Saturday, April 14, 2007

Sounds for Silents

Can jazz save silent movies? As part of their sets at the Iridium, Dave Douglas & Keystone are playing their new soundtracks for Fatty Arbuckle shorts, included on Douglas’ Keystone CD. Like Wycliffe Gordon’s score for Intolerance, Douglas’ new soundtrack gives new life to films that are acknowledged as important (even seminal), but rarely seen.

Indeed, the movie portion of the night, at least during Friday’s first show, was the strongest material of the set. On stand-alones like “Tough,” DJ Olive’s turntable and sound effects become distracting. Despite the electronics, Keystone is a tight group that has a good groove from drummer Gene Lake and bassist Brad Jones. Marcus Strickland’s tenor is highlight and Adam Benjamin also had some nice solo turns on the Fender Rhodes.

Fatty and Mabel Adrift is a gentle comedy about the courtship between the leads, threatened by a rejected suitor, who conspires to send their love cottage out to see during a perfect storm. While the turntables and electronics were definitely a part of the score, they sounded better integrated, well suiting the on-screen action, like the driving rains late in the film. Sounding more conservative than the previous Douglas originals, the music effectively emphasized the dramatic cues, without resorting to cartoonish “wah-wah-wah” effects.

Introducing the film, Douglas explained that he was a little put off by the old-timey piano that usually accompanies Arbuckle’s films. Once he turned off the sound and put on a radically different record, it started to work for him. I suspect that would be the case for many people if they could see these images synched to intriguing new sounds. Of course, it is all the more effective when the musicians are performing the score live. This weekend (there is a late set tonight) will be a rare opportunity to actually see a good film at the Iridium, in addition to hearing good music.