Jul 31, 2010

CD Review: Jason King: Original Soundtrack

At only two discs, Jason King is among the shortest in Network’s parade of ITC soundtracks. Whether that’s because it had a relatively small amount of original music commissioned for it to begin with or because only a small portion of what was recorded survives, I don’t know. I’m sure Andrew Pixley does and probably says so in his liner notes (if his other, absolutely excellent booklets are anything to judge by), but my review copy sadly didn’t include liner notes. Not being as intimately familiar with Jason King as with certain other ITC shows (I actually adore the quirky but flawed series, but as brilliant as the flamboyant Peter Wyngarde is, I find he’s best enjoyed in small doses), that inhibits my ability to pinpoint exactly where any given cue comes from in the series, so instead I’ll provide my overall impressions of the album.

For a series as irrevocably (hopelessly?) mired in the 1970s as Jason King, its soundtrack is surprsingly not. For composer Laurie Johnson, it would be The New Avengers (and later The Professionals) where he explored his fondness for wah-wah guitars and 70s funk sounds. Jason King sounds more like the louche lounge life embodied by Serge Gainsbourg, which is entirely appropriate for the character, but which I associate more with the late Sixties. After all, this was still only the very beginning of the Seventies, and the loungy score is somewhat akin to John Barry’s loungier tracks in Diamonds Are Forever the same year. Of course, invoking Barry is a bit misleading, because the Jason King music isn’t, for the most part, all that typically “spy” sounding. It’s appropriate to the show. When you think of Jason King, you don’t necessarily immediately conjure up double- and triple-crosses, betrayals and chases, although the series does have all of that. No, the first thing you think of (or I do, anyway) is purple cravats and a general abundance of hair, signet rings and silk shirts unbuttoned far too far for comfort, champagne and beautiful girls in bell bottoms and overstuffed furniture in gaudy colors. And the music does its job; it evokes all of that when listened to. Track 6 on Disc 1 in particular exemplifies the Swinging (early) Seventies lounge life, but pretty much all the tracks get across the appropriate mood.

That said, there are some terrific action cues buried amidst the cool, easy listening material. Tracks 17-20 on the first CD are all action-packed, and could just as easily accompany the suavest secret agent as well as a slick buffoon in a bouffant. And Track 25 is as propulsive an action cue as any spy fan could hope for. In the context of the album, however, these cues become swallowed up by the overall loungy vibe. In general, this isn’t the kind of spy music you put on when you want to speed through traffic; this is the kind of spy music you put on when you want to pour yourself a martini or three, lie back in your most decadent love seat and exchange flirtatious banter with your favorite long-haired, bikini-topped babe or hairy-chested, mustached man. I love both the action and lounge schools of spy sounds, and enjoy being able to select between Jason King and, say, Danger Man as the mood strikes me. Jason King is anything but typical, but it’s a worthwhile addition to a robust spy music library.

Jason King: Original Soundtrack is available in the UK exclusively from Network's website; in America it's available from Screen Archives Entertainment, where you can also listen to samples.

7 comments:

C.K. Dexter Haven said...

The Jason King soundtrack has been on my want list for awhile but being unfamiliar with the show *and* having a love/hate "relationship" with Johnson's music---sometimes I adore it, more often I can't bear to listen to it at all--keeps me at bay...for now.

I would, however, LEAP at a Persuaders score release by Network!

Elliot James said...

The music never registered with me. I did enjoy the show very much; not as much as Persuaders and Champions. Mike Meyers had to have derived Austin Powers from Jason King.

Anonymous said...

What's the audio quality like please?

Koenig said...

Well, if they have managed to locate any or all of the tapes to THE PERSUADERS! now, then I'm sure there is every chance we'll get a CD.

If, alas, the tapes are still lost....

As for JASONKING, I love Laurie Johnson's music and there are a handful of very nice tracks here. But the album does tend to consist of lightly jazzy/loungey music (lots of poppy organ) rather than some of his harder-hitting dramatic music. And there are an awful lot of very short cues....

Recommended with reservations.

Tex said...

From the booklet...

"The incidental music for Jason King was recorded in the form of numerous cues--or sections--which formed a library of material to be re-cut and used as required, plus a small selection of cues specifically recorded for individual episodes. Unfortunately, some items from both sets of music no longer exist."

And...

"Music taken from other sources, mainly the Chappell Music Library, are noted although not included."

So that's why only two discs. The rest is probably at the bottom of the same rubbish tip as the soundtrack to The Persuaders, gorramnit!

PS--Am I the only one here who has ALL of Network's soundtracks?

Koenig said...

No, I've got them all too.

Some I'm really not all that keen on, but I think Network deserve lots of credit for tracking all this stuff down. Its a shame some can't be found, but they've certainly done their best, and who knows what is yet to come to light....

It's a series of CDs well worth supporting. Releasing a few more single-disc 'highlight' albums would be a good idea and be a cost effective way of getting the music to people who don't look at websites (or who can't afford - or don't want - the full sets...)

Tanner said...

The quality is good--in keeping with Network's other ITC soundtrack releases, and a far cry better than Johnson's recent Avengers and (especially) New Avengers CDs.

I understand people not always loving Johnson. Like CK, I adore his music in the context of The Avengers, but it's not always what I want to listen to outside that context. (Not that I wouldn't love to have an Avengers soundtrack as comprehensive as these ITC ones, mind you!) I find Jason King to be one of his most listenable albums, great if you're in a lounge mood.

Thanks for the info from the liner notes, Tex!

I've got all the spyish Network releases so far, so the only ones I'm missing are Strange Report and Randall & Hopkirk, but I'll get those eventually too. However, a few of them I only have in review copies without the packaging--which is always quite nice and informative and certainly worth having, as evidenced by Tex's information!

I hope I hope I hope I hope that The Persuaders! does indeed turn up and Network release it...