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 dis­cothèque.

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.

Bonus Material:

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.

Closing Thoughts:

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.