Quick Review: Soul

Original score by Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
Jazz compositions and arrangements by Jon Batiste
Album running time: 64 minutes
Available on Walt Disney Records (digital)

With music being such an important aspect of Soul, director Pete Doctor turned to two unlikely sources.  Our lead, Joe is a middle school band teacher longing to break into the real jazz piano world.  His musical world is represented by music by Jon Batiste.  Batiste arranged several jazz pieces and performed Joe's piano solos.  Unfortunately, Joe meets an unexpected end and winds up in The Great Before, represented with music by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.  

These separate parts were released on vinyl separately as Original Score and Music From and Inspired by Soul.  The music from both albums was combined in film order for the digital release.  To separate them, this color is for Batiste and this color for Reznor & Ross.     

The album begins with a handful of short Batiste jazz tracks: Born to Play, Born to Play Reprise, Bigger Than Us, Collard Greens and Cornbread Strut.  It's this jazz that helps build's Joe's world and features some fantastic performances by the featured jazz musicians.  Note: the "middle school band" performance for the Disney logo isn't featured on any album.    

The Great Beyond showcases several of R&R's ethereal and electronic ideas for the afterlife.  Falling combines electronic soundwaves with a falling scale pattern.  The Great Before/U Seminar has more soundscapes with ethereal voices, and space-like synths floating around.  Jump to Earth is buoyant and stands out with a videogame hook.  We hear source cue Rappin Ced (written and performed by Daveed Diggs) in a flashback, and Joe's Lowdown Blues with its trilling piano and minor blues chords.  

Terry Time features a bouncing motif with clock ticking that returns with Terry through the film, while Joe's Life has long chords that seem a bit melancholy.  Portal/The Hall of Everything has a variety of new layered patterns that stop and start for comedic effect.  Run/Astral Plane has bright moments and introduces the solo piano line and Lost Soul is a brief moment of abrasive sound.  Meditation/Return to Earth features the solo piano among the soundscape.

Batiste's next few cues follow scenes of Joe and 22's earth antics. 22's Getaway has an energetic shuffle with drum set leading the charge.  Apex Wedge is a brief samba and quick trumpet wail.  Let Your Soul Glow is an upbeat funk number with saxes.  Terry Time Too returns the bouncing motif with a spy sound and flute solo.  Upbeat jazz returns in Feel Soul Good, this time with some light scatting.  Source cue Parting Ways (written and performed by Cody ChesnuTT) is heard as our main characters enter the subway and hear the street singer.       
Looking at Life is a mellow tune with neat bass line and sax feature while Fruit of the Vine has a low piano hook.  22 Is Ready continues the live piano among the synth atmosphere.  Pursuit/Terry's World stands out with R&R's take on madcap jazz before blending into the electronic Terry's bouncing motif.  Betrayal brings the piano scales and ethereal voices back to the forefront.   

Next, we hear arrangements of Space Maker (by Walter Norris) and Cristo Redentor (by Duke Pearson).  The Epic Conversationalist/Born to Play brings lively piano and sax bouncing off each other, eventually bringing in the melody from the beginning of the album.  Celestial Spaces in Blue is another semi-samba with some great piano and sax riffs.  The sax continues in Spiritual Connection.  

The breathy synths return in the brief cue, Lost.  Solo piano takes the lead in Epiphany - the standout (and longest) cue for Reznor & Ross.  It's surprisingly nice, and the climax of their dramatic work for the film.  Ship Chase and Escape/Inside 22 provides some of the action beats with their propulsive rhythms and harsher sounds.  Flashback adds the piano scales while Earthbound builds with the electronics and piano.  The wash of sounds continues in Thank You, while Enjoy Every Minute adds the live piano bringing it all to a sweet finish.  It's All Right (by Curtis Mayfield) works well as the end credits roll.  Just Us stands out as an encapsulation of much of their score.  

Having the score split worked well in the film and it's not as jarring as it might seem on the album.  When R&R were brought on, we knew what to expect...and we got 40ish minutes of ambient/electronica/spacey synth music.  

Music for Pixar films typically work extremely well, and this was a bold move that just didn't land entirely for me.  Unfortunately, the score seems to be lost in the background and the standout musical moments just don't pop like I thought they would.  Thankfully the film itself is chockfull of stunning imagery and emotions, because the music feels distant and several emotional beats are left unscored.  While I admire the bold choice of composers, someone like Randy Newman, Michael Giacchino or Thomas Newman could have straddled the musical worlds with more storytelling prowess and emotional heft.

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  1. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross are suckers. Branford Marsalis is the best.