Wednesday, March 07, 2007


Directed By Bryan Barber
Universal Home Video

Wynton Marsalis’ new CD is featured in prominent stories in both Jazz Times and Downbeat this month, but is later panned in the review sections of both magazines. An attempt by Marsalis to rap on a track receives particular derision. It seems hip-hop and jazz fusions are reserved by critics for the downtown scene, rather than the more swing-oriented artists like Marsalis. Indeed, OutKast’s film debut, Idlewild, received a similar critical reception for its blending of hip-hop with elements of 1930’s swing.

OutKast released their CD of hip-hop tunes from and inspired by the film. However, a soundtrack album of John Debney’s orchestral score was announced from Varese Sarabande, but never released. That was a shame, since it featured trumpet solos from jazz musician and Cuban defector Arturo Sandoval, an entertaining musician in any context. It is hard dislike a film that gives credit trumpet solos in its opening title sequence, as Idlewild does.

For jazz listeners, Idlewild has some nice moments. Sandoval and Debney’s work is best heard over the opening montage of the young Percival and Rooster, growing up into their family businesses, undertaking and bootlegging, respectively. Also entertaining are the high energy dance numbers choreographed by Tony winner Hinton Battle, featuring Rooster, played by Antwan Andre “Big Boi” Patton. His rap delivered over big band swing inspired arrangements is clearly anachronistic, but kind of fun. Frankly, even the deleted song “The Clock” is a more worthy tune than this year’s bland Oscar winning song.

Idlewild is not perfect, but Barber’s flashy and colorful visuals keep things moving effectively. OutKast’s Patton and Andre “Andre 3000” Benjamin have decent screen presence, acquitting themselves well in their acting debuts. The screenplay could have used an additional revision or two, as there are several logical gaps in the storyline. Why Rooster’s club has to rely on bootleggers for booze in 1935, two years after the end of prohibition is never really explained—must have been a dry county.

It is not perfect, but based on Idlewild, it would be interesting to see another attempt at a musical film from Barber and company. Yet in Jazz Times’ 2006 “Year in Review” they dismiss the film as “some misguided amalgam of Moulin Rouge, Chicago, Kansas City and New Jack City. As jazz fans we’re disappointed, but as hip-hop heads we’re completely heartbroken.” Why the scorn? Marsalis might be a terrible rapper, but if OutKast takes inspiration from swing instead of more “left-of-center” jazz styles, so be it. Idlewild actually mixes swing attitude with hip-hop energy into an amalgam that is more fun than they generally received credit for.