Several new collections of movie themes are on the record shelves, including a pair of sequels to last year's fabulous "Body Heat" album by the Jazz at the Movies Band.
It isn't surprising to find so many duplications on these collections - especially when "The Piano" keeps cropping up.What is surprising, however, is to find that the arrangements are so varied.
"White Heat: Film Noir" and "A Man and a Woman, Sax at the Movies" affirm that Discovery Records' Jazz at the Movies Band is the hottest movie-instrumental group going. And both albums feature sexy saxophones, big and small covers and a mix of tunes you'll remember and those that are more obscure but no less enjoyable.
"White Heat" is the best of the two, with special kudos for "This Gun for Hire" and "The Bad and the Beautiful," which prove that it doesn't have to be new to sizzle. In fact, the album is loaded with golden oldies - "Touch of Evil," "The Postman Always Rings Twice," "The Big Sleep" and, of course, "Laura," among them. You may not be able to hum these themes now, but give this recording a few spins and you will.
"A Man and a Woman" is more contemporary, with the slow and seductive "Prince of Tides," a male vocal for "The Rose" (Geoff Stephens, doing a nice twist on the Bette Midler hit), a huge and heartfelt version of "Cinema Paradiso" and, of course, "Somewhere in Time." The tango from "Scent of a Woman" is a nice surprise and there are also unexpected pleasures in "The Crying Game" and "I Will Always Love You" from "The Bodyguard" (if you aren't sick of it).
Michael Chertock's "Cinematic Piano" is, as the title suggests, loaded with piano renditions of themes from "Howards End," "Love Story" and, of course, "The Piano."
But Chertock is at his best with "Schindler's List," "On Golden Pond" and "The Firm," which seem tailor-made to his talents. I also liked his version of "Somewhere in Time" and the slow, pretty cover of "As Time Goes By" from "Casablanca."
The jazzy orchestrations for the Michael Garson Ensemble's "ScreenThemes '93" highlight "Schindler's List," "Jurassic Park" and a rendition of "The Fugitive" that makes it sound more like "The Firm." Best are "The Pelican Brief," "The Piano," the gentle piano version of "Mrs. Doubtfire" and "An Affair to Remember" (credited to "Sleepless in Seattle"!).
Though they are not unpleasant, the "Shadowlands" and "Indecent Proposal" selections are a bit overwrought.
And if Michael Nyman's superlative soundtrack album for "The Piano" isn't enough for you, check out Nyman's restructuring of the music for "The Piano Concerto."
This is an ambitious attempt to reshape the score into a "reconsideration," as Nyman calls it, for piano and small orchestra. The result is not as varied as the soundtrack album - and in places, especially track 6 (titled "3rd Region"), it sounds a bit too much like Philip Glass.
But Kathryn Stott, who plays piano solos in the early tracks, is genuine and complex, and the first half of this album is grand listening. The second is also good, though it gets a bit self-indulgent in places.
Still, this is gorgeous music, and Nyman's "reconsideration" deserves consideration.
Finally, there's Gary LeMel's "Romancing the Screen," a decidedly hit-and-miss affair. You have to enjoy LeMel's throaty, sometimes whispery delivery, first of all - and that is decidedly an acquired taste. Especially when he's being overly sincere, fronting lush orchestral arrangements.
He's better when the effect is like a piano-bar, as on "Once Upon a Time." But these standards, which include "I'm Old Fashioned," "Nice to Be Around," "When I Fall in Love" - and even "Alfie," believe it or not - require a light touch.
Here, the effect is like too much sugar in a rich dessert. Initially you think you like it, but enough is enough.
"White Heat: Film Noir" (Discovery 77008). * * * *
"A Man and a Woman" (Discovery 77006). * * * 1/2
"Cinematic Piano" (Telarc 80357). * * * 1/2
"ScreenThemes" (Discovery 77009). * * *
"The Piano Concerto" (Argo 443 382-2). * * * 1/2
"Romancing The Screen" (Blue Note Contemporary CDP 7243 8 29479 29). * *
RATINGS: four stars (* * * * ), excellent; three stars (* * * ), good; two stars (* * ), fair; one star (* ), poor, with 1/2 representing a higher, intermediate grade.