In a year notable by the too-high incidence of jazz losses, Charles Earland quietly left this planet on Saturday, December 11, 1999. Known as the Mighty Burner for the intense way he commanded the Hammond B-3, the always working, too-heavy 58-year-old Earland made his departure via heart failure following one last performance in Kansas City.
If you'd like to access the full scope of Alkan's quirky style in bite-sized proportions rather than piling into the Concerto for Solo Piano, Les Quartre Ages, and other large-scale concoctions, here's a disc for you. Esquisses (Sketches) contains 49 piano miniatures, each lasting from 43 seconds to a little more than four minutes. Alkan apparently composed these over a 15-year span. He eventually partitioned the collection into four volumes, arranged according to key sequence.
Citizen Kane: The Classic Film Scores of Bernard Herrmann is probably the best of the entire series by conductor Charles Gerhardt and the National Philharmonic Orchestra. Every track is worthwhile and memorably played, especially Beneath the 12-Mile Reef and the suite from Citizen Kane, the latter highlighted by Kiri Te Kanawa's performance of the Strauss-like aria from Salammbo.
This pairing of two totally idiosyncratic vocalists acquired legendary status over the decades in which it had been out of print. But the proof is in the listening, and frankly it doesn't represent either artist's best work. There is certainly a powerful, often sexy rapport between the two – Charles in his sweet balladeering mode, Carter with her uniquely keening, drifting high register – and they definitely create sparks in the justly famous rendition of "Baby, It's Cold Outside." The main problem is in Marty Paich's string/choir arrangements, which too often cross the line into treacle, whereas his charts for big band are far more listenable…
This two-fer release from Varèse Sarabande pairs two of the more influential and interesting horror soundtracks of the slasher-film era. Charles Bernstein's score to Wes Craven's 1985 slasher cult classic A Nightmare on Elm Street is very much a product of its time, eschewing traditional orchestral approaches while employing state-of-the-art synthesizers and sound effects to convey the horror of Craven's suburban dreamscapes. Bernstein's unsettling cues utilize technology to strong effect, creating sinister atmospheres that effortlessly communicate the threat posed by the film's ghoulish antagonist, Freddy Krueger. The inorganic, dehumanized tones produced by the composer's synthesizers underscore the narrative's detachment from waking reality. That said, taken on its own terms the music is more than a little dated. While the best Hollywood scores boast a timelessness that transcends their origins, A Nightmare on Elm Street is immediately recognizable as a product of the mid-'80s, and whether that's a positive or a negative is left to the listener to determine.