As urban thrillers became grittier affairs during the late 1960s and early 1970s, so did their soundtracks: hit films like Bullitt and The French Connection threw aside classical-styled orchestral soundtracks in favor of jazz-inspired music that used non-orchestral electric instruments. One of the best soundtracks in this vein is David Shire's ambitious jazz score for The Taking of Pelham 123, a fast-paced thriller about a group of criminals who hijack a subway car in New York City. With this score, Shire downplays melodic content and lush orchestral arrangements in favor of a rhythm-based sound that is mostly brought to life by a jazz band. The end result is an exciting, propulsive score that is every bit as tough as the city in which the film is set. Good examples of the score's hard-hitting approach include "Main Title," which layers explosive horn arrangements and serpentine keyboard riffs over a rhythm section that pits hard-grooving basslines against constantly shifting but always insistent layers of percussion, and which layers ominous brass over a rumbling barrage of fast-paced percussion, and "Money Montage" which creates maximum tension by letting the horn section duel with the rhythm section on a tune that constantly and abruptly shifts its tempo. Other cuts take a moodier but no less gritty approach: "The Taking" slowly builds ominous layers of horns to create its mood of growing hysteria, and "The Pelham's-Moving-Again Blues" restates elements of the title theme against a taut backdrop of rumbling percussion and scratching rhythm guitar. The one downside of The Taking of Pelham 123 is that it is a short disc (the running time is just barely over a half-hour), but it does contain the complete score and rounds out the package with an impressive set of liner notes that include track-by-track annotation and an interview with the composer. In the end, The Taking of Pelham 123 is one of the best and most inventive thriller scores of the 1970s, and a worthwhile discovery for fans of jazzy soundtracks.
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AllMusic Review by Donald A. Guarisco