June 2006 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Michael McLennan
Managing Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster: Len Mullenger

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Curb Your Enthusiasm: Music from the TV Series  
Featuring music licensed from works by Luciano Michelini, Alessandro Alessandroni, Ennio Morricone, Luis Bacalov, Piero Piccioni and others
Edited, sequenced and mastered by Rick Clark – Mellowdrama Studios
Produced by Rick Clark
  Available on Mellowdrama Records (MEL-110)
Running Time: 51:29
Amazon UK   Amazon US

See also:

  • Music for Jacques Tati films
  • I might betray my ignorance of the genre by saying this, but it seems to me that with the exception of The Simpsons, American TV comedy hasn’t really relied on the dramatic power of music for some time. I can only speak from having briefly sampled various sitcoms like Seinfeld, Everybody Loves Raymond, and the like, but insofar as these shows are concerned, the soundtrack is mostly divided between the dialogue and the canned applause from the ubiquitous crowd. What music there is stays well out the way until the wordplay is done. And it’s usually pretty basic stuff – the Seinfeld electric bass-theme unlikely to be any interest away from the show to even the most committed viewer.

    So it’s interesting to hear an album like this one from Mellowdrama Records, representing nearly an hour’s worth of the production music used by the makers of the Larry David mockumentary series, Curb Your Enthusiasm. I’ve not seen this show at all, but via this album, I’m impressed with the Larry David’s approach to music, one that extends beyond the simple short transition cues mostly employed in TV scoring:

    “The way it made me feel is that you can really act like an imbecile and this music is going to make it okay. You can act, something terrible will happen, something really dark and bleak and put this music on and everything is just going to be fine and the audience is not going to take it seriously no matter what happens.”

    It an interesting idea that informs most approaches to applying music to mockumentary. I’m reminded the gathered crowd of Bob Roberts fans singing their hero’s ballads outside the building where a journalist critical of the ‘singing politician’ has been assassinated in Tim Robbins’ Bob Roberts. Couple dire circumstances with music absurdly inappropriate for a scene, and great humour ensues.

    Short editing schedules meant that from a fairly early stage in the show’s five year run, no original music would feature on the show. One of the show’s editors doubled as music supervisor, keeping a ready supply of production music for the show’s needs that mostly drew on the little-heard work of music by European (mostly Italian) composers, including some very well known to the world of film. The main title of the show, Luciano Michelini’s ‘Frolic’ opens and closes the album, an attractive theme with the unlikely combination of tuba and mandolin. The ‘Bubba Dub Bossa’ features a cheerful chorus over a light bossa nova rhythm.

    Popular dance structures are recurring idea throughout the album – Pierro Umiliani’s ‘Tango Passionata’ coming in with tango rhythm and bandoneon solo; ‘Solo Dance’ a slow waltz that feels like a Mediterranean cousin of Herrmann’s ‘Theme and Variations’ montage from Citizen Kane; and Lasry’s ‘Moulin Rouge Waltz’ is a fast waltz with the expected accordion and guitar melodies. And there are some ideas that truly feel like they come from left field – Renato Rascel’s ‘Ein Swei March’ feels like the kind music Michael Moore would use in a documentary about Berlusconi’s Italy, an Aryan stomp with marching band flourishes and vaguely ridiculous male vocals yelling ‘Ein Swei’.

    It’s the pieces that summon the atmosphere of the spaghetti westerns that I find myself enjoying most on this album. My ears stood to attention with the Morricone-like trumpet challenge of Gianni Ferrio’s ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’, the comedic potential of this piece in a situation of conflict immediately apparent. Alessandroni’s ‘The Stranger’ features the famed whistler and a guitar figure reminiscent of the lead-in motif from ‘L’estacio del Auro’ in the Maestro’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. The Maestro himself is here of course, with ‘Suspicion’, a cue as quirky and catchy as anything he’s written. Another highlight for me was Bruno Nicolai’s ‘Slow on the Uptake’, with its sinuous string solos and light martial percussion rhythm.

    One interesting facet of this release is that, despite the show’s following, it seems to be something of a one-man show in terms of putting together an album. The back of the CD notes that the compilation was not approved or endorsed by anyone connected to the series, so presumably it was only due to the fact that the music was production music and could be licensed that it’s presented in one release here. As always, Mellowdrama’s production values are impressive. The liner notes by Peter Compton are up to the usual standard set by the recent exemplary releases by the company.

    I wish I could say it was infectious, but for me, the music needed a little more unity to sustain the length of the album. I was ready to retire about track 14 – any one of these themes on their own is great, but all at once in a row and I was a bit weary. All the same, it’s a memorable collection of all sorts of examples of music that simply make people laugh in combination with the right imagery. It’s the work of a fan, for other fans, and those who like the idea of this confluence of European styles will eat it up too. Accordingly they should add a star to my rating below. Probably the best way to see if it’s to your taste is to listen to soundclips, which are available for all tracks at soundtrack.net.

    NOTE: I’ve bought three spaghetti western albums in the week since I first heard this. Those susceptible to the lure of this type of music should be warned, and enjoy!

    Michael McLennan

    Rating: 3

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