CD: TV Omnibus: Volume One (1962-1976) – 5-CD set

November 18, 2010 | By

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Rating: Excellent

Label: Film Score Monthly / Released: August 25, 2010

Tracks & Album Length:   Disc 1: 35 tracks / (78:00) + Disc 2: 31 tracks / (76:24) + Disc 3: 33 tracks / (78:00) + Disc 4 39 tracks / (79:50) + Disc 5: 25 tracks / (75:41)


Special Notes: 32-page colour booklet with liner notes and full track lists / Limited to 2000 copies


Composer:  various




Film Score Monthly’s mining of the MGM TV vaults yielded a lot of music by an exceptional group of composers that’s been languishing for decades.

Most of the music in this stellar set covers themes and suites from TV movies, short-lived TV series, and unsuccessful pilots, but the real surprise is the selection of jazz music that’s never been heard in its complete form, right down to some amazing source cues.


Disc 1

Disc 1 starts with a schmaltzy vocal single from Dr. Kildare (1961-1966), sung by star Richard Chamberlain. Credited to Jerry Goldsmith, Pete Rugolo, and Hal Winn, it’s a sweet melody that Chamberlain almost manages to pull off, except when the closing bars are supposed to be kind of impassioned. His voice struggles a bit at that stage, but it’s an amusing snapshot of the actor’s fleeting dual career as an actor/singer. (Others may well recall the original Twilight of Honor LP, where Dick crooned two songs, taking valuable space away from Johnny Green’s excellent score.)

Next is the “End Credits” for the second season of The Eleventh Hour (1962-1964) by Henry Sukman, and a lovely suite of cues from “The Bronze Locust” episode, composed by Johnny (John) Williams.

Most of his cues are brief, and the suite is based around Williams’ gentle, woodwind-heavy theme. What’s striking is how Williams’ knack for moody brass was already evident during the early sixties, as several cues show off his gift for gliding notes, clean orchestrations, and atmospheric brass that would be pushed to the forefront in scores like The Poseidon Adventure (1972). The suite also includes a lovely solo piano rendition of the love theme.

Leonard Rosenman’s The Phantom of Hollywood (1974) features the same chromatic, orchestral punches that characterized his music for the original The Twilight Zone series, and his modernistic film scores (Fantastic Voyage). This lengthy suite features eerie music that’s performed by a surprisingly large orchestra, and while repetitive near the last third, it’s very evocative of a chaotic landscape, mimicking the creepy sense of tunnels and caverns few would dare enter.

Rosenman makes extensive use of percussion and brass thrusts, usually in three successive beats, and the suite concludes with a brief, wry harmonically soothing finale featuring alto sax.

The real gem on Disc 1 is Don Ellis’ score for the grim TV movie, The Deadly Tower (1975), where Kurt Russell took the role of a homicidal sniper to prove he could act serious as well as make a clean break from his bright and shiny image as a teen Disney star.

Ellis was in the middle of his film scoring career, having written the dissonant, screechy, and somewhat abstract music for The French Connection (1971), and a big orchestral jazz score for the sequel, The French Connection II (1975).

Deadly is dissonant but subdued, written in a kind of minimalism that suited the drama because so little was known about the killer, and why he snapped and murdered his family and innocents from a school tower.

Ellis’ approach was to write a theme that’s sort of backwards: instead of beginning with three uneasy notes and holding on a resolved chord, he inverts the two, starting off with an accessible aural hook, and setting up the mini-theme from which he spins a short snare motif, chimes, distant synth chords, and tonal variants that understate the film’s violence, and infers complex psychological issues within a killer neither the filmmakers nor Russell explain. The result is a small, disturbing little score that makes use of a chamber orchestra, synth, and piano.

Disc 1’s mood is decidedly switched to a more hip state by George Romanis’ smooth jazz version of his Assignment: Munich theme from the 1972 TV movie, performed by a small jazz combo. It’s short, but there’s some great tenor sax improv, and the music is more about a being in a suave state of mind instead of evoking a particular action or character.

Romanis’ theme also sets up the suites and themes for the follow-up series, Assignment: Vienna (1972-1973) on Discs 2 and 3, of which the bulk are composed by jazz pianist Dave Grusin.

Disc 2

Grusin’s music for each episode includes his “Jake’s Theme,” a light and wistful piece that reflects an earnest, good-souled character who knows how to enjoy the small pleasures of life, but is capable of doing some serious work now and then in the name of national interests if called upon.

All 3 of Grusin’s jazz combo / theme variations on Disc 2 run decent lengths, allowing for good bits of improv, and the suites (averaging 20 mins. apiece) present Grusin in a funky jazz phase. Most of the cues incorporate the cimbalom for a bit of old world, Viennese flavour, but there’s also sax, keyboards, and funky rhythms reminiscent of his Three Days of the Condor (1975).

What’s so pleasing is that while Jake’s Theme does recur in most cues, Grusin’s writing is frequently meant to add punch to suspense scenes, action montages, establishing shots, and plans in motion, so there’s a bit more variation in his suites than expected. However, most of the compositions were slaves to cliffhanger finales before the obligatory ad breaks, so the endings usually finish with the same musical question marks where brass and percussion leave us on unresolved chords.

Disc 3

Disc 3 carries over two more source cues, the slow and easy “Déjà vu” and the peppy “Montreal Express Blues,” with sax and piano riffing off another reminiscent of Grusin’s underratedFabulous Baker Boys (1989).

The Assignment: Vienna showcase closes with a suite of John Parker’s music from the episodes “There Was an Old Woman” and “So Long, Charley.” Parker’s approach, using Grusin’s theme from the beginning, is stylistically consistent with the prior suites, except the instrumentation (unsurprisingly) is less reliant on piano. Theme statements come from keyboards and trumpet, and he integrates the cimbalom throughout the first suite. There’s also a greater fusion of pop-jazz, plus a refreshing switch to more brass. The second suite is fairly similar, with some striking rock-funk writing among the generally short cues.

