January 2003 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Gary S. Dalkin
Managing Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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EDITOR’s RECOMMENDATION January 2003

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Catch Me If You Can  
Music composed and conducted by John Williams
Saxophone by Dan Higgins
Vibraphone by Alan Estes
  Orchestrations by Steve Bernstein
Recorded and mixed by Shawn Murphy
  Available on Dreamworks (0044-50410-2)
  Running Time: 62:53
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catch me if you can

Features the songs Come Fly With Me (performed by Frank Sinatra), The Girl From Ipanema (Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto), Embraceable You (Judy Garland), The Christmas Song (Nat King Cole) and The Look of Love (Dusty Springfield).

Catch Me If You Can, John Williams latest collaboration with Steven Spielberg may be a world away from their most recent SF pictures, AI and Minority Report, but the sound of the score is still very much an expansion of Williams-Spielberg musical traditions. The film is a based-on-fact 1960's set drama about a charming young conman, played by Leonardo DiCaprio and his nemesis, essayed by Tom Hanks. Such projects often rely on pop music of the time to set the scene, and while there are five songs included on the disc - the sequencing recalls the mix of score and songs/source cues on Williams' JFK soundtrack album - more than one was already a nostalgic memory in the 1960's. While Burt Bacharach's 'The Look of Love', which originally came from the spoof Bond movie Casino Royale (1967), is contemporary to the subject, the sounds of Nat King Cole, Judy Garland and Frank Sinatra evoke a slightly earlier age of jazz balladry.

Williams' score though is not exactly what one might expect; the 1960's was the decade in which Williams began his rise to prominence as a film composer, often being associated with light and jazzily playful scores for frothy comedy capers. Given the pre-publicity for Catch Me If You Can one might imagine Williams having fun returning to and re-exploring these roots. However, trailers and publicity aside, early reviews indicate the film is rather more serious that the publicity departments would have us believe. Though this is an album where the light-weight MOR songs do not sound out of place with the score, Williams music is itself a more serious meeting of 1950's cool jazz influences and the modern minimal style he first utilised on AI. Indeed, much of the music for Catch Me If You Can sounds as if it might have come from a cooler, jazzier, lighter re-imagining of AI.

Cycling, pizzicato melodic riffs and delicate stardust glitter decorate many cues, from 'The Airport Scene' to 'Learning the Ropes', with pulsating patterns and elegant string writing throughout which undeniably suggests nothing so much as variations on AI. For those who loved that score and are happy to have more which is often very similar, this disc will be well appreciated. 'The "Float"' is simply superb, a vibrant opening with surging dynamics recalling both Close Encounters of the Third Kind and AI. Then the jazz sax of Dan Higgins cuts in, taking the cue in an entirely different and extremely effective direction. In the jazz parts of the score the melodies are striking, the arrangements sophisticated and impeccably crafted, and the solo musicianship outstanding. The piano in 'The "Float"' calls to mind the dazzle of Williams Hook.

Dan Higgins returns on 'Recollections (The Father's Theme)', a set-piece expanded for the album from a theme from the score, and it proves an eloquently introspective gem, mournful, lyrically questioning and with a darkly romantic quality which briefly recalls the tender side of The Fury and is by itself virtually worth the price of the album.

Williams' fans may find Catch Me If You Can more of the same, but different, while those who only want the composer to deliver rousing blood and thunder will inevitably be disappointed. However, on the evidence of the approximately 40 minutes of beautifully crafted music here John Williams is still on peak form. Following Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, Minority Report and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets the end of 2002 finds Williams still unable to put a foot wrong.

Gary Dalkin

***** 5

Ian Lace adds:-

Amazing to think that Catch Me If You Can is the 20th John Williams/Stephen Spielberg collaboration. It breaks new ground in that it is a progressive jazz-based score for a scam story based in the 1950s/60s. Once again, as in so many of Williams’s latter scores, a solo instrument features prominently. This time a saxophone (soloist: Dan Higgins) underlines the cat-and-mouse chase between the FBI agent, Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks) and the ace con-artist and forger Frank Abagnale Jnr. (Leonardo Di Caprio). The album’s notes emphasise that contrary to what might be expected, Williams has written every note of the saxophone part – there is no improvisation.

The teasing opening title track strongly features Higgins’s saxophone with vibraphone colourings and snappy clapping (redolent of the period) in short, repetitive cells. Scurrying upper strings stress urgency while lower stings conspire to add a hint of the nefarious. A little later, the orchestra’s saxophone and brass section add more jibes with a slinky, provocative melody. ‘The "Float"’ has music that recalls ‘child’s pranks’ episodes from E.T. and Close Encounters…, then another short cell figure, related to those of the opening track, establishes itself and develops insolently, making a high-spirited crescendo that includes more agile solo work by Higgins and some equally dextrous piano material.

The notes label ‘Recollections (The Father’s Theme)’ as a five minute concert piece It will be interesting to see if it develops as such. Certainly it has some fine expressive bitter-sweet writing for the saxophonist and the orchestra. It also reintroduces one of John Williams’s haunting themes from The Accidental Tourist - a lovely film with a beautiful score.

‘The Airport Scene’ is another busy piece with an tense ostinato suggesting a clock countdown. The orchestration is rich with interesting effects for the vibraphone, celeste, harp and colourful high percussion. ‘Learning the Ropes’ begins quietly, suggesting a cosy American heartland, before the short scam motifs intrude and entwine themselves into the texture. The overall mood is of quiet industriousness and there are lyrical moments hinting at tenderness between father and son. Indeed, ‘Father and Son’ carries this mood of nostalgia and tenderness forward; and, again, there is that reference to The Accidental Tourist, even more clearly stated now; yet there is also a jarring hint of disillusion.

‘The Flash Comics’ Clue’ returns to the scam motifs with the saxophone strutting above a solo cello line, and solo piano and vibraphone adding extra colour to the short cell motifs. ‘Deadheading’ muses quietly before a more sinister touch is introduced on bass strings vying with twinkling percussive material. ‘A Broken Home’ is, as the cue name might suggest, bittersweet with the saxophone now in mournful mood before sadly musing piano and oboe solos, with a pizzicato lower string ostinato suggesting the inexorable passage of time. ‘Doctor, Lawyer, Lutheran’ returns to those caper themes again with more amusingly provocative variations with prominent employment of celeste, vibraphone and xylophone. The final ‘Catch Me if You Can’ Reprise and End Credits adds just that bit more cheek and sparkle.

Taken with his music for A.I. Artificial Intelligence, this is John Williams’s most interesting and attractive scores for some time. Its short, jazzy motifs persist in this reviewer’s mind.

Ian Lace

****(*)

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