You may not be familiar with Milan Records, the label with its feet planted in Burbank, Calif., and Paris, France. But over the years Milan has put together an eclectic catalogue featuring some of the more creative Hollywood soundtracks, as well as a lively selection of world music and vintage jazz.
In 2005, Milan enhanced its portfolio with strong releases in all of these genres. Here's a rundown ...
This CD sprang from an international exhibition of contemporary art drawn from the African continent that was recently staged in Dusseldorf, London, Paris and Tokyo. Part of the exhibition included a jukebox featuring African sounds recorded after 2000. Africa Remix features 16 of those songs by artists from Mali, Senegal, Guinea Bissau, Mauritania, the Saharawi refugee camps in southwest Algeria, South Africa and Mozambique - among others. Artists include the like of Youssou N' Dour (with a song, "Plus Fort," from a famous underground tape that's never appeared on an album before) and Orchestra Baobab.
By turns haunting and exuberant, Africa Remix contains a world of music in itself. It's brilliantly edited, so that while the sounds may range from Algerian hip-hop to traditional Malian Kora music, the album flows coherently. Majestic isn't a word usually associated with a sampler like this, but that's the effect Africa Remix conveys. Look for it in your favorite record store's world music section and if they don't have it, ask them to order a copy.
The same strong editing that makes Africa Remix such a joy also applies to Film Noir, an idiosyncratic collection of atmospheric musical gestures intended to evoke the world-weary lyricism of the noir sensibility. "Film noir" usually refers to the low budget crime and espionage flicks made in the disillusioned wake of World War II. The films were black and white, the dialogue was hardboiled and the stars were tough on the outside but soft-hearted. This collection updates the formula, featuring, for the most part, short compositions by leading contemporary film composers like Angelo Badalamenti, Terence Blanchard, Howard Shore and Joe Hisaishi. The overall mood is appropriately smoky.
While the brevity of most of these pieces can make close listening a little frustrating - one longs, occasionally, for the development of a theme - this album makes for great sonic wallpaper. This is not a nostalgic anthology, but a contemporary homage, combining jazz, electronica and orchestral shadings, to a state of mind that's as compelling now as it was 50 years ago.
My Summer of Love
Movie soundtrack albums often have a way of delivering less than they promise. They hook you with one or two notable tracks unceremoniously sandwiched amidst an aural haze of mediocrity. My Summer of Love, inspired by the coming-of-age film by Pawel Pawlikowski, makes a solid effort to provide listeners with an edgy, unpredictable experience that still hangs together as a whole. The score is by Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory of the electronica band Goldfrapp. But Goldfrapp and Gregory serve here more as curators than composers. While they contribute some humid tunes of their own, most notably "Lovely Head," they also do a nice job of assembling a sophisticated array of sounds from other sources, including tunes by Julie London, Blonde Redhead, Camille Saint-Saens, Mozart, Edith Piaf, Caetano Veloso and Borodin. The whole thing has a pleasingly sultry noir feel that rewards repeated listenings. A great background choice for dining al fresco.
Millions, derived from last spring's Danny Boyle film, evokes a more ethereal mood. The John Murphy score leans mistily toward waltz-time, employing electronic keyboards, string washes and walls of guitars to create a soundscape that hovers somewhere between Pachelbel and the Sugar Plum Fairy - with a large wink at the U.K. club scene. The theme of loss and redemption is palpable here, but somehow avoids sappiness. That may be thanks to a judicious selection of songs from other sources by artists like The Clash, Muse, Feeder, S-Express, Vangelis and El Bosco.
Hot Club De France
Vintage jazz fans with a taste for raw, you-are-there recordings will likely dig this collection of gems mined from 30 years of recordings made by the legendary Parisian institution known as the Hot Club De France. The Hot Club loved American jazz, especially the jazz emanating from New Orleans. This collection features 12 digitally restored and remastered recordings, made on the spot, by artists including Willie "The Lion" Smith, Louis Armstrong, Jewell Brown, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the New Orleans Dippers, Memphis Slim and Bill Coleman. These are basically field recordings - you can hear chair legs scraping in the background and practically inhale the aroma of Gitanes and cognac. Smith's powerful yet impressionistic solo piano on "Echoes of Spring" and "Tea for Two" is particularly moving.