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Star Trek: The Next Generation — Soundtrack Collection!

I have been loving the steady release, over the past several years, of the complete soundtracks for almost all of the Star Trek films.  It is incredible to be able to listen to those wonderful Trek soundtracks in their complete and un-edited form.

As a reminder that Star Trek has had just as robust a musical history on TV as on the big screen, we have the amazing three-CD set of music from Star Trek: The Next Generation, released last year by La-La Land Records.  What an amazing collection!  I have been loving listening to it, and I’ve been meaning to write about it here on the site for months.

The first two discs on the set are focused on two of the three men who scored the vast majority of Next Gen episodes: Dennis McCarthy and Jay Chattaway.  For the fifth through seventh seasons of the show, these two men alternated episodes.  With only one or two exceptions, they scored every episode.  For the first four years of the show, Mr. McCarthy alternated episodes with another terrific conductor, Ron Jones.  Mr. Jones’ music is not represented on this CD collection, probably because of the extraordinary, unprecedented, enormous collection a few years back of The Ron Jones Project, a fourteen-CD collection of every single piece of music Mr. Jones wrote for Star Trek: The Next Generation.  You read that right, fourteen CDs.  It’s crazy.

So anyways, the first two discs of this set focus on the music of Mr. McCarthy and Mr. Chattaway, while the third and final disc focuses on the work of some of the show’s guest composers (two of whom, have gone on to major success in the movies).

This collection is really terrific, an extraordinary collection of great music from this great TV show.  It’s an extensive collection of tracks, drawn from throughout the series’ seven-season run.  They really covered all the bases of the best of music from the run of the show.  It is hard to think of an episode whose music stands out that isn’t represented on this collection.

Disc One: Dennis McCarthy — Mr. McCarthy has been one of the most defining musical voices of the modern incarnations of Star Trek on TV.  He scored more hours of Star Trek than any other single composer, working on all of the Star Trek spin-off shows from Next Generation to Enterprise.  (He also scored the Next Gen crew’s big-screen debut, Generations.)  Mr. McCarthy’s disc begins in a somewhat surprising fashion, with a lengthy series of excerpts from his score from the pretty lousy first-season episode “Haven.”  I am not quite sure why the producers decided to include such a large amount of music from this one episode, but I must admit that the music is pretty good!  I particularly enjoyed the jaunty theme on strings that runs through the tracks.  Track 8, from “Hide and Q,” and Track 10, from the creepy first-season alien parasite episode “Conspiracy,” both have some great suspenseful, creepy-crawly music, very reminiscent in sound and tone to what Mark Snow would make his bread-and-butter, years later, scoring The X-Files.  I was interested to hear, in many of the first season episodes on this disc, how often Mr, McCarthy incorporated the main Next Gen theme into his scores.  I sort of miss that in the later seasons!  It’s also interesting to hear how prevalent was a second major heroic theme, a “Picard theme,” in those early episodes.  That did not survive much past the first season.  (One of the last times it was heard, I believe, is in the triumphant fanfare at the very start of “The Child,” the second season premiere, heard in track 11 on this disc.)  Other highlights of the disc include the fun, zippy, Data’s-on-the-case music from “Elementary, Dear Data” in tracks 13-14; the beautiful piano lullaby from “The Survivors” in tracks 16-18, and some fun action/suspense music from “Conundrum” in track 20.  The CD ends with Mr. McCarthy’s gorgeous piece of music from the wonderful final scene of “All Good Things,” the series finale.  As Picard finally joins his friends and comrades at the Enterprise poker table, and then as the Enterprise sails off into the glorious star-scape of the unknown, Mr. McCarthy’s note-perfect music puts a lump in my throat every time I listen to it.  Wonderful stuff, the perfect finale to a great TV show.  (I only wish there was more music from “All Good Things” on this disc!)

