Jazz and classical performers have been cashing in on movie themed compilations since nearly the advent of talking pictures, and most of them suffer from being either too syrupy and sentimental or overly bombastic. Rare is the album where I find the artist has taken the material and not only made it his own, but transformed it into something that transcends the films from which the themes originate.
David Krakauer’s new album, “The Big Picture,” does just that, as the clarinetist explores music from twelve movies driven in whole or in part by Jewish themes or association, from “The Pianist” and “Life Is Beautiful” to “The Producers” and the films of Woody Allen. The melodies are familiar, but the settings and arrangements for a six-piece jazz combo are inspired.
The album opens with “Wilkommen” from “Cabaret.” Krakauer channels his musical hero Sidney Bechet, turning the number into a second-line New Orleans march where Teyve would find himself at home. “Life Is Beautiful” divided movie critics in 1997, but its sweet theme here should please everyone; it benefits from the added texture of an electric guitar, barrelhouse piano and Krakauer’s bluesy solo. A nice touch on the album is pianist Rob Burger, who doesn’t limit himself to the ivories. His occasional use of the celeste conjures up the magical associations that come from the instrument’s use in “The Nutracker” by Tchaikovsky or John Williams’ score for “Harry Potter.”
The two most surprising and delightful cuts come at the end of the album. The penultimate track, Barbra Streisand’s warhorse “People,” is saved from past associations with makwishness. It's introduced with the throaty sound of Krakauer’s bass clarinet, followed by moving, lyrical solos by violinist Jenny Scheinman, and then Krakauer again, taking up his higher register instrument. Following that, the whole group goes to town on a raucous romp, “Tradition” from “Fiddler On The Roof.” The uptempo number features a tastefully outrageous electric guitar solo by Adam Rogers that had me wincing with delight. Download this track immediately!
Earlier this year, Krakauer and his cracker-jack band headlined a residency at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York, where they played selections from “The Big Picture” amidst a multi-media performance (You can get a teeny taste of it in the music video below). It must have been a heck of a show. I suspect that if Krakauer decides to do a “Big Picture 2,” it may be the rare sequel that could live up the original.