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Saturday, March 31, 2018

Jonny Greenwood: The Master


1) Overtones; 2) Time Hole; 3) Back Beyond; 4*) [Ella Fitzgerald] Get Thee Behind Me Satan; 5) Alethia; 6*) [Madisen Beaty] Don't Sit Under The Apple Tree; 7) Atomic Healer; 8) Able-Bodied Seamen; 9) The Split Saber; 10) Baton Sparks; 11*) [Jo Stafford] No Other Love; 12) His Master's Voice; 13) Application 45 Version I; 14*) [Helen Forrest] Changing Partners; 15) Sweetness Of Freddie.

General verdict: Another bunch of those quiet neo-classical soundscapes for your (lack of) attention.

All hail the return of Sire Jehonathan Grenewode, he of the neo-classical persuasion, as he once again flings his talents at the feet of Paul Thomas Anderson, the preeminent movie maker of the turn-of-the-century generation. Unlike There Will Be Blood, I have yet to see The Master, a movie that allegedly explores the subject of mind control, indoctrination, and submissiveness through the parabolic example of a religious cult story — and, most likely, a respectable perfor­mance from the dear departed Philip Seymour Hoffman. But just like the soundtrack to There Will Be Blood, the soundtrack to The Master can readily stand on its own as a 35-minute suite, once you have filtered out the four tracks that do not belong to Jonny and do not mesh at all well with his music — old vocal jazz standards, three of them taken directly from classic diva recor­dings (Ella Fitzgerald, Jo Stafford, Helen Forrest) and one sung (quite poorly, but bravely) by Madisen Beaty, one of the movie's actresses.

Since this is, once again, a piece of classical music, I guess we can only discuss it in comparison with There Will Be Blood — and, frankly speaking, I hear no major differences in approach. If you mixed together tracks from the two albums, you would probably never figure out which tracks belong to which theme. Nevertheless, The Master is not an uninspired carbon copy: my overall feelings about the first album («really don't know what to say but it feels very much alive and kicking») more or less apply to the second as well. As before, most of the compositions flow smoothly and gracefully, but every once in a while there is a dynamic leap — ʽAble-Bodied Seamenʼ introduces a powerful, thunderous bassline and wildly cavorting, dissonant cellos and violins; ʽBaton Sparksʼ, after a pompous Beethovenesque opening, transforms into a moder­nist spiralling whirlwind of psychedelic proportions; ʽHis Master's Voiceʼ, after a couple minutes of quiet string and clarinet interplay, suddenly bursts out with an intense violin solo that threatens to channel Mendelssohn's spirit (if you grant it the appropriate permission). These things, rare as they are, keep the suite from degrading into a lullaby.

On the whole, though, I would generalize that the soundtrack is a bit more serene and placating this time around — I guess crazy cult leaders are ultimately deemed less of a threat than ruthless oil dealers — and that this makes it even harder to comment upon individual tracks, especially without having previously honed one's verbal skills on Brahms and Bartók. With a bit more ten­sion throughout, the suite's come-to-terms-with-oneself conclusion (ʽSweetness Of Freddieʼ), ripples upon ripples of strings and horns reaching a mini-peak and slowly fading away, would probably have carried more impact. As it is, it's... prepare yourself... nice. It may be even nicer if you think of it as an involuntary requiem to Philip Seymour Hoffman, but that's purely optional, of course. One might speculate whether Jonny's inability (or unwillingness) to create angry, jerky drama with his classical experiments had anything to do with his gradual loss of capability to create angry, jerky drama with Radiohead — but that is a question you should rather ask him in person, if you ever get the chance and are willing to risk your health over it.

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