In 1975 and 1976, producer/director Frederick R. Friedel shot a pair of shoestring budgeted drive-in epics in North Carolina. Long neglected, Axe and Kidnapped Coed finally see the light of day on Severin Films' Blu-Ray, which includes a CD of original soundtrack cuts by Charlotte musicians George Newman Shaw and John Wilhelm. This is cause for celebration for regional music fans, because Shaw and Wilhelm, who lives were cut tragically short in a car crash, were influential figures in the local scene who were on the cusp of breaking nationally. (Grammy winning jazz fiddler Vasser Clements made it a point to play with them at a then-relatively new venue called The Double Door.)
Shaw and Wilhelm reportedly recorded these soundtracks for no fee, eager for the experience. If so, Friedel hit the jackpot with the young composers. Axe's cyclical title theme, a romantic, eerie and melancholy lullaby, is carried by Newman's Wurlitzer piano. Elsewhere the pair creates tension with ghostly vibraphone, trilling synthesizer effects and thudding electronic pulses that foreshadow John Carpenter's minimalist cues on Halloween.
For light relief, Shaw and Wilhlem drop, "Smellin' Up the Kitchen" and "Little Baked Potato" a pair of raucously goofy cod-country and western tunes that play as found sound in the films.
In contrast to Axe, the theme for Kidnapped Coed is full-tilt 1970s jazz-fusion — jittery, dissonant and dizzying - harkening to the intricately shifting harmonics of Chick Corea and Return to Forever. Elsewhere, stripped back polyrhythmic percussion amps up the anticipation and dread on sound cues composed for action sequences.
Despite the maturity and mastery of Shaw and Wilhlem's soundtrack work, it's on the CD's bonus tracks where the young musicians shine. These tracks are an audio record of Moose Magic, the pair's pop-jazz band, and they are a revelation. The smoothly assured jazz-fusion of "Celestial Flame" boasts cascading keyboards and Shaw's clean corkscrewing guitar runs — doubly impressive since he played left handed with the instrument flipped upside down. This and the sprawling-yet-soothing epic "Coney Island" recall the virtuosic work of contemporary John McLaughlin and Mahavishnu Orchestra – if McLaughlin had extended his chops and experimentation to the three minute pop song.
But for all it's high points, Severin's CD must remain a tantalizing teaser of Shaw and Wilhelm's oeuvre. It leaves the listener wishing there was still more music from these young musicians whose promise and future seemed limitless.