British composer Daniel Pemberton has a serious ear for jazz with his Latin-inspired score for Warner Bros./Village Roadshow’s all femme caper Ocean’s 8 and the flute-’60s infused score of Guy Ritchie’s The Man From U.N.C.L.E as colorful and vibrant as that spy pic itself.
Pemberton, who has been Ridley Scott’s go-to composer as of late with pics like All the Money in the World, The Counsellor and The Vatican TV movie, continues to build on its penchant for vibrant syncopation in Edward Norton’s film noir Motherless Brooklyn. The film stars Norton as Lionel Essrog, a Tourette syndrome challenged private detective, who in investigating his mentor’s murder (Bruce Willis) uncovers a huge real estate conspiracy in 1950s New York City.
“A lot of my scores are based around rhythm and groove, those are the underpinnings of jazz and that’s one of the things that excites me,” Pemberton says on the latest episode of Crew Call, “I love rhythm and how that can propel a story.”
While Pemberton was going to take a break after writing the score for Sony’s Oscar-winning Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, it was too tempting for him to collaborate with Norton after meeting him for a drink at the Chiltern Firehouse in London.
“He brought up Vangelis in our meeting, and that was the moment in our meeting, I thought, oh, this is interesting,” adds Pemberton.
“We talked about Chariots of Fire and I thought this is a fascinating director. Because Chariots of Fire is a bit of a punchline of a score, which is very unfair because it’s an amazing score. It’s an incredibly brave decision to make a period drama and score using synthesizers. That for me is what cinema is about — brave decisions and creating new emotions, rather than reheating old ones,” says the composer.
“He wasn’t looking for a synthesized score, he was looking for something that viewed the subject matter from a different angle just like in the same way that Chariots of Fire viewed a period English drama from a different angle. We discussed how we could view Motherless Brooklyn from a different angle; how do we not go straight down the route of a traditional noir score,” continues Pemberton.
Jazz is an integral character in the film with Michael K. Williams playing a trumpeter in the film, and key sequences taking place at the music club, The Rooster.
“(We thought) why don’t we take the sounds of the period and the time and the world and in the instrumentation approached that from today, like a modern approach. I wanted to limit the palette of instrumentation to pretty much instruments you see in the film which is most of the time, trumpet, saxophone, double bass, piano and drums,” says Pemberton.
Pemberton has been nominated for two Golden Globes, for his Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs and the title song from the Matthew McConaughey feature Gold. He also received a 2018 Primetime nod for his score to the Black Mirror episode “USS Callister.” Next up, you can hear Pemberton again in February on Warner Bros.’ Birds of Prey which he provides ’80s guitar rock n’ roll flavor to the DC comic book feature.