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Artwork copyright (c) 2005 Commotion Records.; review copyright (c) 2006 James Southall





Mark Isham is in a uniquely-qualified position to write jazz-based film scores, given his background as a jazz trumpeter and composer; and in many ways he has probably been badly-utilised by Hollywood over the years, being assigned to thrillers that aren't really his thing, though when given the chance to write touching drama scores he has never disappointed (and Fly Away Home is one of the very best scores of the 1990s).  But always, his best work has been when a director has done the sensible thing and just let him get on and do what he is better than any other film composer at doing, writing jazz pieces that are utterly authentic and "pure" but function as dramatic underscore as well; scores like Afterglow, Mrs Parker and the Vicious Circle, Quiz Show - these are masterful.  And now, add to that list The Cooler.

The movie is an acclaimed comic thriller from director Wayne Kramer, starring William H Macy as a down-on-his-luck gambler in Las Vegas whose run of misfortune gradually begins to rub off on other people he meets; it's a top-notch cast also including Alec Baldwin, Maria Bello and Paul Sorvino.  Kramer, before making the film, was well-known in film music circles as a big fan and contributed to many of the internet discussion groups over the years; so for once, there's a director who understands film music, understands how it should be used in a film, understands who should write it.

The score opens with a knockout, powerhouse track that must rank as one of the most memorable compositions Isham has provided for a film.  Strident, vibrant, sexy jazz is the order of the day and Isham dollops it on in spades.  Later, he adopts a considerably softer, more melancholy sound; sometimes romantic, sometimes sleazy, always jazzy and extremely listenable.  "Look in my Eyes" is a particularly attractive piece, but to be honest it's difficult to pick out highlights because every track brings a new joy. 

The score was originally released by Commotion Records at the time of the film's release in 2003; in 2005 they quietly re-released it, added two fresh score tracks, dropped one of the non-Isham cues, so things are even better!  The songs which remain fit in very well, having mostly been composed in a very similar style.  This is a terrific score from an always-underrated composer; one of the cleverest and most attractive of its year, it's just wonderful.  For fans of the Isham of Afterglow or, for that matter, something like John Barry's Playing by Heart this will be a real treat.

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  1. The Cooler (4:07)
  2. Better Life Motel / Tables on Fire (2:52)
  3. Candy Rebecca Kyler Downs (3:45)
  4. Bernie Faces Shelly / Trumpet Melody (2:17)
  5. Shangri-La (2:17)
  6. Luck be a Lady Bobby Caldwell (4:59)
  7. Amateurs (2:44)
  8. Can I Steal a Little Love Joey Fatone (2:33)
  9. Look in my Eyes (3:59)
  10. I'll String Along With You Diana Krall (4:47)
  11. Heartbroken (2:48)
  12. My Funny Valentine Tierney Sutton (5:06)
  13. Almost Like Being in Love Nick D'Egidilo (2:33)
  14. You Leave Me No Choice (2:06)
  15. Leaving Las Vegas (5:21)