Terence Blanchard’s soundtrack for The Comedian is a classic case of movie music that’s likely to be appreciated long after the film for which it was created is forgotten. When the Robert De Niro vehicle opened in February, it bombed both at the box office (ranked 21st in its opening week) and with the critics (a 25-percent aggregate on Rotten Tomatoes).
Blanchard has composed scores for more than three-dozen films since the early 1990s and has evolved into a reigning master of the art. For this assignment, however, the trumpeter-composer realized that conventional “film music” wasn’t going to cut it, so he did what he still does best: make killer jazz. The Comedian—its abysmal commercial performance aside—required it. De Niro’s Jackie Burke is a fan of the music with a penchant for Art Blakey, and it would have been wrongheaded for the film to feature incidental music whose primary purpose is to be actively unnoticed.
For The Comedian, Blanchard assembled a cast of ace players—pianist Kenny Barron, tenor saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, alto saxophonist Khari Allen Lee, bassist David Pulphus and drummer Carl Allen—and, of course, his own trumpet is front and center, spotlighted early on in the balladic “Jackie Gets Out.” The mood and tempo swing feverishly from track to track, moving from the hard bop of “Electricity on MacDougal,” which gives Allen a week’s worth of exercise and allows Blanchard, Coltrane and Barron to engage in playful repartee, to the late-night-smoky “Jackie’s Lament” and “Tit for Tat Nocturne.” The self-explanatory “Florida Salsa” calls upon the entire crew to let loose island-style, while “Deli to Soup Kitchen” is full of bravado and swagger, presumably like De Niro’s hapless character.