Sunday, May 31, 2009

Jazz Soundtracks — Part 5

The following is an excerpt from the book Film and Television Scores, 1950-1979 (McFarland, 2008) by Kristopher Spencer, founder of

Perhaps the ultimate funky crime jazz soundtrack is David Shire’s The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974). It has no love themes or lounge numbers to slow it down, just a relentlessly hard-driving, take-no-prisoners score. Shire set out to crate a sound that would be “New York jazz-oriented, hard-edged” but with a “wise-cracking subtext to it.” He turned to the 12-tone method of composition, which Arnold Schoenberg developed decades earlier. (The disconcerting angularity of the Austrian’s compositions occasionally caused fistfights between the audience and the musicians.)

Something so naturally tense definitely fit the bill for this gritty, unsentimental drama about a hostage situation on a subway train. The music is diabolically calculated and pulsating, yet swings like a big band in hell. Electric bass, drums and tons of percussion provide the undercurrent for abstract horn, string, guitar, woodwind and keyboard lines. The theme gets restated again and again, but with such relentless variety it never becomes stale, only more intense.

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