Home > Reviews > THE BIG KAHUNA – Christopher Young

THE BIG KAHUNA – Christopher Young

bigkahunaOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

How does one write music for a film, 99% of which takes place in an anonymous hotel room, and which features a cast of characters that barely exceeds the three leads – in this case Kevin Spacey, Danny De Vito and newcomer Peter Facinelli? If your name is Christopher Young, you write a brilliant contemporary jazz score for a selected group of sixteen instrumentalists and invest it with more life, energy and pizzazz than any music for this kind of film has a right to contain.

When describing The Big Kahuna, the adjective “quirky” never even comes close. Chris Young has always been excellent at writing jazz, as the directors of The Man Who Knew Too Little, Rounders and others found out, and this score does not buck the trend. The six-minute opening cue pretty much sums up the entire score: a jaunty recurring melody passed around from solo violin to piano to accordion and back, accompanied by jittery, ascending and descending string scales and a varied assortment of rattling and creaking percussion effects. For the briefest of moments, it is reminiscent of Ilona Sekacz’s work on Antonia’s Line, but this is probably a subliminal echo of the orchestrations, and the equally peculiar aspect that dominated the music from the Oscar-winning Dutch film.

I think it’s written into Young’s contract that every other score he writes has to contain at last one cue with a Hammond organ; it’s his personal musical fetish, like Elmer Bernstein and his ondes martenot or James Horner and his shakuhachi. True to form, ‘Cheeseballs and Shrimp’ and ‘Happy Jesus’ both feature the unique sound of the instrument, again lending a wonderfully retro aspect to two otherwise perfectly ordinary cues. Stand-up late-nite jazz with plucked bass and brushed snares are the order of the day in the oddly-titled ‘Measured By Dogs’ and ‘Industrial Lubricants’, further enhancing Young’s reputation as a composer of “proper jazz”.

Perhaps the most filmic cue on the album is the wonderfully evocative ‘God’s In The Closet’, which features a tender and expressive guitar solo by George Doering, and brings back happy memories of that undiscovered Chris Young masterpiece Bright Angel. Equally impressive in this respect are the soft, piano-led cues ‘Salterello’ and ‘The Lateness of Things’, the former of which carries on Young’s continuing attempts to acknowledge a composer he admires in one of his track titles – this time the late, great Hans J. Salter.

Even the three source music selections are inspired, and complement Young’s work perfectly. Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer’s ‘Charade’ contains more than a hint of The Pink Panther; the infectious ‘Hey Pachucho!’ is the epitome of beatnik cool, all big-band arrangements and zoot-suit slickness; while Terry Snyder’s ‘Binga Banga Bongo’ sounds like something from a 1950’s beach party flick, and features a whole host of the titular percussion instruments rattling along with a large and very impressive swing band.

The career of Christopher Young continues to enthral, delight, surprise, and entertain me. Having tried his hand at every type of genre, from horror to action to romance and beyond, the exceptional versatility and cinematic knowledge of the man impresses me more and more. He scared the wits out of me with the Hellraiser series, took me to the depths of space and back in Species, and wrote one of the most haunting and heart-breaking scores of the last decade with Murder in the First. But his deft touch for modern jazz is what has impressed the most over the last couple of years. Whereas once he was the Bela Lugosi of film music, I feel he may now be in danger of being typecast as the Lalo Schifrin of the 21st century – but when your writing is this good, who am I to complain?

Rating: ****

Track Listing:

  • The Big Kahuna (6:10)
  • Cheeseballs and Shrimp (3:02)
  • Charade (written by Johnny Mercer and Henry Mancini, performed by Si Zentner) (2:26)
  • Measured By Dogs (1:14)
  • Philed With Fuller (1:05)
  • God’s In The Closet (2:04)
  • Industrial Lubricants (2:16)
  • Salterello (1:41)
  • Happy Jesus (2:11)
  • Hey Pachucho! (written by Eddie Nichols, James Achor and Mando Dorame, performed by Royal Crown Revue) (3:34)
  • Binga Banga Bongo (written by Terry Snyder, performed by Terry Snyder & The All Stars) (2:33)
  • A Little Something of What I Am (1:16)
  • The Lateness of Things (2:00)
  • El Kahuna Grande (1:20)

Running Time: 33 minutes 32 seconds

Varèse Sarabande VSD-6140 (2000)

Music composed by Christopher Young. Conducted by David Reynolds. Performed by Sid Page, Rene Mandel, Ron Strauss, Paul Cohen, David Low, Chuck Domenico, Karl Vincent-Wickliff, George Doering, Alan Estes, Robert Fernandez, Marvin B. Gordy III, Steven Schaeffer, Michael Lang, Gary Nesteruk, Rich Ruttenberg and Frank Marocco. Orchestrations by Pete Anthony, Jon Kull and Christopher Young. Recorded and mixed by Robert Fernandez. Edited by Terry Wilson. Album produced by Anita Camarata, Kaylin Frank and Robert Townson.

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