UNKNOWN SOLDIER – Peter Calandra

Original Review by Alan Rogers

I’ve always thought that jazz-based scores have such a distinctive voice that they can potentially put off a significant proportion of the potential market and so the release of Calandra’s jazz-influenced score makes for an interesting though surprising choice for Mikael Carlsson’s MovieScore Media label’s debut release. But, having now had the chance to see this label’s subsequent releases, it’s clear that the release of the music to Ferenc Toth’s Unknown Soldier was an early indication of Mikael’s forward-looking – and by today’s standards almost unconventional – commitment to releasing interesting and quality scores from a range of composers (and movies).

Calandra’s score shines brightest when the jazz ensemble he uses (saxophone, trumpet, drums & percussion, acoustic bass and piano/keyboards) gets together and just “lets fly”. The opening cue, “Opening Party”, is a great example of this enthusiastic ensemble playing. Using a toe-tapping rhythmic bass line, catchy percussion and groovy piano and saxophone, there’s a definite air of optimism that permeates from the music to the listener. These positive vibes are carried through the first three cues, reaching a climax in “Teen Hijinks” where we hear one of the main themes being fully realised on piano (using a style that’s curiously reminiscent of Vince Guaraldi’s music for the animated series, Charlie Brown). Up to this point, Calandra’s music is suggestive of a life full of brightness and optimism for Ellison (the main character of the movie), but this feeling soon takes a knock. From the fourth track “Fire Escapes Meeting”, there’s the introduction of a more pensive, almost sad feel to the music using some effective dramatic underscoring that is highlighted by sparse piano chords and the anguished voice of solo saxophone in “Ellison’s Pain”.

The score does lose some its dramatic punch in the middle when some obviously synth strings are introduced (e.g., “Searching” & “Ellison’s Choice”): things now sound too much like the “filler music” to be heard in numerous game scores. But things are brought back on-track in “End Credits”, with a reprise of the optimism heard at the beginning of the score. The short playing time of the score itself is augmented by the inclusion on the CD by the inclusion of around eight minutes of “solo piano bonus tracks”. Although these are not part of the score itself they do not seem out-of-place coming after “End Credits”, which is itself a piece for solo piano played by the composer himself. Calandra, a proficient keyboards player in his own right (he played piano in Broadway productions of Miss Saigon, Les Miserables and Phantom of The Opera) has scored several movies, most recently Jellysmoke (released on the MovieScore Media label in 2008) where he again composed a jazz-influenced, piano-led score. But it is for the small screen that he has been most prolific, apparently scoring more than 800 T.V. compositions including music for shows such as The Sports List and sports channel ESPN’s Dream Jobs. On the basis of his score for Unknown Soldier and the increased exposure his music will receive from being Moviescore Media’s debut release, it’s only a matter of time before his music reaches a wider audience.

Rating: ***

Track Listing:

  1. Opening Party (2:37)
  2. City Biking (1:22)
  3. Teen Hijinks (3:01)
  4. Fire Escape Meeting (0:55)
  5. Ellison’s Pain (3:08)
  6. Searching (2:11)
  7. Can’t Sleep Here (1:11)
  8. Ellison’s Choice (2:27)
  9. The Escape (5:12)
  10. End Credits (3:24)
  11. Solemates (Bonus Track) (2:00)
  12. Time Returns Once (Bonus Track) (2:45)
  13. In The End (Bonus Track) (3:16)

Running Time: 33:29

MovieScore Media (2005)

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