The last selection of material on the disc comes from the TV productions Shirts/Skins, featuring Jerry Fielding’s music from the 1973 TV movie and 1974 series pilot that failed to kick start a new series for ABC.

Both suites make use of “Sweet Georgia Brown,” the whistling tune made famous as the Harlem Globetrotters. Fielding’s writing is light, fairly melodic, and contains a few contemporary pop jazz song variations, as well as dramatic score with a modest orchestra, the occasional use of a Moog synthesizer, and an up-tempo variation of the off-kilter march frequently heard in his dramatic scores.

Fielding scored his own share of comedy films and light TV series during the sixties and seventies, and while the music isn’t particularly striking, it offers a contrast to a period when he was actively scoring dark and bloody material such as The Mechanic (1972) and Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974).

Disc 4

Then Came Bronson (1969-1970) was network TV’s attempt to create their own variation on the Easy Rider (1969) concept of a man riding across the States on his bike, encountering diverse people and adventures. George Duning’s title theme, all warm and fuzzy, feels oddly middle-aged, and must have been a tough sell for the youth market accustomed to biker films with rock music, if not Les Baxter (Hell’s Belles) or Stu Phillips’ (Run, Angel Run!) rock-styled underscore. (That is, a tough sell assuming youths were watching the series.)

Duning’s approach is highly melodic, tinged with a pop rhythm and lush string arrangements. The suite features music from the pilot, scored for orchestra, and is quite reminiscent of the composer’s romantic feature films, such as the strained harmonics used to underscore the troubled romance in the composer’s classic Picnic (1955).

FSM’s suite features a tender collection of themes, and there are two vocal versions of “Wayfaring Stranger,” sung by series star Michael Parks and Bonnie Bedelia (who carries the melody quite well with her sweet voice).

As a contrast, there’s the music by Gil Melle (The Andromeda StrainThe Organization) for the series episodes “The Circle of Time” and “The Forest Primeval.” Melle’s take on Duning’s theme is to largely drop any rich string arrangements, and convey lightness through woodwinds, particularly flutes.

Melle’s jazz background manifests itself through the brass and woodwind writing, combining lovely introspective solos with smooth small orchestra accompaniment. A few cues also contain short thematic quotes on acoustic guitar and harmonica; and a bluesy rock variation with harmonica, drums, and electric bass. None of Melle’s cues repeat the theme verbatim, so there’s a good balance of moods in each of the 18-19 mins. suites.

“Forest Primeval” is the best of the two because it contains a blend of thematic material, modern dissonance from strings, and great (and lengthy) theme rendition on keyboards reflective of Melle’s jazz fusion writing with flowing keyboard improv. A thick bass line, evoking The Doors’ “Riders on the Storm,” really contemporizes the cue, which is more reflective of the lead character’s rebel status than Duning’s take. (A few variations near the end of the suite were orchestrated for small jazz combo, with clarinet, muted trumpet, and double bass.) Melle’s other gems pair flute and xylophones, cello and woodwinds, and warm bass and keyboards that flow across the stereo image.

Disc 5

On Disc 5, Lalo Schifrin’s theme for Gene Roddenberry’s unsold sci-fi pilot Earth II (1971) is hardly futuristic, and while performed by a jazz orchestra with light touches of synthetic harpsichord, it certainly makes a clear-cut statement of early seventies optimism for a world filled with peace, love, and mutual respect.

Happily, besides the opening and closing title music, everything in between presents Schifrin in a modernist state of mind. Though not an extrapolation of his urban jazz crime scores, there are similar uses of dissonance, eerie sustained chords, and constant shifts between melodic fragments and harsh sonics. In one cue, Schifrin creates a pulsing motif with chilling strings that eventually overtake a series of familiar brass figures.

Schifrin also plays with sustained tones, metallic imagery from grungy synth chords, and musical colours that convey the airy lightness that exists above ground, and the gloomy darkness in the underground city. One can regard the score as an unofficial companion piece to THX 1138, which Schifrin scored that same year.

The CD closes with a gem by Billy Goldenberg: the TV movie High Risk (1976). Working with a modest orchestra, Goldenberg composed a compact tonal theme upon which he weaves a great series of suspenseful little cues. One rendition pairs harp and synth, whereas another is the basis for a soft piece of jazz Muzak.

Running a meaty 29 mins., Goldenberg’s score feels like a Twilight Zone episode, and his suite is less affected by the need to score around ad breaks. Goldenberg also made use of popular weird sounds – some electronic – and Schifrin’s own favourite glass harp, with its wonderful squealing tones. A more stripped down theme variation uses harp, and a coarse, meandering low note that creates a sense of being pulled downward.

High Risk illustrates the kind of inventive writing and beautiful orchestrations the composer was known for during the seventies. Pity his music for Columbo (namely the pilot episode “Ransom for a Dead Man,” which did get a promo LP release) and the arresting Duel for fledgling director Steven Spielberg (1971) have yet to appear on CD.

Yes, the end

Some tracks among FSM’s 5-CD set were formed from shorter cues edited together, but none of the represented suites are monotonous. The sound quality is strikingly crisp, and the original stereo engineering is often closed miked, maximizing the strong performances by great session musicians. The booklet includes brief synopsis of the series and the composers.

The first of FSM’s TV Omnibus is just too good to remain at Volume 1. More must follow!




© 2010 Mark R. Hasan


Related links:

CD:  Hell’s Belles (1969)  The Organization (1971) — The Poseidon Adventure(1972)


External References:

Soundtrack Album


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