“HANS ZIMMER and
PHARRELL WILLIAMS managed to stay respectful to glamour of the
event, while infusing it with music that could be embraced by a much
And Then There Were 84
Review by Christopher Coleman
My best guess says I've watched about 25 of the 84 Academy Award
ceremonies over the course of my life. I maintain that I continue to
find the shows enjoyable simply due to the fact that the Oscars are not as
much about Hollywood patting itself on the back as it is a simple
celebration of the movies themselves. I’m obliged to one Tom Cruise for
repeating a very similar statement just before announcing the winner for
Best Picture. (I had no idea that he followed us on twitter!) All and all,
I’d have to concede that this year’s Oscar ceremonies were just about par
for the course. There were some good moments, bad moments, and moments of
“memefication.” Eh, Ms. Jolie?
Aside from Cirque Du Soleil’s short, but mesmerizing performance, another
remarkable facet to this year’s show was the fact that composer HANS
ZIMMER and PHARRELL WILLIAMS were in charge of the night’s music - giving
the ceremonies a decidedly different musical vibe from previous years. To
my pleasant surprise, a short digial release of Zimmer and company’s music
debuted on iTunes the day after.
Right from the onset of the show and this release, HANS ZIMMER and company
make it clear that this is not going to be your Papa’s Oscar music.
Infusing a sense of expectancy and anticipation with subtle grandeur, well
deserving of an Oscar setting, is Zimmer’s title theme, “Celebrate the
Oscars” (1). The theme provides the backbone for this 8 track release.
While a couple of tracks deviate from the course that this piece sets, by
the time you finish listening through the 28 minutes of music, the musical
motifs established in this opening track are what you will remember most.
Given it’s importance to this release, the theme itself is worthy of a bit
of a deeper dive than I usually indulge. After a sustained first-note of
regal anticipation, a 4-note rising/falling segment repeats itself a on
harp and strings with piano accents. Layer after string layer builds until
we are introduced to a two-note and three-note motif played on brass and
supported by electronic percussion. A blend of expansive synth and choir
give us a brief respite before the 3-note motif returns along with an
increasingly energetic percussion section. All the while the theme
continues it’s musical ascent. An impressive guitar solo takes center
stage forcing the question to mind of who Zimmer has collaborated with
this time. From the show itself, we did get a glimpse of Zimmer playing
the guitar in the pit, so perhaps we have our answer. Simultaneously, it
can be assumed that we are hearing the impressive drumming skills of
Zimmer’s newest acolyte, PHARRELL WILLIAMS. The track concludes with a
full orchestral volley which falls off back into the first brass note
which started the track.
The two deeply departing tracks are Pharrell’s “It Don’t Mean a Thing if
It Ain’t Got Pharrell” (2) and the concluding track “What a Wonderful
World” performed by Esperanza Spalding and the Southern California’s
Children’s Chorus. The former is reportedly Pharrell’s take on Duke
Ellington’s famous “It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing.” If
that’s true, I don’t hear it, as there is very little left of the Duke’s
original jazz brilliance. Still, the track is dancey-swing-cut with a
pretty infectious brass hook...and sampled percussion; a pretty simple cut
that probably found its way into the pre-show or performed at
many-an-after-party. On this release; however, I find a bit out of place.
The latter track was performed during the always-special “In Memoriam”
segment. Spalding does a solid job leading out the lyrics made famous by
their original performer, Louis Armstrong; however, it was the sublime
performance of the children’s chorus which grabbed my attention on Oscar
night. And that feeling is fairly well captured here.
Now, Esperanza Spalding was a bit of a revelation to me. I had not heard
of her or her music until that night, but have been transfixed since. She
leads (and co-wrote) track 3, “Sunrise on Bleeker Street” which is a jazz
riff, presumably featuring her bass playing and wordless vocalizing of,
Zimmer’s 2-note ascending motif established in track 1. She’s is subtly
backed by clarinet, sax, guitar and drums and the end result is quite a
radical, yet soulful adaptation.
Oh what a feeling to hear composer Giorgio Morodor back in the spotlight.
Those who were around for the 80s should be well aware of his influence in
the Pop music world as well as contributions to movie music of that era
(Midnight Express, Flashdance, Electric Dreams, Over the Top). In
“Giorgio’s New Dancing Shoes” Moroder takes Zimmer’s 3-note ascending
motif and builds it into a synthesized dance dream. Those watching closely
were able to get a glimpse of the composer performing this piece from the
special artist balcony, which also featured another popular 80s artist.
In track 6, we hear the same synth hook established in Moroder’s track
reprised along with Zimmer’s now familiar progression. At an even slightly
faster tempo, the track has even more energy. Added to it is a barrage of
electronic beats, which itself, finally makes way for 80s, percussion,
icon, Sheila E. Immediately we hear that she hasn’t lost any of the speed
and talent she had 30 years ago as her riveting solos take over.
Meanwhile, there in the background, are Zimmer’s orchestral elements
playing in support and helping to keep this release cohesive. The track
again ends on the single sustained brass note and this reserved ending
leads perfectly into the next track.
Returning to the mood of majestic and optimistic wonder, A.R. Rahman makes
on his own variation by adding his easily recognized vocals over the
established theme. The net result is the beautiful, but all-too-brief,
“Oscar Sangamam” (7). It is here the original music component comes to its
exotic end, but there remains one final track that needs to be mentioned.
Are there any cultural events that take place these days where the genre
of dubstep doesn’t make an appearance? Apparently not. While track 5 “D
Generation” may not have been performed during the show itself, it sure
makes its presence felt on this release. While initially feigning a more
reserved electronic take on the “Celebrate the Oscars” theme, it isn’t
long before it builds to a mind-bending crescendo. As it reaches its apex,
the bottom drops out and an ear-contorting dubstep beat is unleashed. An
impressive metamorphosis to be sure. Having fully gotten our collective
grooves back, Junkie XL pushes the piece to another peak, before kicking
the legs out again and enveloping us with forceful, low-frequency rhythms and
electronics. While such “remixes” normally feel almost sacrilegious to me,
Junkie XL pulls it off keeping this track from garnering misfit status.
In the end, I’m pleased with the approach taken for this year’s Oscars - a
fresh approach featuring artists that don’t normally find themselves in
front of this specific audience. HANS ZIMMER and PHARRELL WILLIAMS managed
to stay respectful to glamour of the event, while infusing it with music
that could be embraced by a much wider audience. I hope the Oscar
producers continue to be so daring in years to come and offer us yearly
releases like CELEBRATE THE MUSIC.
Mean a Thing
If it Ain't
||Bump the E. (Sheila E.)
||Oscar Sangamam (A. R. Rahman)
||What a Wonderful World (Esperanza Spalding)
||Total Running Time (approx)