Pianist Dave Grusin built much of his reputation composing and playing scores for movies like On Golden Pond during the 1970s and '80s. His latest album is, depending on your point of view, either a trip down memory lane or another round of milking the cash cow.
Now Playing features fifteen solo performances of scores by Grusin, who in his linear notes refers to the challenges of arranging the pieces since they were generally written for orchestras. Maybe, but it hardly seems like he's breaking a sweat here as he opts mostly for safe and straightforward treatments instead of any noteworthy reinterpretations.
The results are ideally suited for the lazy morning coffee and croissant crowd in their breakfast nooks or at Starbucks. Maybe that's Grusin's intentin his notes he states he's trying to preserve the moods of the originals as much as possible. With most songs clocking in at four minutes or less, there certainly isn't much room for him to stretch out. Most of his scores lean towards the slow and meditative anyhow, so those who'd rather be jolted awake by their morning coffee or newspaper headlines won't have to worry about this doing the job instead.
"On Golden Pond," perhaps Grusin's best-known theme, sounds nearly identical to the original 1981 solo piano performance, including the embellishments on the melody lines. He does little beyond providing a piano voicing to more complex pieces as well, such as the classical guitar sections from the critically acclaimed "Milagro Beanfield War" suite. Other times the arrangements simply don't work outthe whimsical humor provided by the tone of Tom Scott's soprano sax on "Heaven Can Wait" is largely lost here.
Two somewhat more interesting moments occur on "Hurricane Country" and "Mud Island Chase," where Grusin replicates voicings by strumming strings of the piano by hand to replicate a harp and striking the piano's exterior for percussion effects. It's a refreshing twist and he explains nicely in a simple set of summaries about the selected pieces, but also makes one wish he'd devoted a much greater portion of the album to such experiments.
A jazz fan purchasing an album of short "greatest hit" movie soundtrack pieces expecting a creative landmark probably deserves to be disappointed. It's more fair to assess how the Starbucks crowd will react (no disrespect intendedI can be among them, especially after four hours' sleep). Straying too far afield from the familiar might annoy more than it would please, and keeping things familiar makes it easy to engage in those "hey, isn't this the theme to that movie we saw when..." conversations that hopefully bring back pleasant moments with significant others.
Those who want to hear the original arrangements, by the way, can find many of them on at least two other Grusin albums: Cinemagic and Collection. Listeners interested in some of his better soundtrack work might check out Bonfire Of The Vanities, his interpretations on Presents: West Side Story, or the relatively strong fusion album Migration, featuring the "Milagro" suite plus contributions from players such as Branford Marsalis and Marcus Miller.