Clint Eastwood is on a role. After winning critical acclaim for his modern Western Unforgiven, Eastwood has enjoyed the clout to pursue the projects that he has been interested in. One of those projects was the launching of his own jazz label, Malpaso. Another of those projects was the attempt to produce a movie adaptation of the popular book Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil. Eastwood directs the film, and organized the soundtrack which has been released on his Malpaso label. The film has received rave reviews from critics, and this critic is here to assure that the soundtrack receives nothing less.
For the uninitiated to the phenomenon that is Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil, it is based on the true story of high society Savannah, Georgia antiques dealer who was tried for the murder of his gay lover. The book spent over two years on the New York Times best seller list, and Eastwood took great labors to faithfully re-create the story on the screen. In an opening scene, the camera focuses on the grave of the great Southern songwriter Johnny Mercer, who was a Savannah resident. For the soundtrack, Eastwood assembled a collection of some of the best vocal talent around today, and each was asked to perform a Mercer song. The results? Well, let's just say Mr. Mercer would be proud.
The album opens with genre-defying siren k.d. lang performing an essential version of "Skylark." Lang's ethereal vocals soar and yearn with every lyric, producing a work of striking beauty, especially for a song that I never considered one of Mercer's best. And while lang is not a traditional jazz singer, she succeeds in capturing the essence of the song. It is this all-encompassing quality about Mercer's work that made him one of the greatest songwriters on the twentieth century. Eastwood seems to have understood this universal appeal, and plays to it by including a few other non-jazz singers on the album. Paula Cole, of Peter Gabriel fame, croons "Autumn Leaves" like she's performed it all her life, reaching out and grabbing the listener by the heart and holding on throughout. The intimate accompaniment of guitar, bass, and accordion set the perfect lamental mood, and allows Cole to enrapture the listener with every syllable. Country singer Alison Krauss delicately tackles "This Time The Dream's On Me" with a light touch, and just the hint of an accent, giving her treatment a down home charm fitting of Mercer himself.
Eastwood doesn't limit the fun to non-jazz singers though. A lifelong fan of jazz, Eastwood pulled in some of the best young vocal talent in jazz to contribute to this Mercer tribute. Cassandra Wilson applies her Mother-Earth voicings to "Days of Wine And Roses", turning the well known "schmaltzy" theme into an enchanting glide through Savannah's streets at early evening. Diana Krall and her trio flirt around the edges of "Midnight Sun", and Kevin Mahogany makes you hold your breath for the sheer beauty of his "Laura", pouring emotion into the tune that was one of Charlie Parker's favorites.
In addition to the youngsters, Joe Williams, Rosemary Clooney, and Tony Bennett are also present, offering a timeless feel to the collection. Clooney and Bennett are in particularly good voice, with Clooney sounding a great deal like Jimmy Scott's long lost sister and Bennett displaying the laid-back hipness that has made him a new favorite of today's MTV generations. With all of this vocal talent, one might assume that Eastwood and fellow producer Matt Pierson might have overlooked the actual musicians for the session. But one could not be further from the truth. Much of the accompaniment duties for the sessions is dominated by Charlie Haden and his Quartet West compadres, pianist Alan Broadbent and tenor man Ernie Watts. Tenor sensation Joshua Redman accompanies on a few tunes as well and even leads a good time romp through "I'm An Old Cowhand (From The Rio Grande)". Sharing bass duties with Haden is young lion Christian McBride, and highlighted at piano is new comer (at least to me) Brad Mehldau, whom Eastwood seems to like very much and even gives one song to, the perky "Dream".
Overall, this disc delights and surprises at every turn. The songs are gorgeously arranged, and the singers each seem to have taken their respective song as one of their own. Having seen the movie, I can honestly say that I am extremely impressed with the success Eastwood has had in recreating the atmosphere of the movie on the soundtrack: mint juleps, verandahs, early evening, and weeping willows heavy with moss. However, one need not ever see the movie to be genuinely moved by the sheer beauty of this album. Pick this album up today, put on your linen trousers, sit back, and revel in your own appreciation.
Skylark; Too Marvelous For Words; Autumn Leaves; Fools Rush In (Where Angels Fear To Tread); Dream; Days Of Wine And Roses; That Old Black Magic; Come Rain Or Come Shine; Ac-cent-tchu-ate The Positive; This Time The Dream's On Me; Laura; Midnight Sun; I'm An Old Cowhand (From The Rio Grande); I Wanna Be Around.
Personnell : k.d.lang, Joe Williams, Paula Cole, Rosemary Clooney, Cassandra Wilson, Kevin Spacey, Alison Eastwood, Clint Eastwood, Alison Krauss, Kevin Mahogany, Diana Krall, Tony Bennett - vocals; Brad Mehldau, Alan Broadbent - piano; Charlie Haden, Christian McBride, Larry Grenadier - bass; Joshua Redman, Ernie Watts, Peter Christlieb, Michael Brecker - tenor saxophone; Ralph Penland, Gregory Hutchinson, Larance Marble - drums; Kevin Eubanks, Russell Malone - guitar; Domenic Cortese - accordian.