From the fanfare of the opening crawl to the abrupt cutaway zing of the closing credits, John Williams' soundtrack to The Force Awakens does not disappoint. Williams has always been an integral part of the Star Wars experience, as familiar as the movies themselves, comforting and nostalgic. The fan anticipation and legacy baggage that came with the seventh film in this iconic series was overwhelming, being the first new film since 2005's Revenge of the Sith and the direct sequel to 1983's Return of the Jedi, yet the results are not crushed by outlandish pressure. For The Force Awakens, Williams began work in late 2014, before recording began in Los Angeles in June 2015 (the first time a Star Wars film score was not recorded at Abbey Road). He enlisted a freelance orchestra and, with the help of William Ross and Los Angeles Philharmonic conductor Gustavo Dudamel, produced a 23-song journey connecting the past and the future of the Star Wars universe. Here, Williams combines the old and the new with expert subtlety, creating a lush experience that rewards repeat listens. Those familiar with his work on other big-budget sagas (Jurassic Park, Harry Potter, Indiana Jones) will instantly recognize the blaring horns that propel the action, the stirring strings that intensify the tension, and the bombast that contribute to the excitement as much as the scenes portrayed on the screen.
Jackie McLean was a hard-bop alto saxophonist with a fiery tight tone, who recorded extensively in the ‘50s and ‘60s mainly with Blue Note Records. Although his forays with an organ was confined to two albums with Jimmy Smith Open House and Plain Talk, Cory Weeds’ decision to use an organ on this session does not stray off the mark. Condition Blue accomplishes the band’s intention, to acknowledge a saxophonist who had an exploratory vision. In a set list of either McLean originals, or compositions associated with him, this tight-knit band delivers the goods in firm, yet flexible style. The key players in this session in addition, to the cooly effective altoist Weeds, are Mike LeDonne, a B-3 player of energetic disposition, and creative guitarist Peter Bernstein. Also along is drummer Joe Farnsworth who is a propulsive player.
A few years after the release of her fourth album with Verve, a gospel-themed set of reinterpretations titled Fellowship, Lizz Wright signed to the Concord label with an eye toward concentrating on original material. The vocalist made a connection with veteran multi-instrumentalist and producer Larry Klein and recorded Freedom & Surrender with a stable backing band that included drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, percussionist Pete Korpela, bassist Dan Lutz, guitarist Dean Parks, and keyboardists Pete Kuzma and Billy Childs. For most listeners, the change of label and mostly new set of supporting musicians will seem transparent. Like Wright's previous albums, Freedom & Surrender is graceful and exacting, yet those qualities come across in a fashion that does not seem deliberate – remarkable for material that draws from folk, blues, jazz, soul, and gospel and often fuses two or more of those genres. Longtime collaborator Toshi Reagon contributes only two songs, "Freedom" and "Surrender," but they neatly begin and end the album in spirited and assured form. David Batteau and Jesse Harris separately collaborated with Wright and sometimes Klein on the writing of seven selections.