Monday, October 24, 2016

The Leopard Son (1996), by Stewart Copeland

CD Retro Fan Review

Although Police founder and drummer Stewart Copeland played all the instruments himself on his 1980s albums and soundtracks, he began to open up his sound quite a bit in the 1990s by bringing other musicians into the mix. Such is the case with his beautiful and majestic score to the popular nature documentary, The Leopard Son.

For this session, Copeland enlists his Animal Logic bandmate Stanley Clarke on acoustic bass, Michael Thompson on guitars, and Judd Miller on ethnic wind instruments, allowing the composer to focus on piano, drums, and percussion.

Copeland also ditches the synthesizers for real strings and horns courtesy of The Los Angeles Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Michael T. Andreas.

The immense talents of Stewart Copeland and his players result in an eclectic convergence of pop, rock, jazz, and classical music that, combined with the roars of big cats as well as a bit of classic Police-style reggae, conveys both the sweet intimacy and the fierce ferocity of life in the African wilderness.

--Raj Manoharan

Monday, October 17, 2016

The Equalizer & Other Cliffhangers (1988), by Stewart Copeland

CD Retro Fan Review

While his motion picture composing career was taking off, Police founder and drummer Stewart Copeland got to prove his chops further in homes across America with his hard-hitting, pulse-pounding score to the hit 1980s television series, The Equalizer.

Performed entirely by Copeland on guitar, bass, keyboards, synthesizers, drums, and percussion, the soundtrack is dark, ominous, and propulsive, making it a perfect accompaniment to scenes of hired avenger Robert McCall (Edward Woodward) delivering brutal beat-downs to New York City’s criminal element.

The music is somewhat similar to Jan Hammer’s groundbreaking score to the Miami Vice TV series, and the title theme and several other tunes here could have worked easily on that show. Copeland’s unique composing style is also kind of a cross between Hammer and Danny Elfman (Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, Batman, The Simpsons). Perhaps this is due to the fact that Copeland, Hammer, and Elfman have backgrounds in pop, rock, and jazz fusion rather than classical music.

Of course, given Copeland’s primary instrumental vocation, the music is understandably much heavier on the drums and the percussion, and enjoyably so.

Highlights include “Screaming Lord Cole and the Commanches,” “The Equalizer Busy Equalizing,” and “Archie David in Overtime.”

This album is definitely a must-have for fans of The Equalizer and Stewart Copeland, as well as anyone who is interested in an alternative and highly stylized musical approach to 1980s prime-time television.

--Raj Manoharan

The Rhythmatist (1985), by Stewart Copeland

CD Retro Fan Review

I can listen to “Africa” by Toto and Graceland by Paul Simon without thinking of Africa. When I listen to The Rhythmatist by Police founder and drummer Stewart Copeland, I can’t help but think of nothing but Africa.

After beginning his prolific motion picture and television composing career with Rumble Fish, Copeland (The Equalizer, Wall Street, Rapa Nui) really hit it out of the park with The Rhythmatist, his score to the docudrama of the same name.

For this unique project, Copeland recorded the traditional chants and rallying cries of various indigenous tribes, as well as the noises of birds, bees, and numerous other beasts roaming the “dark” continent.

Over these native sounds, Copeland lays down guitars, bass, keyboards, and synthesizers (all played by himself), and especially his signature drums, percussion, and hi-hat.

The result is a colorful blend of exotic pop/rock instrumentals and songs featuring African lyrics and vocals by Ray Lema, plus symphonic, cinematic themes that convey the epic grandness of the vast African landscape. Copeland also talks and kind of sings on “Serengeti Long Walk” and the Copeland-Lema duet “African Dream,” giving both tracks the feel of cheeky but highly informative and immersive audio travelogues.

Obviously due to my interest in The Police, this was my first real introduction to world music, and what Stewart Copeland accomplished here remains as potent and impactful an intercultural force as when I heard it initially upon its release way back in 1985.

--Raj Manoharan

Thursday, October 13, 2016

30th Anniversary of Andy Summers’ Down and Out in Beverly Hills Soundtrack

CD Retro Fan Review

In between his experimental collaborations with fellow guitarist Robert Fripp and the launch of his own solo recording career, Police guitarist Andy Summers had gone Hollywood by contributing to and scoring a few motion picture soundtracks, the most notable of them being Down and Out in Beverly Hills.

