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Septembers of Shiraz (Mark Isham)

August 17, 2016

Cover_SeptembersOfShirazSEPTEMBERS OF SHIRAZ

Mark Isham, 2016, Lakeshore Records
22 tracks, 63:50

It seems like it’s been a while since we’ve heard from Mark Isham. I’m glad he’s back with a film score; but will it be any good?

Review by Pete Simons

What is it?

Based on true events, Septembers of Shiraz follows a prosperous Jewish family whose lives are turned upside down in the wake of the 1979 Iranian Revolution. When Isaac is suddenly arrested and taken to a secret prison, his wife is left to make sense of what has happened and must somehow secure Isaac’s release and her family’s safety. Directed by Wayne Blair, it features an original score by Mark Isham.

What does it sound like?

On the surface it sounds like a fairly standard, Middle Eastern-inspired thriller score: slow strings, suspenseful synths, exotic percussion and the occasional cello solo. In the hands of anyone else, it would indeed have been a fairly standard score, but Isham is not your standard composer. He has a unique voice; and even though Septembers of Shiraz really isn’t a groundbreaking work, it’s interesting to hear Isham’s take on this type of score.

If I’m brutally honest, there are large parts of the score that aren’t particularly memorable (and perhaps not even all that interesting away from the movie). There a few tracks that seem to just drone along, but Isham does well to inject melody and drama in to most of the cues. That said, it’s still a dark work nearly all the way through.

Cello, oboe and strings come together beautifully in “Remembering Shiraz”. There’s some bad-ass cello writing in “Search”. Elsewhere “Torture” opens with drones, but soon ads a mournful cello. As said earlier, the cello plays a key role throughout the score; and especially in cues like “A Normal Day”, “Now It Is Our Turn” (alongside oboe), “Making a Withdrawal”, and the aching “Coming Home”, the exciting “Leaving Theran” (against a backdrop of ethnic instruments and percussion).

Isham cranks up the action in cues like “Under Arrest”, “Search”, “Into the Basement”, “Making a Withdrawal” and “Leaving Tehran”. Ethnic and cinematic percussion along with dramatic string ostinati take the lead throughout much of these tracks.

The album concludes with the 7-minute “Crossing the Border”, which takes you on a bit of a journey and brings you to a beautifully mesmerising, cyclical melody for cello and strings. It’s melancholy yet hopeful – really poignant. The only downside being that the cue ends a bit abruptly. It’s open-ended and leaves you wanting more. I suppose that is its point.

Is it any good?

To some extent Mark Isham’s Septembers of Shiraz is a typical thriller score with some Middle-Eastern influences. It’s not gonna set the world on fire, and I suspect most casual listeners may not get past the dark, brooding nature of the score. I mentioned earlier that Isham has a unique voice, and I’m sure it has elevated this score to something more dramatic than it could’ve been. Having said that, I do struggle to recognise Isham’s voice in here. Ultimately, I think the CD representation is a little too long for this type of music; and it’s unfortunate that some of the least interesting cues appear in the first half of the album. All that aside, there are plenty of beautiful cues here. The cello soars and aches throughout the score, often with oboe by its side. The lengthy finale is simply wonderful.

Rating [3/5]


1. Septembers (1.43)
2. Under Arrest (5.33)
3. A Normal Day (2.56)
4. Now It Is Our Turn (1.14)
5. You Can Make It Stop (1.41)
6. Do You Know This Man? (1.49)
7. Never Shared a Table (2.00)
8. A Collection of Men (1.43)
9. Remembering Shiraz (1.25)
10. Search (4.15)
11. Into the Basement (2.46)
12. Torture (3.38)
13. Mohsen’s Little Miracle (2.47)
14. Isaac’s Birthday (2.15)
15. Mercy (1.43)
16. Making a Withdrawal (4.59)
17. Diamonds (1.20)
18. Coming Home (1.46)
19. Reminiscing (1.26)
20. Leaving Tehran (4.21)
21. Into the Mountains (4.58)
22. Crossing the Border (7.32)

Review (C) 2016 Synchrotones

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