Disc Two: Jay Chattaway — Quite a lot of the material on disc one, Mr. McCarthy’s disc, is from the early seasons of the show.  I don’t really love the music from the first two years of Next Gen.  I think that music tended to be a little too over-the-top.  It called too much attention to itself, in my opinion, and not in a good way.  I feel the more subdued music from the later seasons was more effective.  So it’s interesting that, listening to this music on its own, I was far more taken with Mr. McCarthy’s disc (which contains a lot of music from the early seasons) than with Mr. Chattaway’s (which contains music from seasons 4-7).  I think Jay Chattaway’s music is great, and his music works PERFECTLY in the context of Next Gen episodes.  But listening to the music on its own on disc two, I found myself a little bored.  There was a certain sameness to the music that made it harder to stay engaged than disc one did.  There are fewer strikingly discernable themes in these selections.  The action music for “Darmok” (tracks 8-10) is not noticeably different from the action music for Silicon Avatar (track 11).  If I was to play, say, tracks 15 (“I, Borg”), 21 (“Starship Mine”), 22 (“The Chase”), and 23 (“Journey’s End”) without the track listings, I don’t think there’s any way I’d be able to identify what episodes the music came from.  This is not a criticism of Mr, Chattaway’s work.  As I noted above, in the context of watching the episodes, I think his music works terrifically well.  Also, it seems that much of this “sameness” was the result of the producers’ direction.  (I think this push for a more uniform sound for the show is one of the reasons why Ron Jones left.)  There is a lot of great work represented on this disc, no doubt.  I loved hearing the music from “Relics” (tracks 19-20), and Mr. Chattaway’s use of the Alexander Courage classic Trek fanfare, appropriate for an episode featuring Scotty.  I was also pleased by the generous sampling of music from “The Inner Light” (tracks 16-18 and 24-25), which features the iconic music from Picard’s Ressikan flute.

Disc Three: Guest Composers — Disc three features lengthy selections from only three episodes of the series: season one’s “Code of Honor,” season six’s “Face of the Enemy,” and season seven’s “Pegasus.”  All three were rare examples of a Next Gen episode scored by a composer other than Dennis McCarthy, Ron Jones, or Jay Chattaway.  All three scores are solid, but I must say I’m confused as to why the makers of this CD-set decided to cram Mr. McCarthy and Mr. Chattaway’s music onto only one disc each, generally using only very short, few-minutes-long clips from their episodes, while these three scores were given much longer excerpts, filling up all of disc three with music from only three episodes.  All three scores are solid, to be sure, but they’re really only remarkable because of who was responsible for them.  “Code of Honor” was scored by Fred Steiner, who worked on the original Star Trek series and is hugely responsible for that show’s musical sound.  “Face of the Enemy” was scored by Don Davis, who would go on to score a lot of movies, such as The Matrix, and “Pegasus” was scored by John Debney, who would go on to score The Passion of the Christ, Sin City, Zathura, and many more successful films.  It’s neat to spotlight the Next Gen work of those three big names, but I would have preferred to have given more disc space to Mr. McCarthy and Mr. Chattaway.  Oh well.  “Code of Honor” is an interesting score as, with this very early episode, everyone was still honing in on the musical sound of Next Gen.  Mr. Steiner’s score is very much in the musical style of Classic Trek, big and bombastic.  This really wasn’t at all the musical direction in which Next Gen would go.  Still, it’s cool to hear a Next Gen episode scored in Classic Trek style.  Don Davis’ “Face of the Enemy” score is dark and rich, suspenseful and creepy, as befits an episode all about Romulans and espionage.  John Debney’s score for “Pegasus” also has some of that suspenseful nature, mixed with exciting action cues.  The liner notes by Jeff Bond reference the sound of Jerry Goldsmith’s Starfleet music from Star Trek: The Motion Picture when analyzing Mr. Debney’s score — high praise — and I must admit that a similar thought crossed my mind when listening to it.

What fun it was listening to all of this great music from Star Trek: The Next Generation!  It’s great to see the music — and musicians — of Next Gen get such love.  This set is labeled “Volume One” and so I eagerly await a second volume.  However, last spring, we got something even better than a Star Trek: The Next Generation Volume Two — we got a four-disc collection of music from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, my favorite of the Trek shows!  I will be back next week with my comments on that collection…

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