Red Hook Summer is the 2012 chapter in director Spike Lee's intermittent yet career-long idyll of Brooklyn. Set in the Red Hook projects and neighborhoods, Lee's film offers the tale of a young man (Jules Brown) from suburban Atlanta who is sent by his mother to spend the summer with his uncle, a church minister (played by Clarke Peters) in Red Hook. The film explores the young man's culture shock and the resultant expansion of his worldview as he witnesses beauty and love in constant co-existence with violence and tragedy. Lee's choice of Bruce Hornsby to score this film may seem a curious one. Yet, he's perfect. Three of the film's scenes are set in a storefront church. Most of the 14 cues in Hornsby's score -- that lasts just over 34 minutes -- are solo piano instrumentals that draw from their inspiration; remarkably, they suit the rest of the narrative beautifully. The music is often understated. Hornsby bases most of his cues on gospel and processional church music, from the reverential to the celebratory, and embraces all shades of gray in between. Where "Gospel Camp" romps with fat chords of joy, "Sordid Pastime" uses liturgical music for reflection and speculation. Where "Claus Ligeti" uses implied classical nomenclature, "Ogerman"'s spacious harmonic chords employ a jazz skeleton to allow traces of the previous cues to suggest themselves -- without actually appearing in the piece. "Spirit Climbing" is striding gospel blues with Hornsby's vocal in full testifying mode. Closer, "Hymn in C" stands in stark contrast, pronounced yet gentle; it's full of conviction without artifice or overstatement. Its substance comes right out of the early 20th century Baptist church, though its language is contemporary. For fans of Hornsby's more fiery and masterful piano pyrotechnics, Red Hook Summer may be underwhelming, but it's their loss. For the rest of us, this score reflects in its mostly quiet way, the care and attention of a storyteller, and in its somewhat mysterious manner, offers not only fine accompaniment for the film's images, but a stirring listen all on its own.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek