The music of the great composer, pianist, conductor and arranger Dave Grusin has graced many a jazz album and film/TV soundtrack. And along the way Grusin has scored some particularly notable and memorable music that matter to both genres.
Indeed it’s difficult to delight in either jazz or film this day in age without appreciating a fraction of the great work Dave Grusin has contributed to both factions, if one considers them separately – though I tend to subscribe to Duke Ellington’s comment that there are only two kinds of music, “good music and the other kind.”
All the colors of Dave Grusin are available in myriad rainbows of soundtrack offerings, jazz outings and arranged sessions easily available in one form or another. A number of Grusin tributes to such composers as Gershwin, Ellington and Mancini are as equally easy to track down as are the career retrospectives and “greatest hits” sets that have appeared over the years.
So do we need another Dave Grusin tribute set? Yes. Emphatically, yes. Is An Evening with Dave Grusin the right set? No. Probably not.
“This recording,” says Grusin in the promotional material, “was a great opportunity to revisit some of my previous film work as well as performing music by George Gershwin, and some material from West Side Story by Leonard Bernstein, two giants among American composers. And I’m especially fond of the Henry Mancini songs. Hank was a friend of mind, and a mentor who helped so many of us get into the business of film scoring.”
This performance, recorded live in Miami, Florida, in December 2009, features an exceptionally personalized selection of Grusin’s film music coupled with Grusin’s own selection of film and TV music from Gershwin, Bernstein and Mancini (previously covered in some of Grusin’s studio albums). Surprisingly, none of Grusin’s jazz is even referenced or remotely featured here.
While that’s fine, it’s neither the most obvious nor the most successful menu of tunes out there.
Grusin seasons the occasion with notable guest stars, including the great Patti Austin (who is topically entertaining on “Makin’ Whoopee,” which Grusin first featured in a performance by Michelle Pfeiffer in his Academy Award nominated score to the 1989 film The Fabulous Baker Boys, as well as on a duet with Jon Secada of “Somewhere”), singer Jon Secada (“Maria”), vibraphonist Gary Burton (“Cool,” “Peter Gunn” – the legendary vibes player who recorded many records for Grusin’s GRP label and featured on the pianist’s Gershwin record as well as a couple of GRP All-Star Big Band records), flautist Nester Torres (“I Feel Pretty”), Arturo Sandoval (who, surprisingly, gets no solo feature on the CD) and Monica Mancini (on her father’s famed “Moon River”).
Unfortunately, none of these greats are necessary to prove any of Grusin’s musical points and all serve to show that, well, it’s just an evening and not an event.
Things get off to a perfectly rousing start with the terrifically memorable “Fratelli Chase” from Grusin’s score to the 1985 film The Goonies (a soundtrack which found life briefly on CD last year courtesy of the Varese Sarabande label, but quickly sold out) before getting into the beautifully immortal “On Golden Pond,” coupled with the other predominant theme from Grusin’s 1981 score to the film On Golden Pond, “New Hampshire Hornpipe.”
Here we get a taste of Grusin’s always lovely piano work, which has always had something of a signature stamp on these particular themes. But just for the record, I’m surprised Grusin has never revived his gorgeous “Lake Song” from this soundtrack.
Grusin also delivers a lovely suite of themes from his Academy Award winning score to the 1988 film The Milagro Beanfield War - a suite originally featured on the composer’s great 1989 disc Migration and including the riveting “Milagro” theme (heard from 06:26 to 08:51 in the suite) – as well as the stirring solo-piano blues of “Memphis Stomp” from Grusin’s Oscar-nominated score to the 1993 film The Firm. It’s sort of surprising that Grusin didn’t take the opportunity to orchestrate this particular piece, choosing to deliver it solo as he did on the original soundtrack. But it’s a monster even so.
From here on in, An Evening With Dave Grusin seems to become an evening with almost everybody else as Grusin’s heady personality nearly disappears behind other composers he obviously admires or guest stars that take the spotlight away from him.
The songs showcasing Patti Austin – who sounds wonderful nonetheless - become far too dominated by her commanding presence and “Somewhere,” with Jon Secada is regrettable at best.
Monica Mancini’s appearance on her father’s “Moon River” is a much better feature, as the singer’s lovely voice never detracts as much from father Hank’s original and extraordinarily lush arrangement and Grusin’s particularly nicely-hued piano solo. This is one of the few instances where Grusin’s honorarium is as much a tribute as a reflection of his own signatory flair.
The “Porgy & Bess Medley” – which delves into Gershwin themes outside of “Porgy & Bess” – “Peter Gunn” and “Cool” are beautifully arranged for orchestra (“Cool” was co-arranged by Tom Scott) but almost a little too pretty and, subsequently a bit too anonymous.
Grusin injects a little Sinatra-flavored Gershwin into “Maria,” which works about as well as Jon Secada’s off-beat/off-kilter vocal. In other words, it kind of doesn’t. And Grusin turns Nestor Torres’ feature on “I Feel Pretty” into a pleasing Latinate similar to some of the work Grusin did early in flautist Dave Valentin’s career and while it’s interesting, it just seems out of place here.
Despite the audience’s audible appreciation (the concert is also available on Blu-ray Disc - with additional tracks - and, oddly, as an iPad app) and several appreciable musical turns, An Evening with Dave Grusin just doesn’t add up to the satisfying event a legend such as Dave Grusin deserves or the musical statement it was meant to be.