The score for Anthony Hemingway’s film Red Tails is the 33rd by trumpeter and composer Terence Blanchard. The music was performed by the FILMharmonic Orchestra and Choir in Prague, under the direction of Adam Klemens. The orchestration, done by Blanchard in collaboration with Howard Drossin, is large in scale, expansive, and dramatic. The trumpeter also appears here, along with percussionist Kendrick Scott and pianist Fabian Almazan. Given that the film is a WWII-era drama about the Tuskegee Airmen, the music is surprisingly modern; it’s a combination of action film textures and dynamics, classical extravagances, and choral overtones in its cues. The “Opening Titles” theme greets even the most ardent Blanchard fans with shock: with blazing heavy metal guitars, pulsing synths and sequencers, nearly bombastic brass, and electronic percussion exploding into the fore. These notions are expanded upon continually, in “The Train,” “Lightning in Trouble,” and numerous other cues. The rumbling drums, transcendent vocal choruses, horns, strings, and synths give the militaristic bent of the film’s subject matter weight. There are more atmospheric cues here though they are at a minimum; while they provide dynamic relief, they heighten the tension even further – check “Junior’s Prison” and “Paper Plane.” There is great magisterial content here, too, as evidenced by “Mission Orders/Stance Berlin.” Blanchard’s task – to provide a big-budget Hollywood film with a score worthy of its subject – succeeds. It’s obvious he’s spent a great deal of time listening to Wagner and Strauss, as well as to German electronic outfits and Hans Zimmer, and has integrated them to reflect his own signature – in “Attack from Above,” he quotes from his score for A Tale of God’s Will. Tacked on to the end of Blanchard’s score are a few period pieces to make the soundtrack complete. These include the Andrews Sisters' “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” and the Ink Spots' “Bless You.” Thankfully, you can hit the stop button right after the beauty and grandeur of the “End Credits/America the Beautiful,” performed by the trumpeter with percussionist Kendrick Scott and pianist Almazan fronting the orchestra. This is Blanchard’s most unusual and populist score by Hollywood standards; that said, it’s a complete gas to listen to. ~ Thom Jurek
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