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Sweet and LowdownSoundtrack to Sweet and Lowdown (Sony Classical 1999) - "Sweet and Lowdown" is the new film from Woody Allen, starring Sean Penn as the brilliant but haunted guitarist, Emmet Ray. The soundtrack features a 1930's jazz sound that is faithful to the film.

Sean Penn was nominated for an Oscar for his role as the fictional character Emmet Ray, described in the film as "the second greatest jazz guitarist in the world - after Django Reinhardt." Also appearing are Uma Thurman as the guitarist's glamorous wife, and Samantha Morton in a star-making role as the mute girlfriend.

Dick HymanThe music for the film was arranged and conducted by Dick Hyman, who has been providing music for Allen's films since "Manhattan" in 1979. The soundtrack includes such well-known numbers as "Sweet Georgia Brown," "Just a Gigolo," and "It Don't Mean a Thing (If it Ain't Got That Swing)," all delivered in a 30s jazz style.

Woody Allen described the film as "a period movie showing the adventures of the wild and eccentric jazz guitar genius in the late 1930's. We take the character through a series of hilarious and harrowing events as he clashes with lovers, musicians, and gangsters in a comic and touching farce of his own crazy making."

Sean Penn and Samantha Morton"Sweet and Lowdown" resembles his earlier "Zelig," as the story is framed by interviews with contemporary celebrities and critics, who comment on the fictional Emmet Ray, thereby lending credibility to the character.

The soundtrack features contemporary guitarist Howard Alden, described by the magazine "Jazz Times" as perhaps the "best guitarist of his generation." Alden is joined on the soundtrack by guitar legend Bucky Pizzarelli, who has been a fixture at international jazz festivals and on jazz recordings for more than 15 years.

Uma ThurmanAlso heard on the Sweet and Lowdown soundtrack is Ken Peplowski, a young clarinetist who began his career in Benny Goodman's last band and who is a frequent collaborator with Alden.

Forming a small jazz ensemble, Alden, Pizzarelli and Peplowski are featured in stylish recreations of 1930's jazz standards, including "Shine" and "I'll See You in My Dreams." The arrangements have an understated elegance that perfectly highlights Dick Hyman's mischievous flair and Allen's love for vintage jazz.

Sean PennThe album also includes two older recordings: "Viper Mad," featuring Sydney Bechet and his Orchestra with Clarence Williams, and "Caravan" with Bunny Berrigan and his Orchestra.

Woody Allen has earned all of the brick bats and criticisms that have been heaped upon him for his misconduct. Yet he continues to churn out pleasant and thought-provoking films, adding to his substantial oeuvre.

Sean Penn and Samantha MortonAllen seems less interested these days in telling stories about himself, and is more interested in just telling stories. While his last film, "Celebrity," got mixed reviews, Allen assembled a cast of stunning beauties, including Charlize Theron ("The Astronaut's Wife") in a head-turning role.

Sweet and Lowdown was only in the theaters for a short time. But the sound track will invoke memories of this madcap period comedy.

Retrun to MeSoundtrack to Return to Me (RCA Victor 2000) - "Return to Me" is the new romantic comedy starring David Duchovny (from television's X-Files) and English actress Minnie Driver. The soundtrack seeks to create a late 50's feel, Italian style. The movie works better than the soundtrack.

The film, directed by first-timer Bonnie Hunt, tells a story of lonely Bob Rueland (David Duchovny), a construction contractor whose wife (played by Joely Richardson) dies unexpectedly. Rueland finds new romance with Grace Griggs (Minnie Driver) and is unexpectedly united with his former wife, as Grace has a secret - she received the former wife's heart in a transplant.

Carroll O'ConnorThe film is set in Chicago, and centers around an Irish-Italian restaurant run by grandfather Carroll O'Connor (in a likeable role). O'Connor and his retired pals are rooted in another generation, which is reflected on the soundtrack.

Thus, the album includes three songs by Dean Martin, including the title track and "Buono Sera," together with four songs by Jackie Gleason, including "The Best is Yet to Come" and "Tenderly."

Minnie DriverExplains director Bonnie Hunt, "Every now and again I play one of my Dad's Jackie Gleason albums and I am instantly transplanted to the comfort of my childhood. Each of the songs selected for the CD hold a special memory for me, some old, some new."

Also included are several instrumentals from the original score by Nicholas Pike, and two numbers performed by current big band leader and balladeer Joey Gien, including a reprise of "Return to Me."

In that reprise lies the album's weakness. Joey Gien's version appears early in the film, yet on the album, it is the closing track. The film has an upbeat second half, which is missing from the album. Return to Me is a stylized trip down memory lane.

SauceSauce, Where Are You Going? (Lizardman 1999) - Fun, energetic, and full of piss and vinegar. That's Sauce. What Are You Going? is an inventive introduction from this San Pedro, California-based combo.

Sauce is built around Croation-American brothers Brian Karmelich (vocals and guitar) and Mark Karmelich (guitars and piano/synth), and includes Chris Sweeney (who "thumps on that bass"), Anthony Arvizu (who "bangs on those drums") and Jim Hudson (vocals and percussion).

SauceAccording to the band, "we're all very busy." What sets Sauce apart is their comic attitude and college-based lyrics on such songs as the ballad, "She's a Stoner." (No explanation necessary).

Yet the band really kicks butt on the two-minute nautical ditty, "Never Saw the Minutemen" ("Drove through Pedro every day/Never saw the Minutemen play/Must have played a thousand times/All those years what was in my head?/As I went to see the Grateful Dead"). What a delicious tribute to local hero, Mike Watt.

And it gets better. The hilarious "Message From a Fan" (which sounds like an actual phone message from a self-righteous neighbor griping about the band) slams headlong into the punk rocker, "Penetration Tonight," before melding into the South-of-the-Border strummings on "Fish Taco" and the surf pounder, "San Pedro."

SauceThese boys are going somewhere. Like Sublime before them and Soulhat (who released a great independent record before being homogenized by a major record label), Sauce has real spirit. I wish them all the luck, but fear that a major label will force them to dumb it down for the masses, thereby destroying their eclectic ingenuity.

If radio programmers had any balls, they'd pick up Where Are You Going? and give everyone something to think about.

For more information, contact:

Brian Karmelich
Lizardman Records
Post Office Box 1616
San Pedro, CA 90733-1616

Phone: 310/519-1787

- Randy Krbechek © 2000

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