Prometheus (PCR 512)
Year Released: 1971 / 2001
Conducted by Elmer Bernstein
The Hollywood Studio Symphony
True Grit: Elmer Bernstein Conducts his Classic Scores for the Films of John WayneVarese Sarabande (302 066 726 2)
Format: CD (78 min)
Review: Big Jake
3.5 / 5 Stars
Elmer Bernstein will forever be, at least in my mind, one of the best composers for a western movie ever. It's probably because of his brilliant score in 1960 to The Magnificent Seven that the idea of what an American western should sound like was engraved in my brain. Over the next decade Bernstein would score approximately sixty projects, including a slew of westerns, incluing a few for legendary actor John Wayne. Once of these films was called Big Jake. The film focused on an old rancher (Wayne) whose grandson is kidnapped and held for ransom. Bernstein didn't hold back when it came to the score, providing a musical tapestry that uses plenty of themes and a seemingly infinite array of musical styles - all while keeping it in the classic "Bernstein western" mold.
The "Main Title" cue is an amazing conglomeration of almost all of the styles and themes Bernstein will use in the score. Starting out with a jaunty turn-of-the-century motif, it segues into a sweeping orchestral theme, then a pounding (if not slightly stereotypical) Indian motif, a heroic western theme, and a softer dramatic melody. In "Delilah's View / The Riders" Bernstein uses a melody that sounds similar to bits of the Simon and Garfunkle song "Scarborough Fair", and variations on the classic melody "Frere Jacques" is also used throughout the score. Some cues are filled with pulse-pounding, hard-hitting orchestral action ("Massacre / Little Jake / Mexico", "Survey / Ambush / Buzzards"), others are filled with sweeping orchestral melody ("On The Move", "All Jake and Raider"), and others contain tense drama ("On The Trail", "Getting Old").
Bernstein's style is well represented - there are things about this score that sound stylistically familiar - usually due to the orchestration choices and tempo. All that's missing is the Ondes-Martenot! "On The Way / Onward Jake" is worth checking out, as well as the 11-minute long finale, "Tricks / Little Jake Again / Going Home". But while the score ends there, the music doesn't! Five source cues are also provided on this release for our enjoyment, and while they're not necessarily worth hooting and hollering about, their inclusion is a nice touch, if simply for completions sake.
The original recording of Big Jake has, until now, never been released. As part of their limited edition series, Prometheus Records has taken the original mono source tapes, cleaned them up (as best as they could), and packaged them very nicely into a solid hour of musical enjoyment. The performance by the Hollywood Symphony Orchestra is good - but not great. Nevertheless, with informative liner notes by James Southall and many enjoyable moments, this score deserves to be in the collection of any Bernstein afficionado.
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