Elmer Bernstein is no stranger to jazz scoring, his seminal Man with the Golden Arm is one of the first and best jazz scores ever penned. That aggressive style of scoring seems largely out of fashion now, jazz scores are more laid back affairs and Keeping the Faith could be counted among them. Something of a pet project for actor turned first time director Ed Norton, the film is about a love triangle, the centre of which is Jenna Elfman (any relation?!) who is pursued by Norton and Ben Stiller. It didn't really reach the level of critical acclaim that Norton's acting usually receives, but was a modest and enjoyable directorial debut.
Of course for gentle scoring, who better for a first time director than Elmer Bernstein? His experience was no doubt invaluable for Norton and his playful score is a charmer. The laid back jazzy feel is introduced in the Main Title, but Bernstein's pars down the orchestra to piano, kit and bass as the basis for many tracks, with the occasional saxophone and trumpet adding a little extra zip. Quite a few tracks have a very familiar feel, indeed Church and Temple gives me the distinct impression having heard it before. I suspect it could be my imagination. As usual, Bernstein keeps the orchestration of the dramatic passages down to chamber size, centred on piano, strings and woodwind, but always keeps things moving and there are few lapses into aimlessness. Hired begins quietly, but bursts into the scores only really loud moment with a kind of marching band melody, curious, but quite striking all the same.
The songs are pleasingly uncommercial, any album that starts with the gravel throated Tom Waits isn't appealing to those who like their pop squeaky clean. It seems a little strange that the songs are at the beginning and end of the album, but at least they aren't all mixed with the underscore, it's not really a mixture that would be all that successful and the changes in tone would be quite distracting. While not hitting the upper echelons of Bernstein's output, it is certainly a very pleasant and engaging effort, music that moves effortlessly from quiet drama to lightly arranged jazz. The main melodic material isn't exactly indelible and it's the jazzier moments that do stick in the mind afterwards.
Read other recent reviews by Tom Daish: The Snow Files: The Film Music of Mark Snow
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