CD Review: THE BEAST IN THE JUNGLE by John Kander (Original Score Recording)

Post image for CD Review: THE BEAST IN THE JUNGLE by John Kander (Original Score Recording)

by John Todd on September 14, 2018



The Beast in the Jungle, based on the Henry James novella of the same name, is an Off-Broadway dance-play that got fairly mixed reviews, but not because of this fascinating score from 91-year-old John Kander, who shows no signs of slowing down since the death of his longtime collaborator Fred Ebb. John Kander’s original suite of attractive waltzes is used to move the narrative along, which really has little to do with James’s original short story: The protagonist, John Marcher, a man with a haunted psyche, and the faintly enigmatic May Bertram, encounter each other exactly three times across half a century — in 1968 at the ruins of Pompeii; in 1988, when he is an art dealer and she, the wife of a customer, living in a stately English country house; and in 2018, when she, now a famous photographer, appears in New York, exhibiting a retrospective of her work, much of which focuses on him. Marcher’s defining problem is his inability to glance beyond the pleasant surface of life. The whole enterprise here reminds me of Contact, Susan Stroman’s first major dance-theater piece that I simply didn’t think deserved the attention it got (and it won a Tony for Best Musical, even without songs!).

Here, there is nothing you need to know but Kander’s beguiling exploration of waltz time in all its splendors, melodic and memorable, hypnotic and haunting, delightful and sweet. Fusing classical ballet and the waltz with modern jazz, Kander’s lush instrumental score is awash in shifting moods. The delicate and persuasive, sometimes sensual, orchestrations for nonet are by Greg Anthony Rassen and Sam Davis (no fake electronica here). This is a great listen as a whole, but many tracks are short, so definitely not in pieces. If you’re interested in context, the gorgeous color booklet describes in detail the scenes that lead to each piece. Kander fans will be pleased.

The Beast in the Jungle (Original Score Recording)
John Kander
Broadway Records
22 tracks | 53:14 | released September 14, 2018
available on Amazon and iTunes

Leave a Comment