The first half of the album features famous pop/rock songs by artists such as David Lee Roth, Little Richard, and Randy Newman.

The rest of the tracks comprise the original score composed and performed by Summers and consisting primarily of guitars and synthesizers.

The music is vintage mid-1980s Summers and actually serves as a sonic bridge from his work with Fripp to his first instrumental solo album, 1988’s Mysterious Barricades. One of the tunes is even a retread of one of his Fripp duets, but without Fripp.

The real stunner here, though, is the main theme, which is reprised throughout in different ways. The jazzy, swinging title track features a laidback, mellow acoustic guitar melody over lush acoustic guitar chords, accentuated by keyboards, brushes, and saxophone. It sets the mood for the film’s whimsical comic pathos and also serves as a preview of Summers’ later solo work.

Regardless of whether or not you have seen and like the movie, if you’re a true-blue fan of Andy Summers’ guitar work, this is basically the unofficial start and an essential component of his solo discography.

--Raj Manoharan

The Return of Sting

After years of fiddling around with the lute, bringing the plight of shipbuilders from his native English town of Newcastle to Broadway, and reforming a little side project called The Police for a low-key, two-year world reunion tour, Gordon Matthew Sumner (aka Sting) returns to the pop/rock scene with 57th and 9th, his first proper album in the genre in well over a decade.

Slated for release on November 11, the record has the 64-year-old singer/bassist accompanied by his longtime bandmates, guitarist Dominic Miller and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta (Colaiuta also played drums on one of Police guitarist Andy Summers’ solo albums). Guests include guitarist Lyle Workman, San Antonio-based Tex Mex band The Last Bandoleros, and bassist Josh Freese.

The album title and cover photo seem to suggest that the recording was made in New York City, at least partially. Or maybe it was rehearsed there. Sting might even make a concert appearance or few in the Big Apple to promote and support the new material.

The timing couldn’t be more perfect. If you’re a Sting fan, the album could be either a victory celebration or a consolation prize depending on whether your guy or gal wins or loses a few days earlier.

--Raj Manoharan

Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Force Awakens on Starz

Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, the best Star Wars movie since the original original trilogy, makes its television debut at 9 p.m. this Saturday, September 10, 2016, on all Starz channels.

Whoever said you can’t go home again needs to talk to Harrison Ford’s Han Solo. As the grizzled veteran space pilot, smuggler, and gunslinger says in the film:

Chewie, we’re home.”

May the Force awaken in you this weekend.

--Raj Manoharan

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Happy 50th Anniversary, Star Trek!

Fifty years ago on September 8, 1966, the Federation Starship U.S.S. Enterprise (Starfleet designation NCC-1701) set out on a five-year mission that initially lasted only three years but ultimately went on to encompass an animated television series, 13 motion pictures, five more television series, and countless fan conventions, games, toys, books, and all manner of merchandising.

The Decades channel celebrates the momentous occasion with an all-day marathon on September 8 of Star Trek specials from previous anniversaries and milestone events.

And Me TV presents the original series' first broadcast episode, “The Man Trap,” in the show's usual 9 p.m. timeslot this Saturday, followed by a special Svengoolie screening of the first Star Trek pilot, “The Cage,” in which the only familiar faces are Leonard Nimoy as Spock and Majel Barrett (Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry's future wife and Nurse/Doctor Christine Chapel in the original series and movies) as the Enterprise's female executive officer, Number One. And on the same night Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens makes its television debut on all Starz channels!

I have been a Trekker, Trekkie, and all manner of nomenclature associated with dedicated devotees of Star Trek for 36 years, and I shall happily continue to be.

Not only have I had the pleasure of being a fan of the franchise for all those years, but I have also had the honor and privilege of professionally interviewing several of its prominent representatives – original series stars William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy and their Star Trek VI costar Kim Catrall, and Next Generation-ers Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton, and John de Lancie. I also had the good fortune to meet Shatner, James Doohan, and Walter Koenig in person. (And I saw Gates McFadden and Alexander Siddig – Siddig El Fadil at the time – at a special Star Trek exhibition at the Hayden Planetarium in New York City.)

May Star Trek continue to live long and prosper (as it currently does with the original series on Me TV, Star Trek: The Next Generation on BBC America, theatrical feature films, and the forthcoming CBS television series, Star Trek: Discovery).

--Raj Manoharan