Music in Film: The Sequel
Release date: September 9, 2022
Label: Savant Records

Drummer Richard Baratta presents his sophomore studio album Music in Film: The Sequel. A follow up to his 2020 studio debut Music in Film: The Reel Deal, which went on to earn a GRAMMY nomination for arranger and pianist Bill O’Connell and racked up over 3,000,000 streams on Spotify, Baratta’s latest once again fuses the worlds of cinema and jazz in a way that is decidedly modern and fresh. With Baratta at the helm in the drum chair, O’Connell returns as pianist and arranger alongside jazz heavyweights Vincent Herring (alto saxophone), Paul Bollenback (guitar), Michael Goetz (bass) and Paul Rossman (percussion). Over the course of 11 tracks, this top-tier ensemble gives award-worthy treatments to familiar melodies from Austin Powers, Star Wars, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and more. 

Prior to 2020, Richard Baratta was known primarily as a successful film producer. He has dozens of films under his belt, including six Spider Man installments, The Wolf of Wall Street, The Irishman, and countless others. But In the 1970’s, Baratta was a young drummer on the New York City loft scene, performing with the likes of John Stubblefield, Vernon Reid and Hal Galper. Living from gig to gig had its moments, but when the opportunity came in 1984 to get into the film industry (as a location scout for Desperately Seeking Susan), the financial security was hard to pass up. His career in film flourished, and to date he has dozens of famous movie titles to his credit. 

Even when fully-immersed in the film world, Baratta’s first love for jazz never dwindled. In 2020, Baratta decided to formally re-enter the jazz world with the release of Music in Film: The Reel Deal. Baratta and band’s take on movie-music classics like “Alfie”, “Chopsticks” and “Peter Gunn” propelled the album to soaring heights, including to a GRAMMY nomination for O’Connell in the Instrumental Arrangement category for “Chopsticks”. “Alfie” and “Peter Gunn” were certified hits on streaming services, with especially impressive streaming numbers on Spotify and Amazon. The album received rounds of praise, and the fall edition of Jazziz Magazine that year featured Baratta in a glossy spread. 

With all the accolades, a sequel was inevitable. Soon after the first album wrapped, Baratta and the group were right back in the studio for round two – and the results were glistening and varied. There’s the Latin-tinged “Itsy Bitsy Spider”, which first appeared in Mike Nichols’ Heartburn (one of Baratta’s first big productions), on which solos from Bollenback and Herring dazzle, and “Soul Bossa Nova” from the Austin Powers franchise. On this mid-tempo cha-cha, the solos by O’Connell, Baratta and Rossman play up the Afro-Cuban element while Herring’s solo reminds listeners that this Quincy Jones tune is also a blues. 

Another selection that draws from Baratta’s rich film background is Henry Mancini’s “Theme from The Pink Panther” (Baratta worked on the 2006 reboot). This one is a hard-charging swing, with Baratta’s solo really cutting loose. A veteran of Gato Barbieri’s band, O’Connell suggested the saxophonist’s stirring theme from “Last Tango in Paris,” here rendered in 5/4 time.  Bollenback, Herring, and O’Connell take monster turns in the spotlight, but keep one ear on Baratta and Rossman’s accompaniment as they chew the odd meter to bits.

Baratta’s selected the title track of the 1945 comedy Out of This World because the John Coltrane Quartet’s 1962 rendition of the tune was his “gateway to jazz”. His rendition offers a different take with its otherworldly guitar lines, though Baratta certainly takes some cues from Elvin Jones, notably in his stickwork. The dreamy “Pure Imagination” slows things down tenderly, and things kick up again with the straight-ahead shuffle “You’ve Got a Friend in Me”, Randy Newman’s theme from Toy Story. Sure-to-please tracks include the fun “Cantina Band” from the Star Wars megaverse which showcases a gleeful duel between Bollenback and Herring, and the New Orleans-style twist on the traditional “Man of Constant Sorrow”, which features on one of Baratta’s favorite films, O Brother, Where Art Thou. The trio treatment of Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile” (included here because it’s in Joker, another film Baratta notably worked on) is a high point, before jaunting into “Volley for Jabali”, written by Baratta himself and the only original composition here, written as a tribute to NEA Jazz Master drummer Billy ‘Jabali’ Hart.

While the album closer hints that Baratta may take on more original music next time around, the drummer-producer is already picking out the next cinema-centric tunes to make it a trilogy. Until then, film buffs and jazz lovers alike can rejoice with Music in Film: The Sequel, which is sure to be another blockbuster. 

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.”

for Music in Film: The Reel Deal

GEORGE COLE
JAZZ VIEWS

"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.

 

TOM SCHNABEL
KCRW

This week, we sample a new crop of recent releases along with a few classic sides mixed in. Check this playlist here.

 

JOSÉ RAMÓN
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.

 

BRIAN ZIMMERMAN
JAZZIZ
Check the full interview out here.

ALLEN SCOTT
ALL THAT'S JAZZ
Listen to the interview here.

BROADWAY WORLD
"Music in Film: The Reel Deal is just what the doctor ordered. Baratta is a force behind the drum kit and shines along with his killer band." Read the full article here.

GEORGE W. HARRIS
JAZZ WEEKLY
"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.

ROB LESTER
TALKIN' BROADWAY
"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.