Anatomy of a Murder: From the Soundtrack of the Motion Picture 1959 Film
Extra Tracks, Reissued, Remastered
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|Audio CD, Extra tracks, Original recording reissued, April 27, 1999||
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"I like playing with music and its relationship to the theater, particularly in the supporting role," Duke Ellington remarked in an audio interview from the reissue of his splendid soundtrack to Otto Preminger's 1959 film, Anatomy of a Murder. "Doing the score for a picture really calls for being along with the action and absorbing all of the atmosphere [of] everything taking place in the picture." But as this CD--which includes 14 alternate takes--shows, the syncopated swing and soul Ellington and his men lay down steal the show. Just as Preminger moves and shapes his actor's characters, Ellington creates musical motifs that bring out the best in his musicians as well as the story line. The orchestra sets the pace with the fanfare-ish "Main Title," with tenor saxophonist Paul Gonsalves's candlelight tones. Johnny Hodges's upwardly mobile alto-sax cries signify the femme-fatale, hip-swinging rhythms of "Flirtibird," which segues into the finger-snapped "Way Early Subtone," with Russell Procope's cool clarinet. Other standouts include the ballad "Low Key Lightly," costarring Ellington's regal piano and Ray Nance's serenading violin, while "Midnight Indigo" is harmonically haunted by Ellington's crystalline celesta chords, Billy Strayhorn's telepathic piano comping, and Harry Carney's soul-stirring baritone sax. The insightful and authoritative notes by historian Phil Schaap and Wynton Marsalis, along with the alternate and rehearsal takes, give the listener a comprehensive overview into the movie's themes of murder, romance, and intrigue that Duke Ellington so brilliantly augmented and illuminated through jazz improvisation, big-band orchestration, and the blues. --Eugene Holley Jr.
Rarely has such sumptuous jazz been married to a film soundtrack. Written in 1959 for director Otto Preminger's courtroom drama of sex and jealousy, the burnished glow of Ellington's score is undeniably erotic - indeed, the powerfully charged, slow burn of the second track here, "Flirtibird," is among Ellington's most sensual recordings.
Classic film scores build on recurring motifs that identify characters and situations, amplifying their existence for the viewer through the sense of hearing. The "flirty bird" of the title - Lee Remick's Laura Manion - is evoked early on by a six-note phrase, with emotional hues that undergo dramatic changes every time it reappears along the score's course. "Way Early Subtone" expands on that phrase in a passionate, extended coda that tries to rekindle the flame; by the time of "Almost Cried," the melody has taken on a deep, hard-edged sadness.
The Ellington orchestra sounded exquisite in the early summer sessions that produced this soundtrack. With a burnished sonic brilliance reminiscent of the glorious 1940 "Blanton/Webster" edition of the band, and soloists like Johnny Hodges and Paul Gonsalves (whose masterful tenor saxophone solo on "Hero To Zero" is surrounded by some truly adventurous harmonies), Ellington's tightly woven soundtrack took on a life independent of its original context. In doing so, it became one of Duke's most satisfying albums.
--- Larry Nai, JAZZIZ Magazine Copyright © 2000, Milor Entertainment, Inc. -- From Jazziz
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All the same, it won't take long for even the casual Ellington fan to recognize the stamp of the Maestro and his "instrument"--from Duke's downward arpeggios to the inimitable tonal "voices" of Johnny Hodges, Paul Gonsalves, Jimmy Hamilton, and Cat Anderson (doing for this film what Bernard Hermann's famously screeching violins do for the unforgettable shower scene in "Psycho").
Sony (Columbia) has obviously spent money on this budget-priced digital restoration--from the research to the program notes to the out-takes and interviews as well as the digital processing itself. I listened to the album during a long car trip, and from the number of times I was forced to adjust the volume, it would appear that Sony's engineers decided to do without "dynamics compression," or "normalization." Audio, or frequency, compression in the form of smaller-bit files would be unthinkable for a full-fidelity album, but dynamics compression, which amounts to "lessening" the distance between the extremely pianissimo passages and the ultra fortissimo ones, is a common practice to assure the listener's being able to hear everything without strain (in the case of the most nuanced measures) or discomfort (during the full-blown, brassy interludes). Whether the decision to take this route was the better one waits to be decided, at least in my case (when I'm in a quiet room without an adjacent passenger sensitive to the extremes of an undeniably intrusive loudness if not stridency).
Besides comparing the memory of the film score or the LP version with this restored digital version, the listener might also compare a track like "Pie Eye's Blues" with Ellington's reprising of the same number for his under-appreciated "Blues in Orbit." If the latter example seems preferable, the engineers of the latest edition of "Anatomy of a Murder" may indeed have exercised well-intended but less than stellar judgment.
But it was with Preminger's 1959 courtroom drama "Anatomy of a Murder" that the "crime jazz" soundtrack really came to its full fruition. Whereas Bernstein and Mancini were classically-trained movie composers writing in the jazz genre, Ellington was one of jazz's true elder statesman, who had a refined interest in the classics, and his soundtrack for "Anatomy" is the most consummate of all jazz soundtracks, looking forward to Quincy Jones' backbeat scores. What Ellington brings at long last to the fore is the element of improvisation, which really gives the soundtrack an unpredictable bounce that works wonderfully vis-a-vis Wendell Mayes' unpredictable screenplay.
There are a number of listeners that regard Ellington as a fish out of water for this soundtrack, which they regard as a "nice attempt." I disagree, entirely: Ellington's dynamic orchestrations, economical use of themes and varied moods represent some of his best output, and although there is a hip, urbane sound to his big band/swing numbers, his sad songs are among the saddest sounds in all movies, even rivalling Bernard Herrmann's dark scoring. There is a bottomless pit of sorrow in his quiet blues numbers that ring true and resonate with the listener in the most bitter, sanguinary, way.
Columbia's reissuing packaging remains faithful to the original cover/label art and there are plenty of alternate takes and concurrent issues on this disc as a bonus. Ellington's commentary at the end gives further insight into the soundtrack, the movie itself, and his musical ideas. His voice is as musical as his numbers, very refined, gentlemanly and impassioned.