Jazz: Who glows there?

Phil Johnson hears the 'Afterglow' soundtrack burning bright

When Miles Davis recorded his music for the soundtrack of Louis Malle's Ascenseur pour l'Echafaud (Lift to the Scaffold) of 1957 the legend goes that the film was projected on a sheet in the studio and Davis simply improvised the score as the reels unwound. Whatever the truth, it's probably the best jazz film score ever, and full of the most exquisite melancholy.

Afterglow, the CD of American composer and trumpeter Mark Isham's music for Alan Rudolph's new film starring Julie Christie and Nick Nolte, is so good that it deserves a place alongside Davis's score. The themes float in a misty atmosphere of impossibly romantic love and longing, borne up by saxophonist Charles Lloyd's fluttering phrases and Isham's own plangent trumpet sound, and the effect is very Milesian.

Unlike Davis's score for Malle, however, the music for Afterglow was partly the inspiration for the film in the first place, and the soundtrack was considered so important by director Rudolph that the actually re-edited the film to accommodate more of it, hardly the usual practice.

Isham, whose previous film scores have included Quiz Show, A River Runs Through It and Robert Altman's Short Cuts as well as many previous soundtracks for Alan Rudolph, has shown his devotion to Miles Davis before. His last album, Blue Sun, was a kind of contemporary reworking of Kind of Blue, and his muted trumpet echoes Davis's signature sound on most of his four scores for Rudolph, particularly in the brilliant Trouble in Mind from 1985.

"The film of Afterglow actually started with the music for Blue Sun," Isham says. "Alan wrote the script with the music playing in the background and he originally intended to use it for the soundtrack. But there were a few tones that the album didn't really cover so we let the music for Afterglow find it's own level, and when Alan started shooting I started writing more music.

"When Alan started looking for other music to put on it he came across an old Charles Lloyd album and I said I knew Charles, and so we put an all-star band together very quickly to record new original music.

"These movies don't usually have much money, but everyone was going to be on the West Coast one weekend so we just went into the studio and did it in two days."

The band Isham assembled was a dream: pianist Geri Allen, vibes player Gary Burton, violinist Sid Page (who was "Symphony" Sid Page with Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks in the Seventies), together with Charles Lloyd, his bassist Jeff Littleton and the legendary drummer Billy Higgins.

The method Isham chose for organising the music was almost unique within the normally brusque and functional practice of recording film soundtracks. "With musicians like this you can't just give them a click track to play along to, or tell them what to play," Isham says. "You have to capture what it is that they do and I knew I had enough material to assign each character in the film a particular instrument to represent them emotionally."

He then proceeded by a series of oblique strategies worthy of Brian Eno, whose experiments with ambient soundscapes influenced some of Isham's own recorded work for ECM and other labels in the Eighties.

"I figured out mathematically a method whereby the emotional tones assigned to each character intersected within each composition, and made a list of what should go where. We made a brave decision not to do any of the recording to picture but instead just went through the list. I then gave Alan a copy of the completed music and we spent two or three weeks editing to picture. There were a few areas where we agreed the picture needed altering to suit the music so we asked the editor to do this."

It's in this sense that Afterglow is so unusual, for the film was made to serve the music rather than the other way round. "I've been composing for movies for 15 years and this is the first time I've ever had such a creative experience", Isham says.

The particularly melancholy flavour of Isham's music for Afterglow, and perhaps of his music generally, comes, he says, "out of an obsession with Miles Davis. I'm a reasonably happy fellow actually, but Miles was the first person to lead me into a trumpet style and within a month or so of hearing him I had everything he'd done.

"It's that sense of space and a real desire to make a statement that people will get that appeals to me. People get so obsessed with complexity but Miles showed that you don't have to do that to make a soulful expression. It's simplicity as an art-form and I'm drawn to that point of view. My music is not overly complex. And that's why it works as film music."

'Afterglow' by Mark Isham featuring Charles Lloyd is out now on Columbia/Sony CD. The film is released in May.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Life and Style
Sainsbury's could roll the lorries out across its whole fleet if they are successful
tech
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmHe was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Life and Style
fashionHealth concerns and 'pornified' perceptions have made women more conscious at the beach
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Arts and Entertainment
Smart mover: Peter Bazalgette
filmHow live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences
Environment
Neil Young performing at Hyde Park, London, earlier this month
environment
News
i100
News
Prince Harry is clearing enjoying the Commonwealth Games judging by this photo
people(a real one this time)
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Project Coordinator

    Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: The Green Recrui...

    Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

    £350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

    Embedded Linux Engineer

    £40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Embedded Sof...

    Senior Hardware Design Engineer - Broadcast

    £50000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Working for a m...

    Day In a Page

    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
    Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
    Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

    Feather dust-up

    A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
    5 best waterproof cameras

    Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

    Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
    Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

    Louis van Gaal interview

    Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

    Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz