Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Jazz on Screen: Bullitt

Lalo Schifrin
Film Score Monthly

His "Mission: Impossible" TV show theme may be more immediately recognizable and well known, but Lalo Schifrin's score for Bullitt ('68) remains the most satisfyingly "Schifrin-esque" in his ouevre, and as such essential to every soundtrack collection.

Bullitt wasn't Schifrin's first crime jazz soundtrack by a long-shot, but when it dropped it influenced the direction of the genre, steering it toward felonious funk (see my book for more on this transformation).
Schirfrin first explored the crime jazz sound a few years earlier on the sexy French thriller Les Felins (aka Joy House), starring Alain Delon and Jane Fonda in their youthful prime.

It was on Bullitt that Schifrin found the perfect on-screen character for his swinging modern sound. Actor Steve McQueen's charismatic, self-assured performance as Det. Lt. Frank Bullitt is well served by Schifrin's propulsive, brassy electric bass-driven grooves with hard-hitting beats. Schifrin would further develop this sound on subsequent scores (such as Dirty Harry and Enter the Dragon, not to mention TV's Starsky & Hutch and Mannix).

Bullitt melds funk and swing. The hard and lean main theme rumbles forth on a muscular agile bass line and insistent beat with jazz guitar in the lead. On tracks that are by turns action-packed ("Hotel Daniels"), propulsive ("On the Road to San Mateo"), hard-driving ("Ice Pick Mike") and prowling ("Shifting Gears"), Schifrin works his orchestral jazz groove. It's as revved up and polished as the muscle cars used in the film's legendary chase scene (go Ford Mustang).

As expected, Film Score Monthly's well annotated and illustrated edition of Bullitt includes both the original album recording (that has influenced so many soul jazz and groove musicians) and the versions heard in the film, which have never appeared on CD before.

Even if you know the original (or Schifrin's fine re-recording from a few years ago) you owe it to yourself to hear the music as it appears in the movie. Some of the film versions are distinctively different from album versions and just as appealing. It's noticeable on the main theme. The film version is lowdown compared to the album version, but builds into a fiercely swinging funk monster in the middle section with drum breaks and stunningly psychedelic production values.

Elsewhere in the film versions, Schifrin further explores his Latin roots ("Cantata for Combo"), exotic jazz ("A Song for Cathy"), full-tilt acid blues rock ("Hotel Daniels" radio source), full-swagger swing ("Room 26") and chilled retro lounge ("The Aftermath of Love"). There's a demo of the main theme as well, which is nice and lean, but a little tentative until the tempo quickens.
Essential listening.

[Previously published at www.ScoreBaby.com]

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