Since The Big Chill, too often directors and film producers have taken the easy way out in creating soundtracks for their big-budget Hollywood movies by licensing a couple handfuls of hits either from the catalog of yesteryear's pop giants or from hungry up-and-comers. It's a formula almost. Thankfully there are still film scores, though they all seem to be written by the same five men. Both of these poles sees to lie in stark contrast to Robert Rodriguez's approach to creating an audio environment both to accompany and stand apart from his films. On Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Rodriquez took matters into his own hands and procured a series of rather obscure existing tracks that viscerally underscore defined themes in his movie – such as Juno Reactor's "Pistolero," Brian Setzer's ass-kicking "Malagueña," and Manu Chao's "Me Gustas Tu." He also commissioned several tracks to actors and wrote others for his players. Thus Tito Larriva's haunting "Flor de Mal," or Johnny Depp and friends under the moniker Tonto's Giant Nuts offer "Sands Theme," while Rubén Blades and Antonio Banderas helped to flesh out their own character's themes musically as well as dramatically.
Rob McConnell & the Boss Brass add plenty of spice to this Christmas jazz CD, not only with superb, fresh charts but a few surprising selections. The rich brass and reeds carry the deliberate rendition of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," which segues into a perky Latin-flavored chart of "I'll Be Home for Christmas." "Away in a Manger" is not the commonly heard melody but one first written in 1887, though the music will likely be familiar, even if one doesn't associate it with the well-known lyrics. The lush setting of "The Christmas Song," which likely set Mel Tormé and Bob Wells for life with royalty checks due to its many recordings, showcases the leader's valve trombone and pianist David Restivo. "My Favorite Things," originally written for The Sound of Music, has gradually been transformed into double duty as a Christmas carol; this swinging interpretation works very well. Johnny Mandel, the composer of many memorable melodies, deserves greater recognition for his gorgeous piece "A Christmas Love Song"; this arrangement deserved to help put it on the jazz map. Rob McConnell & the Boss Brass consistently delivered first-rate music throughout their existence, this holiday CD no exception.