Have you ever watched a movie and really grooved on the soundtrack, only to find that later on, when you bought the soundtrack and listened to it in isolation from the images, it wasn’t all that great? That’s a bit what it’s like to listen to Elevator To The Gallows (Ascenseur Pour l’Échafaud).
Mind you, I’ve never seen the film, but Ascenseur Pour l’Échafaud (issued on the Fontana label) sounds like perfect soundtrack music. It has a marvelous late night, bluesy ambiance to it, but there isn’t a lot going on, really. It’s more focused on attitude than content, which was no doubt the intention. The whole point of a soundtrack is to support what’s going on visually, not distract from it.
You’ve got to give Miles Davis a lot of credit. Somehow, he intuitively understood the function of soundtrack music when he got his European touring band of Barney Wilen (tenor sax), Rene Urtreger (piano), Pierre Michelot (bass), and Kenny Clarke (drums) together to record these pieces. Miles had known he was going to be creating the soundtrack for Elevator To The Gallows for a couple of weeks before the fact, and he had been working out fragments of melody for the session on a piano he had borrowed for that purpose.
Out of all of the cuts, only Motel and Séquence Voiture work as freestanding jazz pieces on their own. They’re both swing tunes, and Miles works up a light sweat on both of them. Those might be worth downloading.
The rest of the tunes don’t rise above the level of background music, which isn’t really a criticism, unless you buy the soundtrack to actually listen to.
There’s another thing to consider before ponying up your hard earned duckets for Elevator To The Gallows. Most the disc is taken up by alternate takes of the material. For Miles freaks or fans of his late 50s work, Elevator To The Gallows might be worth picking up. For the rest of us, there’s only about fifty or so better Miles releases to add to your library first.
I’ve got to admit, though — the soundtrack to Ascenseur Pour l’Échafaud makes me want to see the movie.