Disco was the true producer’s medium of the ’70s and early ’80s. As such, it tended to draw in musical renaissance men whose skills allowed them to fill several different roles involved in the creation of a record. Boris Midney was one such example of this trend: to merely call him a record producer did him a disservice because he could compose, arrange and play multiple instruments in addition to doing his own engineering and producing. He also built his own high-tech, 48-track studio and occasionally did his own album photography, to boot.
Midney was best known for lavish, complex works of original disco material that blended orchestral and jazz touches along with the expected melodic hooks and grooves. Like many disco producers, he dabbled in adapting work from other musical mediums to the disco format but his range of skills and musically eclectic sensibility allowed him to do it in a truly distinctive fashion. Harmless’s Disco Recharge series recently connected Midney’s disco adaptations, Evita and The Empire Strikes Back, in one two-CD set.
Festival – Evita
This album, released under the studio project name Festival, takes its core material from the popular Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice musical Evita. Rather than try to adapt the entire musical, Festival’s Evita takes a “highlights” approach, with Midney cherry-picking six songs that suit his dancefloor-centric approach. The results work surprisingly well as a sort of disco concept album because Midney doesn’t try to beat Broadway at its own game. Instead, he strips down the songs to their core hooks, sometimes retaining only a few chant-style lyrics for the singers as he retools the songs to fit the needs of a discotheque.
Both sides of the album function as carefully-segued medleys that create an impressionistic sense of stage-musical grandeur. The first side works its way through “Buenos Aires,” “I Could Be Surprisingly Good For You” and “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina.” As you might expect, it has a strong Latin flair, with an emphasis on percussion. “Argentina” is the show-stopper here: as the obvious single, it follows the lyrics and the melody the closest of anything on the album. However, it is transformed from a somber ballad into an uptempo dance piece that allows it fit into disco’s tradition of songs where the singers dance to keep from crying.
The second side gets even more impressionistic as “High Flying, Adored,” “Rainbow High” and “She Is A Diamond” are transformed into a medley where most of the lyrics are thrown out so the music can take the lead. Midney’s horn and string arrangement skills take center stage here, conveying the high melodrama one expects from both Broadway blockbusters and the best disco epics. The finale is a Midney original, “Eva’s Theme (Lady Woman),” a mostly instrumental affair that provides a suitably grand yet danceable coda.
The Empire Strikes Back:
The concept of film themes as disco music fodder went into overdrive when Meco Monardo took his “Star Wars/Cantina Band” medley onto the pop charts. Midney was tapped to do the honors for a disco adaptation of themes from The Empire Strikes Back but his work doesn’t follow Meco’s pop chart-friendly template. Instead, he reworks John Williams’ familiar score cues as a jump-off point for a jazzy, often playful set of musical explorations that don’t strain to achieve a disco effect.
Indeed, Midney’s take on The Empire Strikes Back works better as disco-tinged mood music than as straightforward dance fare. The grooves move at a relaxed, midtempo pace, with “Yoda’s Theme” using its rhythm section to create some tension against the wistful melody and the take on “Star Wars (Main Theme)” going for a low-slung funkiness offset by some fanciful, syncopated horn charts. The jazzy take on “The Imperial March” is a surprise, complete with some Herb Alpert-style trumpet solos in its midsection, and “Han Solo And The Princess (Love Theme),” goes for a mellow, gauzy ‘sleaze disco’ slow groove, right down to the misty-eyed saxophone work.
Evita is listed as a “Special Edition” here because the reissue’s producers made a serious effort to add some significant bonus material that almost doubles the disc’s length. Both sides of the “Special Dance Music Version” 12-inch drawn from this set are included. They pare the album’s two sides down to a pair of tight 10 minute medleys that cut down the more expressive flourishes of Midney’s arrangement to play up the hooks and rhythms. “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina” is presented in both single and 12-inch versions, the latter from an obscure Mexican release. The former adds a new intro lifted from a bridge that it otherwise edits out and the latter loops one verse and a bridge a few times to create a sort of “mega-mix” effect.
If you appreciate disco as something you listen to as much as something you can dance to, this Disco Recharge set is a very rewarding collection. Midney’s elegant yet adventurous arrangements hold up nicely to repeat listens and the bonus material clinches this set’s value for disco fans. It’s well worth the catalog-title price.