Monday, May 29, 2017

Crossing You in Style

Today's formative-album replay: Henry Mancini Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Like a few Kubrick soundtracks I had in heavy rotation long before I saw the films they were made for, I happened upon this sweet cocktail of a record in my parents’ slim LP collection as a child and eagerly guzzled down its orchestral big band sounds like so many Shirley Temples. That I finally saw and became besotted with the Blake Edwards film during a collegiate crush on vintage Audrey Hepburn gave this music fresh purchase on my imagination (as did the excellent Mancini tribute album Shots in the Dark). And now that I’ve soured considerably on the movie’s brittle whimsy, I’ve come full circle back to this record’s durable charms: the lush strings, sneering horns, leafy woodwinds, and restless percussion, all marshalled with Mancini’s native combination of wit and taste. This music smiles, and occasionally laughs, but never spills its drink.

That this record’s pleasures can stand alone from the movie is hardly surprising: It’s a Mancini signature that as a film composer he always remained resolutely a tunesmith and bandleader, with a knack for matching fully developed charts rather than mere stabs and punctuation to filmic material. He was also, not coincidentally, a savvy record maker with a talent for shaping his film cues into tasty three-minute morsels for public consumption, as the subsequent release of Breakfast’s full film score cues demonstrates.

There’s another layer of Mancini craft I sussed out on this replay. While he can turn out a high-profile melody when it’s called for, as with the vaguely Gallic waltz “Moon River,” many of the tunes here are short, sharp-angled blasts, insinuating swirls, tiny riffs spun out into full grooves--in other words, the fungible, maximally evocative yet minimally distracting zone of all the best film music. The danger of marrying such self-effacing compositional discretion to louche lounge arrangements, of course, is that the result can recede into the musical purgatory of background Muzak. But if the Breakfast at Tiffany’s soundtrack is arguably a kind of wallpaper, it’s an especially vibrant, colorful, even immersive variety--a hothouse of many mansions.

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