The studio environment that produces the dark, propulsive rhythms of the music for “Crossing Jordan” seems a far cry from the rock-star world Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman once inhabited — first as part of Prince’s Revolution, then on their own in the late ’80s and early ’90s as the eclectic rock-jazz-funk duo Wendy & Lisa.
Since 1995, they’ve become better known as composers for films and TV, with such credits as “Dangerous Minds,” “Soul Food” and “Juwanna Mann.” “Crossing Jordan” executive producer Allan Arkush brought them aboard the NBC series after working with them in 1999 on the short-lived David E. Kelley series “Snoops.”
Arkush, a longtime rock and folk fan who once ran psychedelic lights at New York’s famous Fillmore East music venue, says of his composers: “They are as important to the show as any member of the cast or the writing staff. They are primary to the final version of ‘Crossing Jordan,’ part of the roots that the show is built on.”
Melvoin and Coleman have scored all 100 episodes of the series, beginning five years ago with slightly Celtic-flavored themes reflecting medical examiner Jordan Cavanaugh’s Boston Irish heritage.
“When we first started the series,” says Melvoin, “we had a friend, Eric Rigler, come in to play the Irish flute, bagpipes and Uillean pipes.
“But as the show started evolving and became more procedural, not as character-driven,” adds Coleman, “the music had to change with that, and sound a little more electronic.”
Melvoin uses the word “soundscapes” to describe the current musical mood. Virtually all of the series’ music (an average of 15 minutes per episode) is created by them and engineer Richard Davis in their Hollywood studio.
“We’re not really TV people,” Melvoin notes. “We come from a film place. We fight with TV constantly — we want to take cues longer, a little bit further, so that (the music) isn’t choked.”
Childhood friends and longtime musical partners, their other notable TV credit is the strangely hypnotic quasi-Western theme for HBO’s former drama “Carnivale.”
“We’re so lucky to have this gig,” says Coleman. “It’s been five years of steady work. We have it down to a science now. We work probably three days a week on the show, and that allows us the rest of the week to work on a film project or do a band gig.”
There may be more of the latter in their future: They’ve formed a new band, FunkSway, with Erykah Badu and members of the Roots, and have recently reunited with Prince (with whom they shared a Grammy for writing the music of “Purple Rain”).
“We’ve sort of renewed an adult friendship with him, and it’s been quite nice. We’ll see what comes of that,” Melvoin says.