Ex-Wild Colonials man Paul Cantelon's score for Liev Schreiber's film Everything Is Illuminated marks one of those pointed cultural moments when flourishing underground meets mainstream culture -- a moment when the tip of a massive artistic iceberg appears to the good ship American Life. Orthodox-Jewish reggae singer Matisyahu's unexpected success gave the nation a taste of New York's underground Eastern European and Jewish music scene; Illuminated is a fuller buffet, filled with treats from supporting actor Eugene Hutz's gypsy-punk band Gogol Bordello to Cantelon's downtown-scenester orchestra, the Illuminated Gypsy Band. And somehow, besides being a soundtrack and a taster, Illuminated's soundtrack CD winds up being a cohesive and beautiful album -- more than can be said for most.
Cantelon's original film music is a graceful bow to Americanized, jazz-inflected Eastern music, recalling Lounge Lizard Evan Lurie's gorgeous Selling Water by the Side of the River -- or perhaps brother John Lurie's role as unwitting roots-digger in Stranger Than Paradise. Which makes sense, considering that the cast of musicians -- including Tom Waits guitarist Marc Ribot, John Zorn aficionados Marcus Rojas (tuba) and Jenny Scheinman (violin), and Klezmatics trumpeter Frank London -- is drawn from the same downtown pool that the Luries once fished.
But it's the addition of Gogol Bordello and their Ukrainian-punk pals that completes Illuminated: The meeting of old-world melody and new-world jazz is melancholic, as stop-start emotionally as it is rhythmically. The balance arrives when old-world meets nü-world -- Iggy-style punk (Gogol's "Start Wearing Purple"), sampledelic hip hop (The Con Artists' "Ya-takoy"), and Russian vulgarists Leningrad's staggering Nick Cave-slash-Tom Waits criminality.
With Elijah Wood star power and some big budget behind it, Illuminated stands ready to launch a minor Cyrillic insurrection in America's mainstream. (The kids already know all about it, thanks to Gogol's constant Warped Tour presence. But kids learn quicker, ya know.) Gypsy rebel graffiti artists, Mohawks in babushkas, fill your vodka flasks -- your time approaches.