25TH HOUR: SOUNDTRACK
Review by Brad Green:
When it comes to crime and punishment the most intriguing psychology lies with the perpetrator. Dostoevsky knew it, Spike Lee knows it and the newspapers that are splashing Rene Rivkin’s fate on the local front pages know it. A colorful, Sydney stockbroker heading from sell to cell for a spot of insider trading is hardly scandal for the annals, but it raises questions (apart from why not just make him buy AMP shares and really suffer?) about appropriate penalties. How do we categorise crime? Can we afford to be self-righteous when we can all relate to avarice? Where does the boundary fall between outrage and empathy?
This masterful Terry Blanchard score resonates with the fate of a protagonist bearing a heavier guilt -- though he doesn’t necessarily recognise it as such. A trader in more deadly merchandise than hot stocks, he feels remorse only for the career choices that find him heading for the slammer. Fortunately, Blanchard doesn’t fall into the trap of simply evoking the drugs and crime background milieu. Avoiding the dark alley of mere atmosphere creating, he approaches the psychological angle with vigour and finesse, and the result is so successful that the bar has already been set high for next year’s original soundtrack Oscar.
Blanchard first rose to prominence in the 1980s as a trumpeter with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. His subsequent film-scoring career has been largely centred around collaborations with Spike Lee, and Lee’s confrontational approach combined with Blanchard’s jazz sensibility have produced images, sounds and ideas that spark and fizz in the mind. Blanchard’s even more stunning achievement here is to blend the kinetic drive of his musical roots with traditional orchestral scoring. The amalgam is seamless in construction and absolutely dynamic in effect.
For a jazz ace, Blanchard demonstrates a rare aptitude for clear, accessible themes. He lays a strong foundation with a celtic, folk-flavoured motif -- much in the style of a Tori Amos hook -- and builds upon it with intricate figures. As the score develops, a faintly Middle Eastern edge sharpens the already intense poignancy. One cue begins with a catchy phrase, more or less from The Sound Of Music’s A Few Of My Favourite Things, and develops more or less into a belly dance (one of your reviewer’s favourite things).
While the orchestra sounds warm and bright, the jazz ensemble simply sparkles in both production and musicality. Again there is nothing overwrought or contrived in its arrival: Blanchard doesn’t show off his versatility, he uses all the elements at his disposal to create a rich and balanced composite. Of course his career experience shows in the sheer brilliance of the jazz passages, which bristle with chromatic and rhythmic energy and are highlighted by the extraordinary piano work of Edward Simon. For most of the score, save a few striking bars, Blanchard keeps his own trumpet tucked away. Then in the final cue he treats us to a series of stinging, bittersweet phrases, soaked in the emotional complexity that can only be educed by supreme jazz artistry.
As a whole, the score is a vividly emotive, introspective journey. It is a great challenge to become rich, powerful and superficially content in this world. It is an even bigger challenge to get there without kicking any number of fellow human beings in the shins along the way. People rip each other off, abuse trusts, peddle poisons, or at the very least, abnegate or ignore ethical responsibilities. This is a very special soundtrack inspired by universal themes. While I haven’t actually seen the film, an awareness that its premise is based around crime, punishment, guilt and regret is enough for me to know that the score will work as magnificently in context as it does as a piece of art in its own right. Let’s put it this way: there’s enough depth here to complement Dostoevsky.
Published June 12, 2003
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TITLE: 25th Hour
FMR /Hollywood Records
SCORE: Terry Blanchard