Monday, July 27, 2015

John McLaughlin Trio in Hamburg, Part I


Recently digitized from my VHS archives, this footage captures the John McLaughlin Trio in Hamburg, Germany in 1990. Typical of a McLaughlin concert, there is lots of interplay going on between McLaughlin on acoustic guitar with Dominique Di Piazza on electric bass and Trilok Gurtu on percussion.

Apologies in advance for the abrupt ending of the footage which leaves the last song incomplete. The tape has run out.


Friday, July 24, 2015

Big Ben: Ben Webster in Europe (1967)


BIG BEN: BEN WEBSTER IN EUROPE
Netherlands, 1967 Regia: Johan van der Keuken
F.: Johan van der Keuken. M.: Ruud Bernard, Johan van der Keuken. Int.: Ben Webster, Don Byas, Cees Slings, Michiel de Ruyteras, Michiel de Ruyteras, Peter Ympa. Prod.: Johan van der Keuken.

An intimate, curious portrait of American ex-pat tenor saxophonist Ben Webster, shot between March and June 1967 in Amsterdam, where he eventually died in 1972. Though the title suggests outright praise, van der Keuken goes deeper into Webster’s sound and character by creating visual metaphors (a conversation about the blues cuts to a shot of a knife), relating anecdotes and giving a brief history of the man. Toying with the possibilities of the interplay between sound and image, the film treats Webster as one of the architects of tenor sax by visiting a saxophone factory, where industrial noise subsides allowing us to hear Webster’s luscious vibrato sound. Treated with warmth and respect, this former member of Duke Ellington’s band is seen doing various activities such as cooking, talking to his hospitable landlady, shooting pool and using his 8mm camera. When, later on, van der Keuken incorporates excerpts from what are presumably Webster’s films, jazz and cinema seem even more interwoven than first assumed. (Ehsan Khoshbakht)

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Cab Calloway's Hi-De-Ho (1934)




CAB CALLOWAY'S HI-DE-HO
USA, 1934 Regia: Fred Waller

Scen.: Milton Hockey, Fred Rath. F.: William O. Steiner. Int.: Cab Calloway, Edwin Swayzee, Lammar Wright, Doc Cheatham, Al Morgan, Leroy Maxey, Harry White, Eddie Barefield, Andrew Brown, Arville Harris.  Prod.: Paramount Pictures

Cab Calloway in Cotton Club
Cab Calloway is deep in sleep on a night train from Chicago when a telegram arrives from Irving Mills, asking him to change the opening number of the next day’s performance at New York’s Cotton Club. The leader wakes up the band and a jam session in pyjamas kicks off, with the band members recreating the sound of a train in motion. Upon arriving in New York, Calloway recommends to the coach attendant that he buy a radio, to keep his wife “entertained” while he is at work. When the attendant acquires the radio which promises to “bring the leading radio artists into your home”, to his dismay it literally brings a seducing Cab Calloway into his home, but only when he is away and she feels lonesome! 

Subversive and erotic, this early jazz short is head and shoulders above many 1930s musical shorts in the way the storyline is developed and how it incorporates hit songs, such as the drug-charged ‘Minnie the Moocher’. A commentary on the medium of radio and the Cotton Club broadcasts, which exposed many Americans to live jazz, the film moves from reality to fantasy, with jazz making the leap smooth and fun. (Ehsan Khoshbakht)

Monday, July 13, 2015

Jammin' the Blues (1944)

© Ehsan Khoshbakht (text/story), Naiel Ibarrola (art)

JAMMIN’ THE BLUES
USA, 1944 Regia: Gjon Mili
F.: Robert Burks. M.: Everett Dodd. Scgf.: Roland Hill. Int.: Lester Young, Red Callender, Harry Edison, Marlowe Morris, Sid Catlett, Barney Kessel, Jo Jones, John Simmons, Illinois Jacquet. Prod.: Warner Bros.

Like Forough Farrokhzad and Jean Genet, the Albanian born Djon Mili belongs to a small group of artists, each of whom has directed a single film which has had a lasting impact on cinema history. Better known as a Life photographer, Mili freed jazz film from many restricting elements, elevating the music from a side attraction to having its own captivating aesthetic. Recreating the atmosphere of an after-hours jam session, the musicians were handpicked by jazz impresario Norman Granz and the shooting (with Robert Burks in his first DoP job) wrapped after four sessions. The film was released in December 1944, billed alongside Passage to Marseille, and was nominated for an Oscar. Drawing on Mili’s photographic studies of bodies in motion, each composition radiates energy. When each performer takes his or her solo, the camera treats it as the centre of a spatial arrangement before cutting away in all directions, breaking that space into smaller parts, each lending a unique feeling to the music. (Ehsan Khoshbakht)