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HAVANA – Dave Grusin

December 10, 2020 Leave a comment Go to comments

THROWBACK THIRTY

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

A political drama enlivened with a splash of sultry romance, Havana was director Sydney Pollack’s long-awaited follow-up to his multi award-winning epic Out of Africa, which swept the Oscars in 1985. The film is set in 1958, literally days before the beginning of the Cuban Revolution, and stars Robert Redford as Jack Weil, an American professional gambler who travels to Havana to take part in a poker tournament. Following a chance meeting on the ferry from Florida, Jack quickly finds himself embroiled in a number of dangerous political situations, almost all of which seem to involve either revolutionary leader Arturo Durán (Raul Julia), CIA operative Marion Chigwell (Daniel Davis) who is moonlighting as a restaurant critic, or the dangerous local head of the secret police Menocal (Tomás Milián). Most dangerous of all is his illicit affair with Roberta (Lena Olin), the sexy and seductive wife of Durán, the repercussions of which could not only affect the immediate relationship between husband and wife, but the success of the revolution entirely.

Despite its prestigious credentials the film was neither a critical or commercial success, with Pete Travers in Rolling Stone calling it “an unpalatable rehash of Casablanca” and an “overproduced, overlong, overstudied movie”. In fact the only part of the film to receive any acclaim was the score, by Pollack’s long-time collaborator Dave Grusin. Havana was their seventh film together, following The Yakuza in 1974, Three Days of the Condor in 1975, Bobby Deerfield in 1977, The Electric Horseman in 1979, Absence of Malice in 1981, and Tootsie in 1982. Grusin received his sixth Academy Award nomination for his work – the only one the film received – and it’s not difficult to see why; it’s a wonderful, exotic, romantic depiction of Cuba in the 1950s, awash with lush Caribbean rhythms and gorgeous jazzy textures that create an evocative mood.

Grusin’s standing in the jazz world is such that he can always call on a world-class ensemble of musical friends to perform on his scores, and Havana is no exception; among the legendary artists who contribute to the score are Arturo Sandoval and Sal Marquez on trumpet, Lee Ritenour on guitar, the late Dave Valentin on jazz flute, Don Menza on saxophone, and Grusin himself on pianos and keyboards. Together these world class performers come together to perform a series of brilliant dances, salsas, rumbas, and mambos, which perfectly encapsulate the steamy Cuban music scene, with all its life and vitality.

The ”Main Title,” which features both Sandoval and Valentin, introduces the score’s main theme, a toe-tapping and finger-snapping melody full of Latin vivaciousness, which initially emerges from a bed of dramatic, slightly sinister orchestral tones. Sandoval’s trumpet performance is bright and lively, the center of attention, but the way it combines with the guitars, flutes, and intoxicating percussion is wonderful; one can visualize the Paseo del Prado in its heyday, with this music spilling from cafés and bars into the Cuban night

“Night Walk” is sexier, and more intimate, with heavy echoes of things like John Barry’s Body Heat, among others. It’s a superb evocation of Lena Olin’s character, Roberta Durán, and how she uses her feminine wiles to ensnare Jack and bring him over to the side of the revolutionary cause. These ideas bleed into the “Love Theme,” which is more of a showcase for Grusin’s piano and the orchestral string section, and is a warm, intimate piece full of unrequited feelings; it has a touch of Ennio Morricone to it in some of the phrasing, and is especially reminiscent of Cinema Paradiso. However, the highlight of the entire score is clearly the stunning “Cuba Libre (Se Fue),” which takes the love theme melody to magnificent heights of orchestral grandeur, and may be one of the most conventionally sweeping and dramatic things Grusin has ever written outside of Tequila Sunrise.

The 5-minute “Santa Clara Suite” is a series of dramatic score cues intended to underscore the Jack’s journey to the center of the island to meet the revolutionaries: ‘Vayase’ is a swooning guitar piece that captures the sensual beauty of the Cuban landscape, ‘Miliocia y Refugios’ uses solo trumpets and snares to add a military flavor to Jack’s encounters with Durán, and ‘Fuego Peligroso’ has a touch of tragedy in the chord progressions of the strings, while the ‘Epilogue’ is low-key but cool. The rest of the score plays mostly like a standalone series of Latin jazz instrumentals, all excellent in their own right, and each spotlighting one of the featured musical soloists interesting ways. Brazilian vocalist Dori Caymmi makes “Hurricane Country” a beguiling, beckoning groove full of swaying rhythms. Ritenour’s gently plucked guitar tones anchor “Lost in a Sweet Place,” “Mambo Lido” is spicy and lively and full of infectious buoyant pizzazz, Menza’s saxophone on “El Conuco” has a colorful tropical vibe, and Valentin’s jazz flute is the cornerstone of “La Academia”.

The film’s conclusive cue (penultimate on album), “Adios Habaña,” reprises Jack and Roberta’s love theme with a bittersweet edge, in which Grusin’s piano carries the melody, Marquez’s trumpet provides the setting, and the strings carry the emotion. It’s not quite Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman parting ways at the airport in Casablanca, as Pollack likely intended, but it has a certain charm.

As an album of music, Havana is thoroughly enjoyable, but again I have to return to my regular criticism of Dave Grusin and say that, by and large, it doesn’t really feel much like a film score in a traditional sense. Grusin’s music is always wonderfully written and performed and orchestrated but, with just a few exceptions like The Goonies and others, often seems to play coincidentally with the film rather than being an integral part of it – if feels like a series of needle-dropped instrumentals rather than something inseparable from the film itself. It’s the same problem I had with The Milagro Beanfield War, and I have the same problem here.

Other than Jack and Roberta’s love theme there is very little connective tissue between the cues, and as such it doesn’t really have much of a narrative flow. Most of the tracks – especially the ones which focus on Latin jazz – don’t seem to have much in the way of dramatic application, and instead seem to exist in a vacuum, apart from the scenes they accompany. They almost play more like diegetic source music than actual score, which is fine if that’s what you’re going for, but it does appear that Grusin never really tried to address the meat of the story, the political underpinnings, the scenes of violence and torture, or anything remotely serious beyond the romance aspect. If you need that in your scores – as I often do – then Havana might feel lacking in that sense of coherence. However, if Latin jazz instrumentals, mambos and rumbas, trilling flutes, and resounding trumpets are your bag, and if you want to hear one of Dave Grusin’s all-time great sweeping orchestra love themes in “Cuba Libre,” then Havana will fit the bill as a truly excellent all-star celebration of Cuban life, music, and culture.

Buy the Havana soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Main Title (3:05)
  • Night Walk (3:26)
  • Cuba Libre (Se Fue) (3:32)
  • Santa Clara Suite: Vayase (1:36)
  • Santa Clara Suite: Miliocia y Refugios (1:45)
  • Santa Clara Suite Fuego Peligroso (0:59)
  • Santa Clara Suite: Epilogue (0:54)
  • A Los Rumberos de Belén (written by Roberto Nunez, performed by Grupo Sierra Maestra) (3:56)
  • Love Theme (3:09)
  • Hurricane Country (5:01)
  • Lost in a Sweet Place (2:39)
  • Mambo Lido (3:34)
  • El Conuco (3:14)
  • Adios Habaña (3:07)
  • La Academia (2:48)

Running Time: 41 minutes 36 seconds

GRP Records E520032 (1990)

Music composed and conducted by Dave Grusin. Orchestrations by Grieg McRitchie and George Hernandez. Featured musical soloists Dave Grusin, Arturo Sandoval, Sal Marquez, Don Menza, Dave Valentin, Clare Fischer, Lee Ritenour, Brian Bromberg, Abraham Laboriel, Harvey Mason and Alex Acuña. Special vocal performance by Dori Caymmi. Recorded and mixed by John Richards. Edited by Bunny Andrews. Album produced by Dave Grusin.

  1. Sergio
    December 14, 2020 at 8:02 am

    Hi,
    could you send the link where I can buy this soundtrack?
    I try to do it through the Movie Uk Store but I could not find it.
    Thank you

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