CD: Crime in the Streets (1956)

December 6, 2012 | By

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Rating: Excellent

Label: Varese Sarabande CD Club/ Released: Oct 12, 2009

Tracks & Album Length: 7 tracks / (41:51)


Special Notes: 8-page booklet with liner notes by John W. Waxman / Limited to 1500 copies.


Composer: Franz Waxman




Franz Waxman was no stranger to jazz-styled scores, having incorporated a somewhat jazzy sax solo in his masterwork A Place in the Sun (1953), as well as bouncy source cues for Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954), so in keeping with the style of the times when, for film composers, a jazz orchestra was as close to pop as they could go, Waxman scored Don Siegel’s Crime in the Streets with similarly bouncy rhythms, albeit with a more urgent rhythmic drive.

Very much a reflection fifties style as well as an experimental work where a classically trained composer could find a median between exacting harmony + melody with improvisation, Crime has a organized structure where soloists recap and reinterpret thematic material in increasingly strained moods. There’s still a taught continuity between the represented score cuts and ‘bonus’ variations that appeared on the original mono Decca LP, but Waxman gave his star jazz soloists – Jack Dumont (alto sax), Joe Mondragon (bass), Charles Gentry (tenor baritone), Ray Turner (piano), and Pete Candoli (trumpet) – lots of wiggle room to be expressive in their performances, and one suspects they also got a kick in transgressing into the classical world through Waxman’s neat theme arrangements.

The Decca LP is essentially a concept album, offering 3 re-recorded theme versions, 3 themes drawn from I, the Jury (1953), and as a brief wrap-up a suite, “Theme, Variations and Fugato,” which is essentially a non-filmic exploration that was in vogue at the time. (Chico Hamilton and Fred Katz’ source cues for The Sweet Smell of Success were featured on Side A of their alternate soundtrack LP, whereas the B-side was filled up with a lengthy suite of more abstract interpretations.)

Instead of building the Crime suite around one specific theme, Waxman repeatedly returns to a series of motifs: the elliptical trumpet spiral (“The Plot”) meant to evoke a screeching siren; a bluesy melodic phrase which in the 13 minute “The Crime” cue is goes through various shades of mysterious and sometimes lurid solos; and an ascending 8-beat figure which functions as a portent of danger. The figure also functions as the main rhythm in “The Celebration,” a great little cue where Waxman indulges in a blend of bopping jukebox jazz with electric guitar, sax, and bluesy piano.

If the cue seems somewhat familiar, it’s perhaps due to the jukebox style which was central to cues in Leith Stevens’ The Wild One (1953), as well as several of Henry Mancini’s source cuts in Touch of Evil (1958). It’s possible Waxman’s album may have been the inspiration for other scores, since it provided lengthy, beautifully constructed examples of taking a simple rhythm or melodic hook, and twisting through diverse moods.

“Three Sketches” is drawn from I, the Jury, but instead of presenting score material, Waxman chooses to emphasize thematic unity. Each of the three variations are unique, yet there is a gradual progression from a skulking intro (bass, harp, harmonica, and muted brass with off-kilter piano) to haunting blues midsection, and closing with a big band variation.

Whereas the first piece (“Nostalgia”) in rhythm and harmonica solo relates to the jukebox elements of “The Celebration,” the  second piece (“Song”) evokes the image a kind of midnight stroll with an almost wistful regard for midnight lights of a large city track lying far below – a pretty specific mood conveyed by the sax solo, and brief accompaniment from trumpets and woodwinds.

The instrumentation of the middle piece – more big band than jazz orchestra – sets up the more up-tempo third variation (“Blues”) where Waxman evokes Duke Ellington, especially with the opening melodic line on clarinet. That solo neatly builds to a full brass accompaniment, transforming the piece into a slow dance that evokes prime fifties noir – dangerous, unstable, and filled with grey tones that offer little warmth (the latter conveyed by a discordant finale).

Waxman than brings both score variations together in the finale (“Theme, variations and Fugato”) by joining together rhythmic statements and instrumentation in a fractured build-up: harp and sax for the intro statement; a pulsing bass for the second bit; and a blues march with sharp, staccato triplets straight after. A Gershwinesque variation follows with Ray Turner slightly accompanied by drums and shimmering vibes, and the closing fugato assembles saxes, vibes, trombone, and piano in a whirlwind finale before the orchestra punches the cue with hard (and sometimes bawdy) stabs. Instead of harmonic closure, Waxman ends the piece with total dissonance, which remains true to the tone of both scores – Crime’s moral tale of juvenile delinquents, and Jury’s sexist, self-centered vigilante detective and self-styled anti-hero.

At 41 minutes, the Decca recording is punchy and engaging, and runs just the right length even though one wishes Varese was able to discover some alternate or unused takes in the Universal archives. The Decca LP was reissued twice by Entr’acte on standard black and white vinyl in 1978, with a subtle electronic re-channeling to give a hint of stereo without going into full bullshit stereo. (The LP version still sounds good in spite of, if not due to the subtle stereophonic tweaking, and is worth hunting down for its more bass-friendly sonics, especially in the bopping jukebox cut “The Celebration.” However, Varese did manage to tone down the hot brass stab at the beginning of “Song” which was overmodulated in the LP reissues.)

For jazz aficionados, this concept album features name soloists and great writing, whereas Waxman fans will relish an opportunity to hear the composer’s transposition of film material to a neo-concert work. In short, Crime in the Streets is a perfect album, and a great intro to a composer better-known for his film work rather than his classical and concert repertoire (of which some has been recorded over the past 20 years).



© 2012 Mark R. Hasan


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