Rob Price
Gutbrain Records
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2020 July 20 • Monday

Our 631st Soundtrack of the Week is a jazz score that should be better known: Kenyon Hopkins's music for The Yellow Canary.

I'd like to see the movie. In his "first tough-guy role" as "a sweet-singing, cigar-smoking, hard-drinking man on the run" in a "tense, tight story of murder, kidnapping, and redemption" is… Pat Boone!

Sure, why not? Was somebody so taken with Johnny Cash in Door to Door Maniac (a.k.a. Five Minutes To Live) that there was a run on this sort of thing?

But… it also stars Barbara Eden and Jack Klugman and has a screenplay by Rod Serling. So it might be worth a look. It's on YouTube but not in an especially good-looking presentation.

The music on the record, however, is incredible.

And what a band! You've got, among others, Lalo Schifrin on piano, Zoot Sims on tenor sax, Kenny Burrell on guitar, Ed Shaughnessy on drums and bassa duties split between George Duvivier and Milt Hinton.

The record begins with "The Whistling Canary", which starts gently but suspensefully with flute and hand percussion. No flute player is credited, so not sure whom to admire for the great playing, making use of overblowing to great effect.

The overblown flute continues in the driving and stomping menacing main title theme which also has great tenor sax playing from Zoot.

The flute plays a prominent role in the hauntingly lovely and tender "Lissa", which presumably suggests the melancholy and regret Boone's character feels for his falling apart marriage.

"Bake's Lament" is a wonderfully swinging and bluesy tune with an introductory bit that's a bit tense. Again Zoot Sims really shines.

Kenny Burrell is prominent for the first time in "The Spindrift" and, judging from the sultry feel of this 6/8 and very late-night drinks and dancing-type tune, I bet that that's the name of a night club or roadhouse. There's lots of tenor and flute but also a nice guitar solo.

Then there's the interesting and complex "Lonesome Canary", a thoughtful tune with more composition than improvisation.

Mr. Burrell adds a lot to "The Hanging", another terrifically groovy jazz tune that has some sharp explosions in it as well.

Side B starts off with "On the Roof" which has a "Night Train" sort of feel to it. Ed Shaughnessy's feel on the drums is kind of a secret weapon in this record and you're likely to be even more grateful for it on this tune. Kenny Burrell also gets some great moments in the spotlight.

"The Doll" is one of the more interesting and modern-sounding tracks on the record, mostly sort of lush large jazz combo sound but with occasional eruptions of sonic fright and ear-catching harmonic blends.

The mood is continued, but with an ascending harmonic line and a bluesier, swingier rhythmic foundation, in "The Menace". Burrell executes some rather tricky guitar octave manuevers as well.

The segue from this into "Santa Monica Blues" is pretty seamless and the shift down to a slightly more laidback feel is completely natural. You hear some more tasteful soloing from Kenny Burrell and Clark Terry on trumpet also commands attention here, as does Lalo Schifrin's piano playing.

An abrupt blast of horns kicks off "Deserted Canary", an up-tempo hard-bop sort of tune that screams "action". Again, kudos to the flute player, whoever it is.

The record comes to an end, all too quickly, with "The Yellow Canary Jukebox", a reprise of the main title theme that's maybe a bit more rocking, just really great.

This is a fantastic record but it's so short, there must be a lot of music in the film that isn't represented here. Knowing how things were done back in those days, there isn't much chance of getting a complete and chronological release of this score. But at least we have this superb album presentation.