Name That Tune with the International String Trio’s Help
Old habits die hard. If you go back as far as the radio-and-records era, you were probably used to having a cd – or if you were lucky, a vinyl album – to refer to for song titles and now-archaic things like liner notes and musician credits. As fast as all those things are disappearing, jazz bloggers are obsessive about them. But sometimes it pays to resist OCD and leave the news release and the promo copy out of sight and just get a handle on the music. That’s the approach that everybody ought to take with the International String Trio’s new album Movie Night. Just listening to Slava Tolstoy’s nimble gypsy jazz guitar, Ben Powell’s elegantly nuanced violin and Ippei Ichimaru’s terse bass will get your head bopping and eliminate any prejudices that might arise from a peek at the credits.
Here’s why – this is a concept album, a collection of the band’s favorite movie music. It’s not known what opinions the band have, if any, about the movies themselves. Which is why it’s best just to catch the lively, carefree violin and gypsy jazz allusions on the breezy first track and ask yourself, what on earth is that? It’s too straightforward to be a pop song and you probably won’t recognize it, and here’s why: it’s the Feather Theme from Forrest Gump. In case you’re wondering, there’s nothing from Xanadu, or any of the Friday or Elvis movies here – although those flicks, forgettable as they were, all had some good tunes.
If gypsy jazz is your thing, you will enjoy the trio’s versions of the two Django Reinhardt classics here: the group gives them both the groove and the bite those songs deserve. What is that sad waltz with the biting violin solo out? That’s I Will Wait for You, a Michel Legrand composition from The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. And what’s that jaunty early swing number? Singing’ in the Rain? That’s right – these guys transform that moldy old schlockfest into something actually listenable.
Track six is a pensive, pretty ballad: could this be French? No, it’s the Schindler’s List Theme, by John Williams. That other understatedly moody, pretty waltz? Stephen Flaherty’s Once Upon a December, from the film Anastasia. And that sprightly Irish reel? That’s an acoustic cover of the Dropkick Murphy’s I’m Shipping Up to Boston and it’s way better than the original, Sox fans be damned!
Is that other waltz Haydn? No, it’s Shostakovich, done nonchalantly as gypsy jazz with Powell out front and center. David Raksin’s Theme from Laura is well-known, as is Maurice Jarre’s Somewhere My Love – but who knew that one had a laid-back, minor intro before the syrupy theme kicks in? The album closes with a matter-of-fact version of the Tennessee Waltz – wait a minute, that’s Ashokan Farewell. Aw heck, all those old folksingers ripped each other off. Who is the audience for this? Gypsy jazz fans may find these takes inspired but some of the source material on the weak side; otherwise, fans of the more accessible side of chamber and folk music won’t go wrong giving this a spin.