This two-for-one compact disc compiles two of the more obscure film scores from legendary English soundtrack maestro John Barry. First up is Game of Death, the score for the final official film featuring martial arts film star Bruce Lee. The film itself was a less than stellar effort, combining old outtakes with unconvincing new footage using doubles, but Barry managed to serve up a worthwhile action score that combined the regal orchestral punch of his work on the James Bond films with some exotic Asian-styled touches. Like his James Bond scores, Game of Death is built on two key musical themes. The first is the "Main Title," a hard-hitting slice of action music that mixes alternates brassy, dramatic horn arrangements with swirling, yearning strings over a jazzy rhythm section perked up with electronic percussion. The other theme is a romantic theme entitled "Is This the Song I'll Be Singing Tomorrow," which is presented in both instrumental and vocal versions. This theme is a lounge-y track that blends a jazzy, saxophone-driven melody with some easy listening orchestral touches. The remaining tracks are variations on these themes. This approach could have easily gotten dull, but the themes overflow with strong melodic content, and Barry's skill as an arranger shifts them in directions that keep them consistently interesting: "Garden Fight" pares the main theme down into a slower, more ominous track that is spiced up with staccato horn and drum passages, and "Billy and Ann's Love Theme" strips the lounge and jazz elements from the romantic theme to create a lush orchestral track. All in all, Game of Death is a strong action score that will appeal to anyone who enjoyed Barry's work on the James Bond films. The other score on the disc was penned for Night Games, an offbeat erotic thriller from French director Roger Vadim. For this film, Barry created a score that mixes his characteristically classy orchestral touch with moodier, more eccentric touches that work with the film's unusual tone. For instance, "Descent Into Decadence" starts with a lilting theme built on piano and gentle strings, but soon transforms into a creepy theme full of low strings and spooky wordless choir vocals. This element of darkness is balanced with some playful elements: For example, "The Lesbian Tango" marries classical string arrangement to a campy, tongue-in-cheek tango rhythm. The end result is a score that is more experimental than most of Barry's work, but just as rewarding. In the end, Game of Death/Night Games may seem like an odd pairing (and it is), but their union shows off the depth of John Barry's talent and makes a valuable and generous disc for the Barry fan.
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AllMusic Review by Donald A. Guarisco
feat: Colleen Camp