Saturday, February 6, 2010

Jazz on Screen: ZigZag & The Super Cops

Zigzag / Oliver Nelson
The Super Cops
/ Jerry Fielding
Film Score Monthly can't be accused of playing it safe. After all, Zigzag and The Super Cops aren't exactly "classic films," and I'd bet that the only people who'll buy it will be a) fans of obscure crime jazz scores and/or b) fans of Oliver Nelson and/or Jerry Fielding. In other words, freaks like me. ;-)

Zigzag, starring George Kennedy, actually had a LP release at the time of the film's release in '70. Nelson's cachet with jazz audiences (who know him best for the landmark Impulse recording Blues and the Abstract Truth, '61) must have encouraged the release. But Zigzag isn't a straight jazz score. Nelson, who held degrees in theory and composition, brought a sophisticated ear to the film, providing both propulsive Latin jazz and meditative modernist string passages, often blending the two. The action-oriented passages will remind some listeners of '70s shows like The Six Million Dollar Man, which should come as no surprise since Nelson composed for that show shortly before he died at the age of 43. FSM includes not only the original score but also the album program, which features an unrelated song called "Zigzag" sung by Roy Orbison. There are songs sung by Bobby Hatfield as well.

Closing out the first disc are Anita O'Day jazz vocal tracks from Zigzag and the hard-boiled crime movie The Outfit ('73). The latter film previously served an FSM release featuring Fielding's score. What is at first a seemingly random inclusion becomes an odd transition into Fielding's score for The Super Cops on Disc Two.

The Super Cops isn't among Fielding's better known scores (such as The Wild Bunch), in part because the film is fairly obscure. It's based on a true story of two New York cops who are more super-dedicated to fighting crime than "super" in the comic book sense. Fielding busts out the funky crime jazz with hard blowing brass, wah-wah guitar and an almost blaxploitation vibe. Still, one wouldn't mistake Fielding for J.J. Johnson, Isaac Hayes or Curtis Mayfield. He works a groove well enough, but like Lalo Schifrin he tends to infuse his compositions with a broader spectrum of tonal color. Still, it's very much an action score with interesting references to militarism and the Old West (the latter of which was a strong suit for him).

Disc Two closes out with selections from Fielding's scores for the short-lived folksy attorney show Hawkins, starring James Stewart (think of it as a prototype for Matlock). These cues are by turns abstract and dramatic ("Life for a Life") and pure pastiche ("Harmonica Source"). The CD also contains Fielding's country western and jazzy pop source cues for the cafe scene in The Outfit.

All in all, it's a worthwhile diversion and very well packaged with thorough liner notes.
Originally published at

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