A supernatural-looking CD entitled Playing by Heart is billed to John Barry, Chris Botti and, weirdly enough, Chet Baker. On the black-and-white CD cover, in fact, Mr. Barry-the peerless English inventor of James Bond music, as well the scorer of films like Body Heat , Out of Africa , Dances With Wolves and many others-sits pensively, baton raised upward toward his shoulder; it seems as natural a part of Mr. Barry as his herringbone tweeds. Two other photographs-both of trumpeters-flank Mr. Barry’s: To his right is Mr. Botti, a mop-topped player who in the 90’s had recorded several stylish albums of his own. And to Mr. Barry’s left is a shot of the jazz legend Mr. Baker in all his iconic 50’s glory. Because the design is clever, you hardly realize that, of the three shots, two are contemporary and one is a retro dream.
Just to keep things mysterious, Playing by Heart , it turns out, actually is a soundtrack-“original music,” as the package reveals in only a sheepish line on its back cover, “from the motion picture Playing by Heart , the movie written and directed by Willard Carroll, starring Gillian Anderson and Sean Connery.” But it doesn’t feel like a soundtrack; it just feels like a new recording by Mr. Barry, who composed, conducted and produced this music.
The exceptions are three audio snapshots placed in the sequence, pieces like “Tenderly” and “You Go to My Head” that Mr. Baker recorded in 1956 with a quartet in Paris.
The album, in any event, rocks. Something more interesting than an homage to the languid force of Mr. Baker’s West Coast jazz, it is instead a demonstration, keyed to maximum sonic pleasure, of how film scoring borrows other styles to fashion its own epiphanies. Producing Mr. Botti on “Remembering Chet,” Mr. Barry isn’t afraid to surround the trumpeter’s long, highly melodic lines with a synth pad tucked far behind Lee Musiker’s piano and Jay Leon Heart’s bass; it produces a certain nice, essential shimmer, end of story.
Mr. Barry’s Bond scores, after all, remain some of the greatest recordings of the 60’s and 70’s, because he could always stop the Aston Martin crescendos and spy pulses on a dime and enter a bar to the quieter sounds of light jazz so headspinningly clear and focused you wondered why anyone ever condescended to it as light.
On Playing by Heart that side of Mr. Barry’s-he was hot on this world in his Body Heat score-stretches out without ever losing taut lucidity. And Mr. Botti is the right guy to play Chet without exactly copying him. At the end, finally, Mr. Barry goes suavely for broke with “Playing by Heart-Vows Renewed.” Here, for almost seven minutes, he coaxes his private jazz into public cinematic gesture-dark-hued harmonics, swelling orchestral flourishes, emotions as big as the Ritz, everything. Mr. Barry, as always, will settle for nothing less.