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THE COOLER – Mark Isham

November 28, 2003 Leave a comment Go to comments

thecoolerOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

For all his successful forays into the world of orchestral film music, Mark Isham will always remain, at heart, a jazzer. Having grown up with a trumpet almost permanently attached to his lips, Isham has soloed with the San Francisco Opera Orchestra, toured with The Beach Boys and Van Morrison, and performed as a “guest artist” on dozens and dozens of other records, as well as releasing many solo albums. Therefore, his jazz pedigree is in no doubt – but, in film at least, he rarely gets to show it. His work on The Cooler, therefore, is a wonderful change of pace.

The Cooler is the debut feature of Wayne Kramer who, for many years, was an active member of the on-line film music community, and who is a self-confessed fan of John Barry. The ever-excellent William H. Macy stars as Bernie Lootz, the “cooler” of the title, a long-time loser whose contagious bad luck at the gaming tables of Las Vegas is legendary. Lootz is hired by Shelly Kaplow (Alec Baldwin), an old style Mafioso man who now runs the Shangri-La Hotel, to prowl the “high roller” tables and ensure that some of his bad luck rubs off on the big-spending hotel guests. However, when Lootz meets and falls in love with Natalie (Maria Bello), a beautiful cocktail waitress, his luck finally begins to change for the better… much to the annoyance of Shelley, who does everything in his power to break up the romance.

As long-time readers of Movie Music UK will know, as well as big orchestral scores and music with an “oriental” slant, one of my favorite styles of music is theme-driven jazz. John Barry’s Playing By Heart was one of my favorite scores of its year and – along with Isham’s own scores for Afterglow, Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle and Quiz Show – this is the score The Cooler resembles the most.  Kramer’s instructions to Isham were for him to write “a thematic jazz score” which was “lush, a little sleazy, and a whole lot sexy”. Isham’s end result is right on the money. Using a 16-man ensemble made up of four saxophones, three trumpets, two trombones, clarinet, violin, bass, guitar, piano and percussion, Isham has written the perfect accompaniment for the film. When you think of the music of Las Vegas, this is what you hear… sultry, smoky, enticing jazz which spills from the neon-lit doorways of the casinos onto the stifling heat of the Strip, enticing the patrons in with promises of easy money and – possibly – easier women.

From the opening moments of the opening track, ‘The Cooler’, Isham’s music has a romantic sway to it. It has life, and energy, and a great deal of panache, and when the brass combo kicks to play the main in you can almost smell the Cuban cigars and taste the bourbon. The rest of Isham’s six score tracks (which amount to around 25 minutes of music) are generally more subdued than the opener, but are no less engaging. ‘Tables on Fire’ features a wonderful combination of a rock beat and wailing Hammond organs; ‘Shangri-La’ features a sonorous clarinet performance; ‘Look In My Eyes’ is a soft, romantic ballad with the combo playing at their most tender; and the conclusive ‘Leaving Las Vegas’ reprises all the thematic material to give the album a beautiful sense of closure.

In addition to Isham’s score, the soundtrack album features seven familiar jazz songs performed by the likes of Diana Krall, up-and-coming starlet Tierney Sutton, actor Paul Sorvino and former N’Sync member Joey Fatone (the latter of whom perform their cuts on-screen). Each of them – from the classic Sinatra ballad “Almost Like Being in Love”, to the new arrangement of Harry Warren’s “You’re Getting To Be A Habit With Me” from the classic Broadway musical 42nd Street – are excellent in their own way, and complement the stylistics of Isham’s score perfectly.

The romantic ideals of long nights in the dens of iniquity that are Vegas casinos have never seemed so appealing as they do when listening to The Cooler. The reality of the Las Vegas Strip experience – with its occasionally unbearable heat, Mexican porn-peddlers, rednecks in Bermuda shorts playing 25 cent slot machines, and overall garish excess – is quickly forgotten, to replaced by visions of sharp-suited young men and their stunningly attractive female companions rolling dice down lush green felt, hearing the clatter of the roulette wheel, or playing endless hands of alcohol-soaked blackjack. When listening to The Cooler, it’s like the Rat Pack never left town.

Rating: ****

Track Listing:

  • The Cooler (4:07)
  • Better Life Motel/Tables on Fire (2:52)
  • Candy (written by Rebecca Kyler Downs and Bernie Swertz, performed by Rebecca Kyler Downs) (3:45)
  • You’re Getting To Be A Habit With Me (written by Harry Warren and Al Dubin, performed by Paul Sorvino) (2:04)
  • Shangri-La (2:17)
  • Luck Be A Lady (written by Frank Loesser, performed by Bobby Caldwell) (4:59)
  • Amateurs (2:44)
  • Can I Steal A Little Love (written by Phil Tuminello, performed by Joey Fatone) (2:33)
  • Look in my Eyes (3:59)
  • I’ll String Along With You (written by Harry Warren and Al Dubin, performed by Diana Krall) (4:47)
  • Heartbroken (2:48)
  • My Funny Valentine (written by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, performed by Tierney Sutton) (5:06)
  • Almost Like Being In Love (written by Frederick Loewe and Al Lerner, performed by Nick D’Egidilo) (2:33)
  • Leaving Las Vegas (5:21)

Running Time: 50 minutes 01 seconds

Commotion Records/Koch International KOCCD-507 (2003)

Music composed and arranged by Mark Isham. Performed by Mark Isham, Bob Sheppard, Greg Huckins, Joel Peskin, Brian Scanlon, Rick Baptist, Wayne Bergeron, Gary E. Grant, Bob McChesney, Ken Kugler, John Leftwich, Richard Ruttenberg, Ramin Djawidi, Sid Page, Peter Erskine and Gary L. Nowack. Recorded and mixed by Stephen Krause. Edited by Tom Carlson. Album produced by Mark Isham, Tracy McKnight, Walter Yetnikoff, Joel C. High and Billy Gottlieb.

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