AOM Logo April 2000

Dave Grusin: Random Hearts


Michael McClennan

Cover Image

A resurgence of the jazz soundtrack has taken place over the past several years, primarily as a result of the mega success of When Harry Met Sally. Sydney Pollack's Random Hearts continues the jazz trend, and, as a film, succeeds. As a stand alone musical presentation, Harry Connick Jr.'s approach for ...Sally works better.

Piano great Dave Grusin's score for Random Hearts does not follow the typical formula for soundtrack writing today. He has layered the orchestra with a jazz quartet, with himself playing a significant role, Terence Blanchard on trumpet, John Patitucci on bass, and Harvey Mason on drums. Grusin's orchestrations paint a contemplative portrait, while the occasional sound of Blanchard's muted trumpet adds bite. Guest appearances of Diana Krall, Arturo Sandoval and Patty Larkin splash some colour into the album.

...Hearts is filled with wonderful musical ideas serving as punctuation for the film. Unfortunately, as a jazz listener, I'm left hungry. Few of the ideas are completed, and I wonder what could have been. Looking for Peyton is a quartet number with Grusin playing the role of Bill Evans and Blanchard as Miles. Cabin Fever is a gentle look into minimalist pop-jazz. Grusin has a writing style reminiscent of Michel Legrand. You can hear the composer think, as though he improvises at the piano, and the orchestra reads his mind.

As a recording, Random Hearts works beautifully courtesy of Grusin's instictive production brilliance. The sound of the quartet is organic. Each instrument is precisely recorded, providing a distinct voice within the small group. As such, the quartet's sound is uniform, layered by each player's individual timbre. Lovely.

No current jazz collection is complete without the obligatory appearance by Diana Krall. However, if you're looking for some rare, previously unreleased tracks, you won't find them here. While The Folks Who Live On The Hill is a wonderful performance, it has appeared on an earlier album of which all Ms. Krall's fans are familiar.

Decisions is a perfect example of the limitations of the jazz soundtrack. We are offered a melody from Blanchard's horn and the quartet, and we're hooked, with expectation of a complete jazz offering. The melody barely gets off the ground, when a string pad takes the floor, and soft piano ends the track. It would be nice to hear this quartet in a less restricted setting, playing complete charts rather than buttoned to the strictures of a soundtrack.

The soundtrack portion of Random Hearts concludes with Closing In, a Herbie Hancock-like driving groove that promises to get everyone out of their seats. However, it is interrupted by the all too familiar strings, and then the trumpet motive of Terence Blanchard. The last track is a Patty Larkin pop original, and as presented here, suggests it's time to put our popcorn on the floor and find the car. It's pleasent enough, but I'm not sure how it fits on this album, except as the token pop tune required for a film's closing credits.

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