The Oscar and Grammywinning composer James Horner (who, unusually, has a PhD in Music Composition and Theory) has worked with several Hollywood A-list directors, including James Cameron (Titanic, Aliens), Ron Howard (Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind), and Wolfgang Petersen (A Perfect Storm, Troy). He’s also made a career out of memorable romantic themes (unfortunately, one became Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On). Recently, however, Horner has begun to take a less orthodox and more promiscuous approach to his scores, particularly to Chumscrubber and The Forgotten, and to a lesser extent to Flightplan and The New World.
For Mel Gibson’s bloodsoaked adventure Apocalypto, Horner (who also scored Gibson’s The Man Without a Face and Braveheart) has crafted a lean and dynamic score to evoke the last days of the Mayan civilization. Featuring vocal solos by the Qawwali singer Rahat Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Terry Edwards, Horner’s unconventional score combines South American pan pipes and Japanese shakuhachi, electronic strings and brass, ethnic percussion and found sounds with short melodic lines (mostly heard on the flutes) and driving poly-rhythms.
Opening and closing with the brooding and poignant From the Forest, Apocalypto describes a musical journey that is equal parts dramatic and lyrical, thrilling and solemn. It proves to be one of Horner’s most engaging and surprising scores. www.apocalypto.com DAN WILLIS Velvet Gentlemen OmniTone ★★★★ Willis, multi-reedman and composer/arranger, leads a septet including trumpet/flugelhorn, guitar, bass, electric bass and keyboards/accordion, with John Hollenbeck on drums, in a programme of his pieces inspired by Erik Satie and quantum physics theory. What emerges is, for the most part, fresh and, despite a mix of jazz, rock and clever use of serialism and sound loops, surprisingly unified and homogenous. Willis, who plays 11 wind instruments here, is a fine soloist with a highly developed sense of line to go with his judgement as an arranger; doubling and looping also allow him to create deeply textured ensembles for his very capable soloists, Chuck McKinnon (trumpet), Pete McCann (guitar) and Ron Oswanski (keyboards/ accordion). At its best the music is fascinating, particularly Many Worlds Theory, Place of Enlightenment, Door to Yesterday and, above all, Closed Loops in Time. www.omnitone.com JOE ZAWINUL Brown Street Birdjam/Intuition ★★★ Composer/keyboardist Zawinul revisits the music of his Weather Report days with Cologne’s WDR big band on a superbly recorded live date at his club in Vienna. The arrangements, save for Zawinul’s riff-based chart for Procession, are Vince Mendoza’s, and it’s clear he gave the leader very much what he wanted. Some were further “tweaked” by Zawinul in rehearsal, so the results reflect his vision, with elements of fusion, rock and world music. The WDR is astonishing; crisp, relaxed and powerful, it grooves euphorically at times, notably on Brown Street and Black Market on the first CD, and Night Passage and Carnavalito on the second. Soloists, some imported, are hugely capable, especially Karolina Strassmayer and Heiner Wibery (soprano/alto), and John Marshall and Kenny Rampton (trumpet/flugelhorn). One for the fans. www.musicconnection.org.uk