Some movie soundtracks take on lives of their own, transcending the films for which they were originally composed. One such example is the theme for Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence, which composer Ryuichi Sakamoto has regularly dusted down and rearranged since it came out in 1982, from his 1996 and Playing The Piano albums to a version with Alva Noto, “Ax Mr L”. Indeed, the ‘hit’ version – with David Sylvian on vocals, titled “Forbidden Colours” – existed in two versions almost immediately: the synth version and the piano remake that found homes for a while on Sylvian’s Secrets Of The Beehive. So it’s no surprise when the melody appears once more in a new context.
For it is a fresh remix of “Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence” that opens Francesco Tristano‘s new album Surface Tension, the chords fitting in over a pulsing rhythm while the melody is deconstructed, appearing here and there in flashes. It’s a little odd, given that Tristano is best known as a pianist, that he would opt to rework Sakamoto’s performance rather than build the track from the ground up. But equally it works as a statement of intent. Tristano may have burst into public consciousness with his piano arrangement of Derrick May‘s timeless “Strings Of Life” (another tune that has transcended its origins), but this album takes things up a notch and there’s very little actual piano played here. Having once covered May’s work, Tristano is now collaborating with the techno legend and releasing the results on Transmat. The cover shows a black coated Francesco staring down the lens, sucking his cheeks in and looking moody, when arguably a more accurate interpretation would be of Tristano grinning, thumbs aloft with the #winning meme splashed across the front.
Techno fans will probably be equally joyful with the appearance of Derrick May. Even if it is in a collaborative sense and only on half the tracks, it’s good to have him back on record. Tristano is no slouch in the studio setting here, but together they find that little bit extra (those subtle mechanical chimes in “Infinite Rise”, the swooshing pad on “In Da Manor”) that elevates the tracks and the album as a whole. Tristano may have recorded an album of solo piano for renowned classical giant Deutsche Grammophon (BachCage) but he also had his work remixed whilst on that label and is fully committed to producing a cohesive and melodic techno record here. The impressive results further underline the cross-fertilization between the classical and electronica fields – as fans of Ryuichi Sakamoto will have noted many years ago, there is no point confining oneself to one sound or one genre – music is music, after all. (Jeremy Bye)