Music in Film: The Reel Deal
Release date: September 25, 2020
Label: Savant Records
Music in Film: The Reel Deal is film producer and drummer Richard Baratta's sophomore release as a bandleader, and first release in a studio setting. This project is the drummer’s triumphant return to the jazz artform after a 30+ year diversion during which time Baratta became a celebrated film producer of Hollywood hits like The Irishman, Joker, and Wolf of Wall Street. This album sees the coalescence of Baratta’s two seemingly disparate worlds, a celebration of cinema through the lens of jazz. The project features songs that were notably used in major motion pictures, films such as Mrs. Doubtfire, Midnight Cowboy, Big and The Wizard of Oz. Pianist Bill O’Connell serves as Music Director; Carroll Scott lends his vocal prowess to a rendition of “Seasons of Love” from Rent; saxophone luminary Vincent Herring adorns the albums tracks with alto and soprano saxophone, as well as flute; and guitar virtuoso Paul Bollenback, bassist Michael Goetz, percussionist Paul Rossman round out Baratta’s steadfast rhythm section.
While Music in Film... is his proper studio debut recording, Baratta’s association with jazz goes back decades. Baratta was born into a musical household in Poughkeepsie, New York where he began his journey as a drummer. He spent his post-collegiate time studying with Jack DeJohnette and playing in the Catskills before arriving in New York City in 1975 where he would strike up fruitful associations with such jazz greats as Saxophonist John Stubblefield, guitarist Vernon Reid and pianist Hal Galper. For the next decade, Baratta embraced the lifestyle of the career musician; gigging consistently to make ends meet. It was the desire for stability that spawned Baratta’s farewell to jazz and foray into the film industry.
From 1984, when he took a job scouting locations for Desperately Seeking Susan, to 2019, when filming wrapped on Joker, Baratta, who climbed from the position of location scout all the way to executive producer, was ensconced in movies. His work figured into more than 50 films—Donnie Brasco, 5 SPIDERMAN FILMS, The Wolf of Wall Street and The Irishman included—and he became a known quantity in the business.
A chance encounter with a club owner who was transforming the former commissary basement of Kaufman Astoria Studios which dated back to the silent films of the 1920’s into a music club called ‘The Astor Room’, rekindled Baratta’s desire to return to his drumseat and perform live once again. It was there that Baratta began his musical collaboration with guitarist Paul Bollenback and bassist Michael Goetz. Other jazz greats such as Eric Alexander, David Kikoski and Walter Blanding filtered in and out and eventually, Baratta established the working band that is heard here on his seminal work.
From the album’s very first track, “Luck Be a Lady”, the band’s unquestionable chemistry is displayed. On this nod to the masking scene in Mrs. Doubtfire, Bill O’Connell’s adamant pianistic refrains fall perfectly in the pocket with the tasteful samba groove laid down by Baratta and enhanced by Goetz and Rossman. From here, the band shifts gears with a shuffling rewrite on “Everybody’s Talkin’” of Midnight Cowboy fame. The band shows their stunning facility in a swing context on this piece, Herring’s saxophone soars over the rhythm’s section locked in full swing. Bollenback’s sparse guitar musings under Herring’s stellar melodic invention offer the perfect balance and depth to this piece.
O’Connell’s killer Latin arrangement of the Euphemia Allen composition “Chopsticks”, pays tribute to the classic Tom Hanks-Robert Loggia piano dance scene from the movie Big which Baratta worked on. The band blazes through a bright-tempoed montuno, adding melodic and rhythmic intrigue to the classic piano piece. “Seasons of Love” puts guest vocalist Carroll Scott at center-stage for a lights-are-low take on Rent’s most beloved song. “Come Together” winks at Baratta’s work on the film Across the Universe, adding some funk and New Orleans grime-and-groove to the music. The final third of the album offers audiences more brilliant adaptations of songs borrowed from the world of cinema. “Peter Gunn”, the band’s only track pulled from television, is an up-tempo swing tune with post-bop panache. The band ventures on with a haunting, reharmonized version of “Maria” from West Side Story, a gorgeous arrangement of “The Sound of Music” and a sunny “Let the River Run”, reborn in seven, closing things out while acknowledging Baratta’s work on the film Working Girl.
Regarding the future of this working ensemble, Baratta notes “Being away as long as I’ve been away, and then to be in the fold with some of these musicians I’ve been playing with, I’m like a kid in a candy store,” he shares. “It’s wonderful for me, so I just want to keep it going. That’s all.”
"It’s enough to make you hope there will be a director’s cut of this album, or better still, a sequel or three." Read this review here.
This week, we sample a new crop of recent releases along with a few classic sides mixed in. Check this playlist here.
LA HABITACIÓN DEL JAZZ
"No espere el oyente encontrar un jazz profundo en este trabajo, más bien una serie de canciones que no nacieron para o por el jazz y que han sido dignamente versionadas para divertimento de sus intérpretes y oyentes." Lea esta reseña aquí.
GEORGE W. HARRIS
"Baratta knows how to set a pace and a mood, creating clever arrangements, such as a sizzling samba’d 'Luck Be A Lady' and doing a shuffling groove to 'Everybody’s Talking'." Read the full review here.
"The brisk, busy drumming is splendid, absent of indulgent lengthy solos, but sprinkled with nifty flourishes in mini-spotlight moments when the other musicians pull back or pause." Read the full review here.