By Richie Unterberger

On their first two albums, The New York Rock & Roll Ensemble and Faithful Friends, the New York Rock & Roll Ensemble had helped innovate the use of classical instrumentation, classical musical influences, and even actual classical compositions within a rock context. On one level, Reflections did so as well, but on another, it was something of a detour. For rather than focusing on original material, the band instead collaborated with Greek composer Manos Hadjidakis on a score for a movie that was never released—though Reflections is the soundtrack that would have been used in the film.

    As bassist/cellist Dorian Rudnytsky explains, a Turkish film actor, Ulvi Dogan, had been involved with the production of a film titled Susuz Yaz (in English, Dry Summer), "which received lots of praise and won some awards in the late '60s. The music score had been written by Manos Hadjidakis [best known in the US as the composer of the score for Never on Sunday, including its title song]. Dogan wanted the film to be released in the Unites States, but for this needed to 'modernize' certain aspects of his (basically folk-style) film, and the idea came about to write out a new musical score for the film, with Manos's music and NYR&RE arrangements, sound, vocals, and lyrics. Manos came looking for us; we found the idea appealing and interesting enough, and went ahead with the project. The other obvious change was renaming the film Reflections, and that's why the album kept that title."

    However, Rudnytsky continues, "If memory serves me, Manos and Dogan had a disagreement of some sort. I'm sorry to say that today I don't remember at all what it was about, but I do recall the screaming fight between the two of them at Atlantic Records during one of our sessions, and I know that it was a 'terminal fight.' One thing, however, was certain—the project halted, although the score was completed. We did not spend a lot of time mourning the stop on the film release, since we had more and more live gigs to play and also began, quite directly after the work for Reflections, [working] on Faithful Friends. Reflections was actually recorded before Faithful Friends, but released as the third album. We at that time gave no thought to the commercial possibilities of Reflections, since it was meant to be a movie soundtrack only."

    The New York Rock & Roll Ensemble were nonetheless happy to work with Hadjidakis on the project, for which they were likely one of the few rock bands of the time who made for appropriate collaborators. According to Dorian, "Manos wrote the music and the orchestral arrangements. We did our own band arrangements of his works. If he had specific wishes, then we complied without problems, and if we had ideas for him, he also accepted them very graciously and happily. The work together was extremely productive and successful all around, if not a bit difficult at first for the 'non-classically-trained' members of the band. [Rhythm guitarist] Brian [Corrigan] and [lead guitarist] Clif [Nivison], the self-taught guys, had more problems with this music, especially since they could not read music and everything Manos did was on sheet music or charts. But they enjoyed the project as well once they got into it and became more familiar with the Greek-style arrangements and orchestrations. I don't mean to underrate Clif or Brian—they were extremely fast learners and extraordinarily creative. They simply had not been confronted with this sort of music nor style of work prior to this project."

    Hadjidakis also produced the album with (in the words of the credits) "the collaboration of Adrian Barber & Bruce Tergesen," who produced the group's Faithful Friends album and also managed the band. "We originally viewed this studio work as a 'film project,' which for us was quite a positive thing to do," elaborates Rudnytsky. "We were aware that to do a film score could open new doors and possibilities for us.  Already [keyboardist/oboist] Michael [Kamen] and [drummer/oboist] Marty [Fulterman] both had a distinct interest [in] those areas and pressed very enthusiastically for this project right from the start. And in this sense, it was very much a part of our band's work—steps for building our future."

    Every member of the band except Fulterman had at least one lead vocal on the record (which also featured two instrumentals), and all except Kamen were credited with supplying lyrics for Hadjikdakis's music. "We simply picked out certain songs or melodies we liked and felt a kinship to, and went off to do our best," remembers Dorian. "In some cases, more than one person wrote lyrics for one song, and then the band as a whole chose the one we liked best. This was normal for us. Manos also took part, but his English was not 100 percent so he commented less on the choices of the lyrics." Points out Nivison, "Michael did write lyrics, but Manos didn't use his lyrics. Although he didn't get credit, some of Michael's lyrics are in the songs in spots. Manos tried all of us singing all the songs and picked the vocalist that suited the song." Dorian also speculates that Kamen might have taken relatively little part in the work as "he might have been concentrating his creative work more for the then-upcoming Atlantic sessions for Faithful Friends."

    As for his own lyrical contributions, Rudnytsky notes, "I specifically recall that no one else in the band wanted to deal with the music that later became 'Orpheus.' I attempted several different directions of lyrical ideas with this music and settled on the Orpheus legend as a basis after discussions and advice about it with my first wife Monique and her mother, the poetess Marie Ponsot. I think it was due to the unusual lyric that everyone involved agreed I should sing it myself as well—my one and only appearance as 'lead singer.' 'Noble Dame' was more easy to write. My basis was an earlier relationship I had had with, indeed, a noble young lady (a Baroness)  from Germany. She was the basic image I wrote at, and of course then with imagination altered to become the person in the song called the 'Noble Dame.' Life took its most peculiar and wonderful course, and I met this Baroness again many many years later. One thing led to another, and now Brigitte and I are married, and I am in Germany due to her marvelous presence in my life."

    Also using some instrumental contributions by Greek musicians in the New York area, Reflections was a creative endeavor for the band, but not a commercially successful one. "The older people responded more favorably, the younger less," recalls Dorian. "Our root audience did not care for it much." Similarly, Nivison feels the album "lost us all our audience and confused all our fans. Atlantic had a three-album deal with us; they used this album [which, as noted, was actually recorded before their second LP to be released on Atlantic, Faithful Friends]  to fulfill their end of the deal. If we knew they were going to use this as our third album, we never would have done it. Ironically, the Reflections album is the one that was a hit in Europe, had some Top 20 songs over there, and has given us the most royalties and airplay of all our albums. It also doesn't sound dated. It is timeless. It has been re-recorded [on a 2005 CD] song for song by the Greek Top 20 band Raining Pleasure, and is a hit again." Add Rudnytsky, "We were too young and immature to notice and follow what happened with it in Europe. If we had, I believe the whole Ensemble experience would have been something very, very different after this album."

    As it turned out, however, Atlantic Records dropped the band after the LP's 1970 release, though the group (continuing as a quartet without Corrigan) would record more albums for Columbia as the New York Rock Ensemble. The late Kamen, as it turned out, would do quite a bit more work on soundtracks after the group split (including Brazil, Lethal Weapon, and Die Hard), as well as making important contributions to records by David Bowie and Pink Floyd. Fulterman, too, made a name for himself (as Mark Snow) in the soundtrack world, particularly for his work on television's The X-Files series. Rudnytsky worked with Snow in Los Angeles for a time as a cellist for the TV/film industry, although since 1995 he's been living in Germany, where he's active as a cellist and bassist, and composes for theatrical productions. "No bands since our time have had more than just one member in the band who could whip out a classical instrument during a rock set, and play it not only well, but on an internationally qualitatively competitive level," he observes. "I'm still proud and eternally happy for that chance I had to be in such a band." -- Richie Unterberger

contents copyright Richie Unterberger, 2000-2010
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