Jack Nitzsche

St. Giles Cripplegate

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Rock arranger/composer Jack Nitzsche won a lot of love at Warner Reprise for his outstanding work handling the orchestral duties for Neil Young's albums, and the 1972 album Harvest was a blockbuster in its time. On the strength of an extra, original Nitzsche piece recorded during the sessions for Harvest -- the one imaginatively titled "#1" here -- Reprise gave Nitzsche the go ahead to record an all-orchestral album, which resulted in St. Giles Cripplegate, a project that takes its name after the London church in which it was recorded. Circulated in no more than 2,000 copies initially, St. Giles Cripplegate has long been unavailable, and this Collector's Choice Music issue appears to be its first release on CD. The six pieces here represent the most ambitious statement Nitzsche made as a serious composer apart from his work as an arranger and film composer, and one wishes it were a little better than it is. It is strong on harmonic movement and orchestral timbres, yet weak on thematic ideas that might have carried it along more efficiently; it is rather like film music, which is where Nitzsche ultimately applied the fruits of this experience, as with St. Giles Cripplegate he essentially burned his bridges with the suits at Reprise. It was also done so quickly -- mere weeks passed between Mo Ostin approving the project and its failed release -- a little more time taken polishing the scores and tweaking the London Symphony Orchestra's performance, which is uncharacteristically sloppy at times, may have resulted in something with more depth to it than this. While Nitzsche did later earn an Oscar and a Golden Globe for his film-scoring work, the sort of opportunity offered by St. Giles Cripplegate never came his way again, and that is a pity as he genuinely had some potential in classical music.

Nevertheless, St. Giles Cripplegate does fit into a certain subtext of pop-informed classical music dating from this time -- John Cale recorded his The Academy in Peril, also for Reprise, with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra that same year, and Rod McKuen had been releasing his semi-serious orchestral efforts on Warner albums for years prior to that. Therefore, Nitzsche's effort is not wholly isolated and it is valuable to have it available at last. Unfortunately, the sound on the Collector's Choice Music disc is not that good; it is very quiet and seems to have been mastered by someone with no understanding of how an orchestral recording needs to sound, as it is very flat and undynamic. It has good liner notes by AMG contributor Richie Unterberger, though, and if one desires to add St. Giles Cripplegate to his/her library, don't wait for the super audio CD or some other high-end incarnation of it on silver disc -- this will probably be the one and only re-release it will ever know.

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