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Review by Brad Green:
This soundtrack had to overcome an element of personal prejudice. When I originally heard that Robert Altman was making a film about a dance company, and that the Joffrey Ballet would serve as the platform for his trademark fusion of reality and fiction, I felt a flash of irrational anticipation. Back in 1994, the company staged a production called Billboard based entirely on music by Prince. Now Iíve long been a fan of the multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter for his musical genius and prolificacy (his legendary vault contains thousands of recordings), and long been irked by the fact that his fame has rested on an oversexed, eccentric image, a temporary name-change anomaly and a string of light weight chart-toppers, while his most sophisticated recordings such as The Thunder Ballet (arranged specifically for the Billboard production) remain ignored by the mass media.

A momentís sober reflection and I realised that it wasnít very likely this music would feature in the film, as of course it doesnít. But once the thought had entered my head, the actual soundtrack was going to have to compete with my indulgent speculation. That said, it didnít take long for it to hurdle this handicap and win me over. As it is, Iím kind of glad, in a selfish way, that it doesnít include any of the Billboard material. Iím already aware of that music, whereas this soundtrack has introduced me to a number of new gems.

A far cry from Prince, and just as far a cry from traditional Tchaikovsky or Prokofiev ballet fare, the album includes no less than four versions of the Richard Rogers/Lorenz Hart standard My Funny Valentine, two excerpts from Van Dyke Parksís score, two solo recordings by celebrated cellist Yo-Yo Ma and The Budapest Philharmonic Orchestraís performance of Saint Saensís Pas Redouble, Op. 86. It is rounded out with a world music track by Douglas Adams (no not the galactic hitchhiking one) that would have any ballerina not ashamed of her naval trading in the tutu for a belly dancing outfit, and The World Spins, an ambient composition with lyrics by David Lynch that was used in Twin Peaks and features the ethereal vocals of Julee Cruise. 

The score selections are nothing less than captivating. The cue Curtain Calls begins with intimate acoustic guitar and cocktail lounge piano and evolves to an ensemble lush with woodwind and warm brass. The Blue Snake opens equally as intimately with a smokey saxophone, before it expands into something more exotic, suffused with hints of cobra charming scales.

It goes without saying that the Yo-Yo Ma recordings are virtuosic, and it is unlikely that there is a more satisfying formula in the universe than the warmth of his bow applied to the elegant logic of a J.S. Bach composition. 

Scattered among these tracks are the multiple versions of My Funny Valentine. The first is by Elvis Costello, the only singer with a distinctive nasal twang I can abide, because he brings such musicality to his performances. The second is the hit recording of the song by Chet Baker, the cool-jazz horn ace who was just as capable of crooning mellifluously when there wasnít a trumpet at his lips. And then there are two classical interpretations. One is arranged by Marvin Laird for cello and piano and the other is by the Kronos Quartet, who are piling up quite a catalogue of soundtrack appearances. Both of these recordings are as intricate and clever as they are different from each other; and the song is such a flexible masterpiece that instead of four readings becoming repetitive, it is fascinating to hear the multifarious purposes for which its enigmatic melody can be exploited. The only question is: I wonder if Prince has a version in his famous vault? 

Published August 19, 2004

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TITLE: The Company
ID: SK93092
ARTISTS: Elvis Costello; Yo-Yo Ma; Julee Cruise; Douglas Adams; Chet Baker; Marvin Laird and Clay Ruede; John Zeretzke; Kronos Quartet; The Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra 
SCORE: Van Dyke Parks

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