Sunday, May 30, 2010

DVD Review: Icons Among Us

This film takes a wide-ranging look at the modern jazz scene, interviewing many musicians and providing some very nice concert footage from a variety of venues. Subtitled "jazz in the present tense," it is something of a rebuttal to the lengthy PBS series Jazz that aired several years ago and was criticized for presenting the music as a static museum piece rather than a vibrant art form. This film really makes clear the diversity of today's music: male and female, black and white, American and European, it is one of the great triumphs of the music that it can cross all of these perceived boundaries and remain such an inspiration to so many musicians. It is interesting to see how the different approaches to the music are presented in the film: Wynton Marsalis defends the well funded and tradition heavy Jazz at Lincoln Center model, juxtaposed against interview segments where pianists Robert Glasper and Matthew Shipp passionately offer a profanity laden "kill-your-idols" approach to music creation. Critic Paul de Barros sides with Marsails, opining that JALC's historical bent offers a cultural context that audiences can relate with, while guitarist Bill Frisell speaks broadly about the freedom and beauty of improvisation that draws on many different sources, while trusting the audience to understand this freedom as a core value of jazz. Saxophonist Donald Harrison speaks at length about education and rigorous training, while John Medeski and Marco Benevento speak passionately about taking the music to the people directly as part of the jam-band scene. What stuck me as most successful about this film is that it didn't take any sides in the debate. Wisely withholding editorial comment, the filmmakers allow the musicians to speak for themselves, presenting their goals and ideas for the music. Sure to spark debate, this is an important and well done film that sheds much needed light on the musicians who are creating in the moment. Icons Among Us -

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