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Rosewater

By Karol Krok

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Rosewater tells a story of an Iranian  journalist Maziar Bahari (played by Gael García Bernal) who is imprisoned by Iranian after conducting a humorous interview regarding presidential election in that country. He spends almost four month in a prison being brutally interrogated and the smell of one oppressor gave this film its cryptic title. With this film, American writer and satirist Jon Stewart makes his directorial debut. And, so far, it seems it’s a successful one – reviews are definitely encouraging.

In between bigger projects Howard Shore always tried to retain his youthful desire to experiment with different sounds and styles. While several of his orchestral works contained interesting blend of instrumentation (The Cell), this side of his oeuvre is best demonstrated with smaller and intimate projects. Earlier this year, with Maps to the Stars, the composer ventured into the night life of Los Angeles with his experimental and small-scaled work. Rosewater seems like a very natural continuation of that chamber-like sound but exploring a very different ethnic sound palette.

The first part of Howe Records’ soundtrack album showcases colours. ‘Rosewater’ features These Are Strange Times Dearest poem by Bahari (read by Shohreh Aghdashloo) accompanied by gentle ambient underscore enriched by Persian dulcimer santur. Soon the mood becomes warmer when lovel Egyptian ney joins in. ‘Green Movement’ is a brief energetic source piece, driven mostly by percussion and duduk, as well as tanbur and oud. ‘Hej Agha’ focuses mostly on stringed instruments.

‘Election Day’ and ‘Dust and Dirt’ are warm musical piece for duduk. In those cues, the instrument is used differently to its usual and clichéd agonised performances that we know from countless film scores of several past decades. Shore gives it a warm and inviting quality and it’s refreshing to hear. The more typical passages, that we come to expect, can also be heard on the album – ‘Maryam’ and ‘Confession’ feature such writing.

‘Evin Prison’ marks a slight change of mood. It starts with ambient synthesised textures before seguing into more pop-like rhythms. The bleak textures continue with ‘Solitary’ which, as can be expected, marks albums’ lowest and most contemplative moment. ‘Davood’ brings in a modern drum kits into the mix and that definitely enlivens Shore’s music considerably, if only for a brief moment. The climactic  ‘Released’ brings all the ethnic colours together in a decidedly more uplifting track.

The score is augmented with several songs by Mahdyar Aghajani (‘New Bloom’ and ‘Vagheyi’). They blend in quite well into Shore’s underscore but introduce a more modern popular sensibilities into the mix and help appeal to wider audiences, especially when compared to the very low-key score. That is the case also with ‘Ye Baade Khonak’ that closes the soundtrack album. Leonard Cohen’s classic ‘Dance Me to the End of Time’ also makes a surprising appearance and feels completely out of place on this disc.

The Howe Records album is really brief: 28 minutes of score are presented. Which, in all honesty, is all this disc needs. The versatility of Howard Shore is impressive, as ever. Even while approaching the age of 70, he’s still experimenting and looking for new sounds to enrich film experience. But, at the same time, it’s not the type of listen that will be cherished by anyone but most ardent fans. If, however, you’re interested in smaller intimate scoring with some well chosen ethnic colours, Rosewater is definitely for you.

Rosewater is out now from Howe Records

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