As part of the apparently never-ending quest to hammer film music into the concert hall, the Hollywood Bowl went at it from another perspective Wednesday night — spotlighting the long-running collaboration between filmmaker Spike Lee and trumpeter-composer Terence Blanchard. Unveiled in London in April, it was a show that wanted to be “different and important” — to quote its producer Danny Kapilian. But the bulk of its content turned out to be not so different from that of many other attempts to put movie music in a place it was never meant to occupy.
At first, the listener’s hopes went up when the main themes of “Bamboozled” and the documentary “Jim Brown” displayed a pleasing soul/gospel flavor, as Blanchard soloed with obvious fire and emotion. Yet the second number from “Clockers” set the pattern for the rest of the evening — brooding, generic-sounding orchestral backgrounds ripped out of their context and hung out to dry, spelled by occasional performances of individual songs.
Drably reproduced still images from the corresponding films were projected onto the giant twin screens flanking the Bowl’s shell, but that wasn’t enough to give meaning to the music. The only time the visuals made any emotional impact was toward the end, with a sound video of the eulogy from “Malcolm X.”
A better idea would have been to have Blanchard’s jazz sextet work out on some of the motifs and ideas from the trumpeter’s film scores. When that did happen in flashes — in the middle of the otherwise-dreary “25th Hour” suite or the “Mo’ Better Blues” sequence — the evening perked up.
There were compensations from the guests: Dianne Reeves’ heavyweight climax to “Make Sure You’re Sure” from “Jungle Fever”; Chaka Khan’s soul/gospel rendition of “Love Me Still” from “Clockers”; and guitarist-singer Raul Midon’s evocation of the late Donny Hathaway in “A Change Is Gonna Come.”
The whole thing ended with a typically provocative bit of sass from Lee — having Public Enemy’s Chuck D and Flavor Flav follow the “Malcolm X” sequence with the rousing rap number “Fight the Power” from “Do the Right Thing,” with Blanchard gamely attempting to jam on the stomping beat. It was like a blast of colorful graffiti from a spray can. It was actually a fun way to puncture the evening’s pretensions.