with an inaugural release from Ferenc Toth’s 2004 independent film, UNKNOWN SOLDIER. Toth’s film made a few festivals last year to some critical acclaim culminating in its receipt of the award as “Best Narrative Feature” at the LA Film Festival. It was also nominated for an Independent Spirit Award and can currently be see on the Starz network.

The score for this urban drama comes from New York City composer Peter Calandra. His name will be familiar to Broadway fans as the pianist/conductor and musical director for the original production of “Little Shop of Horrors.” He has written several film scores, including that for last year’s “Jellysmoke,” most for directorial debuts. He has performed or recorded with Susan Anton, Don Cherry, Aretha Franklin, and even Allen Ginsberg, among others. His score for UNKNOWN SOLDIER has received positive critical notice from sources like L.A. Weekly and Film Journey for its infectious jazz sound.

As a jazz album, then, UNKNOWN SOLDIER should find many fans. It stands in a long line of jazz scores featuring small combos. The score is conceived in a smaller scale than Rolfe Kent’s SIDEWAYS but is just as engaging. At times it is a cross between a Vince Guaraldi and Dave Brubeck album with maybe a little of the sound of David Benoit. In other places, it has reflective saxophone solos, or a series of Impressionistic jazz piano chords. These inner reflective scenes, like “ Ellison’s Pain,” must perfectly capture the screen imagery. The solo work by saxophonist Dale Kleps is exquisite reminiscent of Paul Winter in some places, Stanley Clarke in others. Always engaging, deeply felt music that moves along over its otherwise brief playing time hinting between the upbeat and the sad. The jazz style disappears briefly in the central portion of the disc making way for a more ambient sound. In “Searching,” Calandra adds sequenced string and wind effects that are equally well-imaged in a track that is like a New Age soundscape with additional acoustic instruments floating in and out.

Unlike scores that add in tracks that break away from their jazz stylings, UNKNOWN SOLDIER plays well even when it drifts into its sequenced ambiance-creating tracks. The unifying piano sound that floats above them helps to keep things grounded more. Tracks like “ Ellison’s Choice,” which return to the ambient backgrounds are more along the lines of Isham’s CRASH score at times. “The Escape” brings things into a more urban sound adding in acoustic bass and a drum set that fall along the lines of a David Arnold or Gregson-Williams synthesized action track. It is a blend of both the ambient ideas and ongoing ostinato action music that fits the tracks style but is the least interesting. Jazz fans will appreciate the first half of this disc the most as well as the end credits and final three “bonus” tracks featuring Calandra’s piano jazz stylings.

In the past, scores like this would have omitted the ambient score material and concentrated solely on the jazz portions of the score. MovieScore Media has been generous to provide both making a 30-minute or so release possible. More of Calandra’s combo would have made for very good filler even without its connection to the film. Interested fans will want to hear some of the non-jazz tracks for sure before making their decision, but most will find this a welcome surprise worth the effort to seek out and carry along with you into the city.

MovieScore Media specializes in digital distribution of its scores so the score can be downloaded at iTunes or at their website: www.moviescoremedia.com

 

--Steven A. Kennedy, 26 January 2006

Comments regarding this review can be sent to this address: stev4uth@hotmail.com

 

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