Howard Shore - Collector's Edition Vol.1 by Howard Shore HOWE Records HWR-1003 | 2090 | 44'14 Reviewed by Michael Beek
It is perhaps the mark of a specific type of composer, when he or she makes the decision to take charge of the specifics of their career output. Philip Glass, Michael Nyman, Lalo Schifrin each have their own record labels, on which they release their music (dependent on the specifics film deals of course, where films are involved). We can of course now add HowardShore to the list, as he manages himself and kick-started HOWE Records with the release of his score for Doubt on CD last year, swiftly followed by his rather lovely score for The Betrayal.
Having your own label means that as a composer and producer you have something akin to carte blanche when it comes to what you do. As such HOWE Records have thrown open the doors to the Shore archives and delved amongst its treasures, finding much to shout about. Not surprising though really, given the fact that Mr. Shore has been composing, for the screen and otherwise, for thirty years or more. Whether composing to amuse himself, for an advert, a film, or a concert hall commission, there’s a lot of Shore we haven’t heard. That is now being dealt with thanks to a new series of albums called ‘Collector’s Edition’ and ‘Vol. 1’ has been out for a little while.
Taking in selections from two scores and a handful of standalone compositions, this first foray into the archives offers an interesting window into the composer’s past, not just as a composer but as a performer too.
Opening the selection are four cues from Shore’s 1985 score for Martin Scorsese’s After Hours, a darkly comic but simple story about one man’s date from hell. The score is a small scale affair, seeing the composer performing the score entirely on synths. It’s certainly an experimental work, which I suppose is a polite way of saying it’s rather different to the HowardShore we may be used to today.
As I said though, this disc offers an insight into the composer’s past and it’s an interesting window on the composer’s Jazz influences, albeit electronically so. The ticking clock is perhaps a bit clichéd and all in all the cues – each titled for times of the night, ‘9pm’, ‘’ etc. – sound very dated here in 2010.
Things get even more experimental with ‘Espresso’ – the first of a number of coffee flavoured titles – as the composer whips up a steaming blend of very Jazzy instrumentals in the form of bass, harmonica and hand percussion. I suppose the most recognisable score to link forward to would be Ed Wood (and again in ‘Instant’, moreso perhaps). Things get a little bizarre as a host of bleeps and similarly droid-like exclamations litter the track. So it’s another odd one, but don’t give up as the remaining selections have a lot to offer…
‘Macchiato’ and ‘Cream and Sugar’ find some rather lovely guitar writing and performance, with additional string layers – all acoustic. There is much beauty in the latter (or is that latte?!), with an oboe lilting its way through an emotional melody. The addition of Harmonica further on gives ‘Cream and Sugar’ (an echo from the earlier track, ‘Decaf’…) a wholly bluesy feel and a ‘walking the streets’ undertone, which I liked a lot…
‘Robusta’ finds Shore in quirky mode – again reflections for me of Ed Wood – as a funny little melody is unravelled atop jazz percussion and some unusual synth waves, while ‘Turkish’ creates more wistfulness, this time with piano and strings and an ambling melody. It’s all very interconnected, despite the tracks being standalone pieces and the Jazz influences are infused in each, some bearing them more subtly than others.
Finally ‘Heaven’, as featured in Diane Keaton’s 1987 documentary film of the same name, sees Shore on the synths once again. Woodwind and choir effects offer a suitably ethereal sense, perhaps foreshadowing the altogether more beautiful and organic sounds he would create for Rivendell and Lothlorien in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The roots are here though, that’s for sure, just in a wonderfully kitsch 80s guise.
If you’re wanting the broad strokes of Middle Earth, or even the moody undertones of any number of Shore’s more famous works then you may be somewhat uninspired by this selection. It’s all undoubtedly Howard Shore though and by far it is the caffeinated collection contained in tracks five through eleven that offer the most listening pleasure, or indeed bare the mark of what the composer would go on to do in countless film scores thereafter. HowardShore has been an in demand composer for a long while and there is sure to be a heck of a lot more to come; this will no doubt be the first of many volumes.
So if you’re committed to HowardShore you’ll need this, if you’re a sometime fan of his larger scale works, then leave well alone. While I found a fair amount to enjoy, those moments were certainly outweighed by the more unusual pieces that may have been better left in the vault. Don’t let this put you off of exploring the other delights in the new label’s small catalogue though; both Doubt and The Betrayal are well worth a listen.