2017 August 23 • Wednesday

It's book review time again. A few weeks ago (at least) I read Jerrold Mundis's The Dogs.

Is it "far better than Jaws" as the Kirkus quote asserts? I don't know but I'm willing to read Jaws to find out, especially since I like comparing books to movie adaptations.

The Dogs could be marketed as "Jaws with paws", I suppose.

Certain dogs are being bred and trained and conditioned to create pure examples of the species, with all of their natural attributes honed to their maximum potential while erasing as much as possible the deleterious effects of millenia of domestication.

One of these dogs is separated from the institution doing this work and ends up in the care of divorced dad and professor Alex Bauer.

He bonds with the dog, Orph, but when Orph attacks his sons—not unprovoked, one of several gratifyingly gray areas—Alex can't keep him.

Orph ends up roaming around the mountains and puts together his own pack. They're only interested in survival but this puts them in conflict with humans and human interests and before long this conflict blows up into something bigger.

In some interesting ways this book is a little like First Blood, even with an almost supernatural link between the two main characters. (This was removed from the movie version of First Blood and the story plays better without it.)

Mundis knows a lot about dogs and conveys the information to the reader effortlessly. He handles violence in an unflinching manner, neither exaggerating nor understating, and the results can be gruesome and unsettling.

Sex scenes are less successful. Canine carnality is handled with what might be called aplomb but a human parallel comes off as contrived and not as convincing, as if sex and romance for the main character were contractually obligated. (Maybe it was.)

But this is a very engaging thriller that made this reader eager to keep turning the pages. The ending is satisfying and touching, even moving though the novel itself is not especially deep or even that memorable. The first line is "The sun was vigorous and the air tangy, the leaves were new".

2017 August 21 • Monday

If your ears are hungry for a classic style of soundtrack, old school writing and arranging and instrumentation, each cue a unit of dramatic substance suggesting actions, thoughts and feelings, then Alfi Kabiljo's music for Nikola Tesla, a made for Croatian television biodrama, is for you as well as being the 479th Soundtrack of the Week.

The main title is a promising piece of music that shows Kabiljo's strenghts at creating lush and lyrical figures. "The Flight" and "The Wings" are suitably airy and soaring until a more serious note—it sounds like gravity—enters and grounds the listener.

"Childhood" is a beautiful piece, reminiscent of John Barry, perhaps John Williams also.

Several tracks evoke Tesla's travels: "Passage to America", "Prague", "Paris", London" etc. Kabiljo comes up with appropriate musical languages for each place.

"The Laboratory" has a mysterious and eerie feel to it, generating considerable suspense and excitement.

The music is so good it makes me very curious about the quality of the original production, from 1977.

2017 August 14 • Monday

Remi Kabaka's music for Black Goddess is the 478th Soundtrack of the Week.

Most of the pieces are very groove oriented. It's almost impossible not to tap your foot. "The Warrior", in fact, is for percussion only.

It's a small ensemble, just four people. Three of them play percussion and between the four are keyboards, tenor and soprano saxes, bass guitar and electric guitar.

"Brothers and Sisters" has a Stevie Wonderish feel to it and is sunny in tone.

"The Quest" sounds a bit like Fela but without his monstrous band and urgent saxophone sound. Still, I'm guessing that he was an inspiration for this track.

Things slow down and get heavy with "Slave March", which has a hypnotic quality to it, mostly one phrase repeated over and over.

The title track is more upbeat, with some active saxophone lines and nicely layered rhythmic figures underneath.

Which leaves the solo keyboard track "The Quest", a meditative and spacious tune that stretches out for almost seven minutes. It's not the longest piece on the record but it is just solo keyboard. Fela's influence might be here again, and perhaps also Sun Ra's.

It's a shame that despite the strengths of the compositions, the sound of the band isn't as good as it could be. The drums all sound great but the electric instruments just don't sound like they're very good quality. A re-recording or re-interpretation of this music could be really great.

But this is the original and it is quite good!

2017 August 09 • Wednesday

A new addition to the Gutbrain Records Casual Collection of Mostly Mid-Century Ephemera is a few issues of Hot Rod magazine from the 1950s.

Here's the first one.

It's a nice cover and of course my eye was drawn by the postage stamp.

This issue is notable because it has an article about a woman in the very male hot rod scene.

The hot rod scene itself is something I don't know much about. It appears to be made up of people building their own cars or modding cars that are ten, twenty or thirty years old.

Hot rods and hot rodders come up often enough in music, movies and books from the period, but it's taken for granted that the audience knows what it needs to know about it. I'd like to know more.

2017 August 07 • Monday

The 477th Soundtrack of the Week is this brilliant re-recording of several Jerry Goldsmith compositions for the television series Thriller.

Re-recordings of film music from conductor Nic Raine, the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and the Tadlow label are always intensely rewarding. With this program of relatively obscure early Goldsmith, they've done something really special.

While a complete and chronological collection of every piece of music, ideally from the original recording sessions, would still be very desirable, this CD of three tracks each for six different episodes (each including a suite of cues) is exhilarating, brilliantly produced and a very listenable album.

"The Grim Reaper" has some of the modernistic small-ensemble ideas that Goldsmith loved so much back in those days, as well as some Herrmannesque lyricism and use of space. There are some intriguing uses of instruments such as accordion and exceptionally strong violin playing.

"Hay-Fork and Bill Hook" allow for some pastoral themes and lovely melodies that are alternated or layered with stings and other suggestions of menace and suspense. Fiddle traditions as well as traditional European music seem to have been inspirations and the flute does a lot of work as a primary voice.

After that we go into the "Well of Doom". It opens with dark, low and loud instruments surging out of the speakers toward the listener. There's also some lovely ethereal harp and vibes playing but the looming and bellowing voices of the lower register brass instruments are never far away.

For "Mr. George" Goldsmith came up with a theme that has a childlike innocence to it. It sounds like it might be played on the glockenspiel and has a soothing beauty to it. This lovely theme is heard quite a bit but inevitably things take a disturbing turn...

The harpsichord gets a workout in "The Poisoner" as does the string section. Sometimes it sounds like the strings are blended with an electronic instrument as well. This is one of the most relentless dramatic of the scores here, very strong and solid.

The last episode featured is "Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper", which has a Weill-like theme in 3/4 and some spacious and extended playing from effective combinations of just a few instruments at a time. Percussion is used especially well here.

Finally there's a medley of all six of the "End Titles" from these episodes.

This is really a fantastic recording! We can only hope there are more like this to come!