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French New Wave: Jazz on Film Recordings 1957-1962

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Label: jazzonfilm.com

Year: 2013

Duration: 203 minutes

1 of 1 Miles Davis blasts in Jeanne Moreau's ear on the cover of French New Wave's selection of soundtracks from 1957 to 1962.
Miles Davis blasts in Jeanne Moreau's ear on the cover of French New Wave's selection of soundtracks from 1957 to 1962.

Here is a real delight, a handsome five-CD box set of seven film soundtracks from the years in question. Get close to the brooding dark complaint and aching romanticism  - as the liner notes have it - of Miles Davis’s score for the Louis Malle film, Lift to the Scaffold.

Miles' work for that film is well able to stand on its own, without the moving pictures (that this writer anyway has never been fortunate to see.) Yet Malle saw it otherwise, commenting that the film “suddenly took off” when the music was added. “It was counterpoint, not trying to emphasise or add emption that is implicit in the images and the rest of the soundtrack,” he declared. (That’s Miles on the cover of the box set, blowing his trumpet into the ear of the great Jeanne Moreau, who plays Florence in the film noir thriller.)

The extensive liner notes tell us that Miles - who had never written a film score - was reluctant at first to work with Malle, but was eventually persuaded to attend a private screening. Malle duly pointed to the scenes where he wanted Miles to play, and, clearly impressed, Miles finally agreed. The recording session lasted four hours, on December 4, 1957, but it is unclear how much of it was pre-conceived by the genius trumpeter. Malle insisted it was completely improvised, while in his autobiography Davis wrote that he had a piano in his hotel on which he sketched out ideas before the session.

Miles’ material for the Malle’s debut – the director was only 24 - isn’t so French-accented, and that was clearly not what Malle wanted anyway. Martial Solal’s busy score for Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless appears to draw more on local colour, as it takes us through the Parisian moods of this elusive masterpiece. But Solal employs trumpet and sax too on his gently swinging, bluesy sequences - the overarching influence of American jazz on the Parisian scene, as exemplified by the likes of Miles, is clear as you listen.

The more decorative, and floridly orchestral Michel Legrand - another genius, happilly still with us - is represented  by his soundtrack for Eva. John Lewis’s score for No Sun In Venice,  Art Blakey & The Messengers music for Les Liaisons Dangereuses and Des Femmes Disparaissent, along with Barney Wilson’s score for Un Témoin Dans La Ville complete this abosrbing collection.

Paddy Kehoe

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