Cold Case score – CD review

Score by Michael A. Levine – Released by  Lakeshore Records –  24 tracks – 60:08

Mentioned early before it becomes a dirty little secret: So far I’ve reviewed scores from movies and TV shows I haven’t watched. The music’s divorced from not only the original source, but also the original associations. There’s a thought I got from CD producer Mark Banning (who at GNP Crescendo Records probably produced more Star Trek soundtracks than any other person) back in 1995: “[Film music] is something that kind of lets your spirit wander. Being music that’s designed to go with something visual, it allows you to listen to it and think up your own scenario in your own head, think of what to put the music up against. A budding filmmaker can think of the kind of images to create for such a piece of music.”*  So it’s evocative, and if you don’t see what first evoked it, listening to it will evoke your own thoughts and images. That has its own pleasures. Helps when it’s good music.

I’ve seen maybe 10 minutes of Cold Case (hey, my choice for CBS cop procedural is NCIS: hello, Abby!), just as I’ve seen only snippets of the other Jerry Bruckheimer-produced TV work: a handful of original-series CSI episodes**, one hour of The Amazing Race, glimpses of the others. So after obsessively listening to Michael A. Levine’s score on this CD, the most I can do is sort of compare Cold Case’s approach (dramatically and musically) to that of CSI.

If I’m talking out my ass, TELL ME.

CSI’s music to me seems to emphasize the technology and the investigative techniques by that show’s team of characters. Like the lighting, it plays up the slickness and alien-ness of Las Vegas on the Strip, the blasted grit of Las Vegas off of it, the weird and surreal blending of the two worlds as they rub against each other, and the almost science fiction-like forensics work. The emotions of the piece, meanwhile, are carried more by the core of actors. A deadpan, contained group of actors.

Cold Case seems more emotive than that. Appropriately, its music is ghostly, for the sometimes-decades-dead people whose deaths and disappearances the Cold Case team investigates. And there’s sadness, sometimes aggressively so: it’s more emotionally up-front music than I’d expected. The CD holds an hour of Michael A. Levine’s work – with none of the pop songs that appear on the show – and it’s not noodled aimlessly or made of lazy hold-the-key sustains. Levine composes for a small ensemble of clarinet, oboe, flute, duduk (an Armenian wind instrument, first heard here on track 3, “Park”), cello, violins, piano, synths and, sometimes, voices.

More than once the voice has been that of Carmen Twillie, who sang “Circle of Life”: She appears on tracks #10, “Sadie’s Blues” (a real standout, and yes, it’s bluesy), and #17, “8:03 A.M.” Voice can be an easy way to get to emotion(like the wailing in James Horner’s trying-too-hard score to the ridiculous *Troy*), but in the *Cold Case* cues heard here, the voices are usually subtle, a flavor. And something else ghostly in the music, like they’re voices from the past (obvious, but effective…and *not* trying too hard, maybe because they’re used sparingly).

Levine hints in “The Professor” (track 9) at the early work of his mentor Hans Zimmer, in both the flow and the emotion of his music. (In that track I hear something close to Zimmer’s Black Rain, that music in the trailers for Presumed Innocent and Ghost.) The fourth and fifth cues”Detective’s    Reprise” (the most procedural cue, like it’s getting-to-work music) and “Sister Vivian’s Flashback” would sound at home within David Newman’s terrific and often moody *Serenity* score. “Saving Sammy” (track 15), with its processed and messed-with sounds, seems like a machine trying to feel something like emotion, which winds up being an interesting effect.

The most direct touched-by-the-past moment on the CD is a fake 45rpm single, “300 Flowers” (track 22; written by Levine and producer-writer Liz W. Garcia), with vinyl scratching noise plus echoing processing to complete the effect of music from decades ago.

This CD had an effect: it makes me want to watch Cold Case, which Levine continues to compose for. I’d say that means it’s a successful score.

* “Mark Banning: Inside GNP Crescendo,” interview by Christopher Walsh for Film Score Monthly that ran in Issue #64, Dec. 1995. I should be able to quote my own article, damnit!

** Friends of mine refer to the three CSIs – Vegas, Miami, and New York
as CSI: Original Recipe, CSI: Orange, and CSI: Justice League.

Review by Chris Walsh

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