For various reasons–I’m busy, but I am retired, so I don’t know exactly how that’s happening–I haven’t updated the ol’ blog for awhile, but I have so much music-related material under my mind’s belt that it’s about to explode, so time to let it loose, I suppose.
Jimi: All Is By My Side (written and directed by John Ridley)
This movie opened poorly, and it was already burdened by the Hendrix estate’s refusal to let Ridley use any original music. On top of that, it’s about an icon whose myth and reality (occasionally, on that latter count) are very firmly embedded in the public imagination already, an icon who’s famous for his wildness, though his gentleness of spirit might be his defining artistic spirit, even if you’re thinking about the lines he played. Considering those obstacles, the film is pretty brilliant. It covers the year leading up to Hendrix’s cataclysmic Monterey Pop appearance–the band is striding through the San Francisco airport toward the show in the final scene–when the guitarist’s confidence and fortunes were crucially bolstered by key figures on the sidelines who totally believed in him. The performances are excellent, the story is genuinely moving (and, contrary to reports you may have heard, exceptionally accurate, if Charles Cross’ meticulously researched Room Full of Mirrors is any measure), and the music? I think the news that no Hendrix music would be in the film has scared away potential moviegoers, but I argue that the sound of the Experience (and, in one scene, Cream) that’s concocted by three guys you may know (last names Wachtel, Sklar, and Keltner) is audaciously good, as close as anyone’s going to get to sound of the original trio. I was so impressed I waited for the music credits, and laughed out loud with joy when I saw them. No hagiography, either.
Chucho Valdes and Conrad Herwig’s Latin Side, The Missouri Theater, Columbia, Missouri, October 2
This show represented the 20th anniversary of Jon Poses’ We Always Swing Jazz Series, which has made Columbia one of the best places to be for black classical musical in the Bible Belt. The 73-year-old Valdez, a pianist who can roll Garner, Powell, Taylor, and any Latin ivory-tickler you care to name into a big ball and thrust it at the sun, opened with a magnificently florid, funny, and romantic solo recital, and Oklahoma trombonist Herwig’s unit, which has skillfully Latinized the songbooks of several modern composers over the years, did a wonderful number on some hard bop classics, to name a few, Wayne Shorter’s “Ping Pong,” Horace Silver’s “Peace,” and Joe Henderson’s “Inner Urge.” On sax for the night were Joe Lovano, looking happily hip in brown Chucks and suit and playing with fire and restraint, and Craig Hardy, who played baritone live for the first time in his career as well as other saxes. Mr. Poses has worked his ass off to bring these great sounds to us on a regular basis, and he ought to be proud. I am sure his mother, who was in attendance, feels the same way.
Mr. Dynamite: The Rise of James Brown (directed by Alex Gibney)
A long-time fan of Mr. Gibney, I wasn’t surprised that he nailed this project. Note the title: “rise of.” There is no TMZ-titillatin’ shit-show section; the film is about why Brown is and should be an American cultural god. Besides the wealth of mind-, eye-, and ear-boggling unseen footage, besides the great and surprising insights of Christian McBride on the links between JB’s funk innovations and jazz, besides the hilarious reflections of producer Mick Jagger on the infamous Brown-Stones “battle” on The T.A.M.I Show, the documentary shines most brightly during clips of Brown–reputedly resuscitated immediately after birth by an aunt, forced to live in the woods as a child, abandoned by his mother and violent father as a preteen, employed to tout for a whorehouse when he should have been playing Pee Wee Football, and in and out of reform schools throughout his later teenage years–speaking fiercely, eloquently, with amazing self-possession for black America to various clueless television interviewers during the most volatile time in our recent social history. Extremely, extremely moving–people, that’s all I want in my music intake, whether live, on film, off the page, or spinning out of digitalization.
Barrence Whitfield and The Savages, Off Broadway, St. Louis, Missouri, October 4
Since hearing about Barrence in the mid-Eighties and having snapped up his great hard r&b albums on Mamou and Rounder, I have been wanting to witness the man in the person; there’s really been no one else so intensely honoring the wild and noble tradition of H-Bomb Ferguson and Little Richard, but Missouri isn’t that logical a place for him to shake it. I wouldn’t have thought it likely, but 31 years after first hearing about him, I finally had a chance to see him–with the two Lyres who originally accompanied him flanking him like apostles. The set was fierce, a mix of his very strong recent tracks on Norton, his great originals and excavations from the Eighties, and some surprises, like the Beatle Bob-requested “Have Love, Will Travel.” The little fireplug’s lost nothing in the vocal department, so if he swings your way, don’t miss your chance.