Friday, November 12, 2010

Jazz Soundtracks: The Green Hornet

The Green Hornet (Extra Special Edition)
Billy May

Harkit Records

Originally a radio show, The Green Hornet made the transition to TV in the wake of the super successful Batman series. The Green Hornet only lasted one season ('66), it launched Bruce Lee's career and features the swinging sounds of big band legend Billy May.

To create the signature theme music May worked closely with trumpeter Al Hirt, adapting Rimsky-Korsakov's "Flight of the Bumblebee." The relentless pace is perfect for the action-packed show. Naturally, the track is very brassy, but the sonorities have an otherworldly perhaps Oriental tonality that may come from harmonicas or muted brass.

Other action-oriented tracks include the crime jazz pounder "Horneted House," the blistering "Activate the Scanner" and "Kato," an Oriental blues swinger. More woozy brass and strange sonorities are prevalent on the lounge number "Four Hornets." Other tracks, like "Casey," "Do the Hornet" and "Black Beauty" are pleasant enough, but are conventional in comparison to the aforementioned highlights.

The Green Hornet soundtrack has appeared on CD courtesy of RFO in the U.S. and Max and JBXL in Japan. Harkit's first version, released a few years ago, contained much of the core material — 11 tracks with little thematic repetition.

The "extra special edition" reviewed here adds several bonus tracks, including Al Hirt's hit single of the theme and versions of "Flight of the Bumble Bee," which was used for the original radio show. In addition, there is an excerpt from a '40s radio show and a complete specially adapted '60s radio show episode. The bonus tracks round out the original program nicely, adding conceptual depth and listening pleasure.

Harkit has done a good job with the liner notes, explaining the show's place in history and May's reputation as one of Frank Sinatra's main men. Still, a bit more info about the recording sessions might have explained some of the stranger sounds here. Speaking of sound, it's a little rough, as if taken from LP. Granted, there are no annoying surface defects, so presumably an effort was made to clean it up as much as possible.

Oh, and the upcoming movie looks really cheesy.

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