Album reviews

Kyle Eastwood + Quintet + Czech NSO – ‘Eastwood Symphonic’

Kyle Eastwood + Quintet + Czech National Symphony Orchestra, Dir. Gast Waltzing – ‘Eastwood Symphonic’
(Pias France. Album review by Rob Mallows)

When your surname is Eastwood…and your father just happens to be called Clint, it must be hard to escape the penumbra of his cinematic career. 

Not yet a subscriber of our Wednesday Breakfast Headlines?
Join the mailing list for a weekly roundup of Jazz News.


Some musicians might be tempted to run in the opposite direction, to change their name to avoid accusations of the ‘you only got where you are because…’ variety.

But I’ve always liked the fact that Kyle Eastwood hasn’t ever shied away from who his father is and how important his influence has been on his own career.

And why should he? If you listen to the quality on offer on the nine albums he’s released up to now, it’s abundantly clear that it’s Kyle Eastwood’s talent that put him where he is, irrespective of any boost derived from being the son of one of the world’s great movie icons.

And now, with Eastwood junior twenty-five years into his own career, he is not just acknowledging but revelling in his family name and making a virtue of it, by taking music from Clint Eastwood’s vast cinematic back catalogue – as actor and director – and giving it a jazz twist.

Eastwood Symphonic is part homage and part celebration, not least of a son’s love for his father. And Eastwood fils has done Eastwood père proud.

I’ve enjoyed Kyle Eastwood’s bass playing ever since listening to 2006’s Now, a rip-roaring and soulful slice of contemporary jazz. 

On this, his eleventh album, keyboardist Andrew McCormack – who featured on Now and who’s since carved out a fine career himself – is still playing with him, along with Brandon Allen on saxophone, Quentin Collins on trumpet – another long-standing Eastwood sideman, and Chris Higginbottom on drums.

Alongside the quintet is the Czech National Symphony Orchestra led by Gast Waltzing, giving Eastwood a more expansive tonal palate with which to start afresh with twelve well-worn tunes. 

There is for some well-established bands and musicians a grim inevitability, that at some point, they’ll either ‘go acoustic’ or ‘go orchestral’, and it can often feel gimmicky when they do (evidence for the prosecution: Kiss Symphony). It often signals they’ve simply run out of ideas, and I generally steer clear as a result.

But I didn’t get that from listening to Eastwood Symphonic

Kyle Eastwood already has fine composing chops (he has made a number of contributions to his father’s films, such as on Gran Torino and Letters from Iwo Jima), and having a quintet and an orchestra to play with has given him scope to be expansive while still fundamentally sticking to his jazz background.

First track Overture feels like what you’d expect – the first musical introduction to a movie, with subtle motifs from Clint Eastwood movies woven into the score, but no jazz. Yet.

That comes in with the re-imagining of Lalo Schifrin’s Magnum Force, which is shot through with all sorts of seventies groove and grime, not least in the driving bass line and Collins’ filthy first trumpet solo. The orchestra comes in and out like a soloist, as the underlying strength of the original melody shines through. Punchy and peppy, especially when the horns section of the orchestra lets rip on the staccato phrases.

Gran Torino – to which Kyle Eastwood contributed music back in 2008 – is a bit underwhelming given the bright start; a perfectly functional slow collaboration between orchestra and acoustic bass, but the placing so early feels a little off. The Eiger Sanction main theme – originally crafted by John Williams – recreates the sense of urgency and danger of the original film before swerving off into swing jazz, where you get to see what the band can do when they have a great tune to start with.

There is a constant to-ing and fro-ing between the cinematic and the rhythmic – as on The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, where Allen and McCormack expand the famous theme into bold new areas as Eastwood sustains an economic rhythm, all the while respecting the heart of Morricone’s original idea.

The seventies was arguably Clint Eastwood’s greatest decade, and the Dirty Harry theme is the best track on the album. Eastwood’s groove on electric bass is dripping with swagger, as the horns pump out the anti-hero’s theme. Allen’s first solo, with soaring strings behind, really captures the sound of the grimy, mean streets of downtown San Francisco.

Given what and who he’s working with, it would have been difficult for Eastwood not to produce an enjoyable album and for the most part, Eastwood Symphonic is that; indeed, on the most upbeat tracks, it is excellent. Some of the more thoughtful tracks I didn’t fully engage with, and a few times you could forget this is Kyle Eastwood’s album so understated is his bass, but those are minor quibbles.

It is, ultimately, still a jazz album at heart, and the orchestral element helps augment and complement the quintet well. 

I prefer Kyle Eastwood in jazz quintet mode, but I don’t begrudge him going all-out and doing something different to celebrate a father’s glittering career and the greatest gift he gave his son: a love for jazz.

1. Overture
2. Magnum Force (1973Director: Don Siegel / Composer: Lalo Schifrin / Actor: C. Eastwood
3. Gran Torino (2008)Director: C. Eastwood / Composer: Kyle Eastwood & Michael Stevens
4. Eiger Sanction (1975)
Director: C. Eastwood / Composer: John Williams
5. Doe Eyes (Love theme from The Bridges of Madison County) (1995)
Director: C. Eastwood / Composer: Lennie Niehaus / Actor: C. Eastwood
6. The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (1966)
Director: Sergio Leone / Composer: Ennio Morricone / Actor: C. Eastwood
7. Unforgiven (1992)Director: C. Eastwood / Composer: Lennie Niehaus / Actor: C. Eastwood
8. Letters from Iwo Jima (2006)Director: C. Eastwood / Composer: Kyle Eastwood & Michael Stevens
9. Dirty Harry (1971)Director: Don Siegel / Composer: Lalo Schifrin / Actor: C. Eastwood
10. Changeling (2008)Director: C. Eastwood / Composer: C. Eastwood / Arranger: Kyle Eastwood
11. Flags of our Fathers (2006)Director: C. Eastwood / Composer: C. Eastwood / Arranger: Kyle Eastwood
12. A Fistful of Dollars (1964)Director: Sergio Leone / Composer: Ennio Morricone / Actor: C. Eastwood
Bonus Track: Cool Blues (from Bird) (1998) – Director: C. Eastwood / Composer: Charlie Parker (Available only on the Special Edition only.‘

Eastwood Symphonic will be released 1  September 2023, available on CD, as a double vinyl album and on all major streaming and download services, available in Dolby Atmos. The release will also be celebrated with a special publication of a 40-page book accompanied by 10-inch vinyl disc that includes a bonus track and a conversation between Clint & Kyle about how music can change the making of a film. Also released is a documentary film produced by ARTE.

LINK: Eastwood Symphonic website

Leave a Reply