February 2002 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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Big Jake  
  PROMETHEUS PCR 512   [60:17]

Big Jake

Arguably the king of the cowboy movies when it comes to musical accompaniment, Elmer Bernstein has produced some of the most rousing and memorable scores ever recorded in that genre. You only have to say the words The Magnificent Seven and his credentials are established as impeccable. And with this1971 John Wayne feature Big Jake, the composer gets to strut his tootin’ shootin’ stuff once again.

The ‘Main Title’ is a tongue-in-cheek pastiche with nods to just about every western musical convention you’ve ever heard. But this piece does not really do the overall score justice as it’s actually a far more serious and accomplished work, which is signalled by ‘Massacre/Little Jake/Mexico’, a sprawling cue with instantly recognisable Bernstein action music showcased alongside some more modern (for the time) touches utilising electric guitar. In many ways this track encapsulates the entire score as it moves between very familiar territory and more arresting, inventive material.

Another notable feature of the soundtrack is the way the composer subtly incorporates the children’s song ‘Frere Jacques’ (on ‘Piano Memory/All Jake/On the Move’, ‘On the Trail’ among others). Elsewhere, sterling work is to be found on ‘All Jake and Raider’, where we get our first chance to hear the expected but welcome trademark main theme, all brass and strings with plenty of perky percussion coupled with a strong Mexican flavour. And while admittedly at times it does sound a little too much like a second string Magnificent Seven, it remains thoroughly appealing. Better still is ‘Survey/Ambush/Buzzards’, a long cue at over eight minutes featuring a very likeable majestic theme to open with, before an exciting mixture of suspense, action and intrigue takes over, all constructed with skill and style. ‘Getting Old’ has nice string work in a thoughtful, understated piece before some strident strings kick in and to wrap things up ‘Tricks/Little Jake Again/Going Home’ is eleven minutes plus of sharp suspense and action, ending with a reprise of the jaunty main theme. Although there is also some Mexican/Spanish source music included; ‘Maracumee’, ‘La Sadunga’ etc., I think it’s fair to say that its appeal will probably be more for die-hard collectors than the casual fan.

One of the major strengths of this admirable score (performed with aplomb by The Hollywood Symphony Orchestra) is the way it constantly switches tone, moving from big and bold to suspenseful and elegiac. What we have here is a great composer undoubtedly giving the producers just what they wanted while still managing to create attractive, very listenable music that will delight both long time fans and those who have yet to discover the joys of the wonderful Mr. Elmer Bernstein.

Mark Hockley


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