Tim Hagans & NDR Bigband: Faces Under the Influence: A Jazz Tribute to John Cassavetes (NDR)

Review of album from trumpeter with big band celebrating legacy of innovative filmmaker

Cover of album saluting John Cassavetes
Tim Hagans & NDR Bigband album “Under the Influence”

With few exceptions—a notable one being Shadows, his directorial debut, which employed the music of Mingus—the films of the late John Cassavetes were light on musical content. Cassavetes wanted his actors to dominate the scenes in which they appeared, and considered anything that would divert attention from their performances a distraction.

In essence, the trumpeter Tim Hagans was presented with the gift of a blank slate when he was commissioned by Germany’s NDR Bigband to compose music with Cassavetes’ works in mind. Serving as writer, arranger and conductor here, his trumpet employed only sparingly, Hagans focuses on characters from six classic films—Shadows, A Woman Under the Influence, Faces, Husbands, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie and Minnie and Moskowitz—and gives them the scores they never had. For the final track, simply called “John Cassavetes,” he nods to the director himself, whose work, the artist notes, has long kept his brain working overtime.

Hagans thinks in a cinematic fashion anyway, so writing for familiar characters so rich and vibrant had to have been a dream, and to have the resources of one of Europe’s best ensembles to flesh out his thoughts surely made the gig that much more rewarding. Cassavetes was fond of improvisation, and Hagans keeps things loose whenever the scenario allows. “Lelia,” the grand opening number, captures the proto-hipster, post-noir vibe of Shadows’ NYC setting, without slipping into the kind of faux-bebop clichés that uninformed directors of the period often resorted to. “Harry, Archie & Gus,” the main men of Husbands (the director himself among them), are given an alternately swinging and swaggering theme, and the man of the hour, in the finale, is defined by moments of sheer chaos and unsullied delicacy, a fitting tribute indeed.

Preview, buy or download songs from the album Faces Under the Influence: A Jazz Tribute to John Cassavetes by Tim Hagans and the NDR Bigband on iTunes.