Cinema funky

Just as its antecedents in the mid-‘60s had their sitar interludes and fuzztone atmospherics, the hipper cinema of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s oozed with wah-wah guitars, jazz basslines and funky backbeats. And why not? Whatever Tinseltown’s machinations, film had long been a dramatic and stylish medium, and its soundtrack composers were some of the coolest talents around. Movie and television scores afforded lucrative opportunities for a Lalo Schifrin or Henry Mancini to satisfy some serious interests in jazz and composition, if not to experiment with riffs from psychedelic rock or dark rhythms from funk.

Before funk became an obligatory element of every post-Shaft blaxploitation picture, though, before it became a cliché on primetime television fare like CHiPs, there were this week’s selections. Some of these were written for movies. Some of them weren’t written for the screen but wound up there. Some of these were versions of soundtrack themes that exceeded the original. At one end of town, circa 1970, there were serious young men with serious pedigrees from music conservatories sitting in studios with handfuls of annotated charts. At the other end of town, the poorer part of town, churning funk music spun out in endless iterations. And, in that planetary stretch in between, these selections happened.

1. Roy Budd, Carter (DJM)
Roy Budd was a British musical prodigy who began his professional career as a jazz pianist at the tender age of sixteen. It would be his later soundtrack work for movies like Kidnapped (1971) and The Wild Geese (1978), however, for which Budd would find his lasting fame.

Budd imparted a chilly minimalism to “Carter,” his theme for 1971’s Get Carter, a British thriller starring Michael Caine. One can run down the possibilities all day and still never account for how Budd managed, with only a motley ensemble of bass, Indian tablas, and electric harpsichord and piano, to create a tableau so perfectly redolent of both the stark landscape of northern England and of the gangsters who went shooting about there with characteristic disregard.

Budd passed on in 1993. He was forty-six.

2. Julio Gutierrez, Last Tango in Paris (Vico)
The great Julio Gutierrez emigrated from his native Cuba in the late ‘50s, pursuing his calling in both Miami and New York City with freelance stints as a composer, session pianist and musical director. Despite two very hip ‘60s Latin jazz LPs, Progressive Latin and Havana B.C., Gutierrez would never regain the stature he’d enjoyed in Cuba, where, in addition to leading the legendary Cuban Jam Sessions series, he’d been among his country’s best known modern bandleaders and composers.

1972 would perhaps represent the crowning year for the pornographic movie in its brief-lived moment of mainstream chic, and few soundtrack themes would better encapsulate its adults-only art-house cachet than Argentinean saxophonist Gato Barbieri’s “Last Tango in Paris.” 1972 would also mark one of the final years of Gutierrez’s recording career, but if his would hereafter be one of diminishing visibility, it wasn’t for lack of audacity. Other Latin bandleaders like Mongo Santamaria, Willie Rosario and Tito Puente would tackle Barbieri’s continental boudoir anthem, but no one else would inject it with the same groovily psychedelic flair.

Gutierrez died in New York City in 1990.

3. The Johnny Harris Orchestra, Footprints On the Moon (Warner Brothers)
British-born Johnny Harris first made a name for himself in the mid-‘60s writing arrangements for pop singers like Petula Clark and Jackie Trent. Later in the decade, Harris would produce and arrange sessions for Tom Jones, Englebert Humperdink, Shirley Bassey and other pop acts including the Flirtations. His career arc would also include turns in the late ‘60s touring with Tom Jones and serving as musical director for British singer Lulu’s brief-lived variety show Happening For Lulu.

We are not discussing a serious jazzbo or renegade experimentalist here. Harris’s, rather, was a professional kind of hip, a kind that distinguished itself as a turtleneck-and-beads-wearing young talent in the somewhat staid end of the British pop studio system.

While an ear attuned to the latest in the pop charts meant getting served with unenviable tasks like resuscitating Paul Anka’s career, it also afforded its share of fringe benefits. Like John Schroeder, Harris would release a handful of LPs and 45s under his own name. Albums like 1970’s Movements were uneven affairs, certainly, with polite, state-of-the-art covers of “Light My Fire” and “Give Peace a Chance” along with some more adventurous moments like the funky “Fragments of Fear,” “Stepping Stones” and this selection.

Inspired by the Apollo moon landings and subsequently used for the British ITV Network coverage of NASA’s lunar missions, “Footprints on the Moon” follows in the great tradition of Les Baxter’s Space Escapade or Dick Hyman and Mary Mayo’s Moon Gas, albums where the moon’s surface was imagined more as luminescent lovers’ playground than science’s new frontier. Each reverberating piano note of “Footprints on the Moon” seems to bring the listener one gravity-defying step closer to their astrological love destiny. Careful, Libra, your love investments will soon pay off, but watch for a calculating Capricorn to step across your earth shadow.

Since 1972 Johnny Harris has lived in Los Angeles, working mostly in television composition, most famously for Buck Rogers in the 25th Century and Wonder Woman.

(Thanks go to this site for much of the information on Johnny Harris.)

This entry was posted in Exotica/Space-Age, Jazz Obscura, Latin, Miscellaneous Flotsam, Now Sound, Soul. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Cinema funky

  1. Anonymous says:

    Fantastic post! Never heard that Julio Gutierrez…musical dope!

    ‘Carter’ is classic, and ‘Footprints’ is spacey splendor. Incidentally, that Johnny Harris track was sampled to great effect on an early Wiseguys track called ‘The Real Vibes.’

  2. ib says:

    Thanks, DJ Danny, just recently discovered the blog and it really is unique…

    Had no idea that Budd’s Carter was ever released as a 45. That he managed to compress so much of the very highest quality into such a tragically brief professional life is nothing short of admirable.

    Another personal favourite is his soundtrack to “Diamonds” from 1975, and let’s not forget his contributions to British TV also – “Steptoe & Son”, for example.

    The label scans too are very much appreciated. Cheers.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Apparently, the “Get Carter Theme” has been reissued as a single…;_cs=1&kwfilter;=get+carter+plaything

    …AK in CLE

  4. Anonymous says:

    that julio g. cut is quirky to say the least.. viva los 70’s

    i never tire of the carter theme – it’s pretty much perfect but hey i’ma sucker for harpsichord

    🙂 speedy

  5. lola says:

    would LOVE to hear more in the vein of footprints on the moon. haven’t heard that baby in ages. thankssss.

  6. Anonymous says:

    great stuff here,

    please visit my blog for more obscure sounds and grooves

  7. Pingback: Day 21: Julio Gutierrez – Last Tango in Paris « Super Sonido

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