Saturday, October 19, 2019

Stop For Bud (1963)

In 1963 a short experimental film was made about Bud Powell. Half a century later, some musings about that Danish film and Bud.

Bud means the wind, if you are a Farsi speaker. Thus, for me, the name defines the music. Although one of my favorite pianists in jazz, whom I discovered with Bud Plays Bird LP, is never as fiery as one expect from the wind. He is a bipolar giant. When playing I Remember Clifford at the Golden Circle club in Sweden, it seems that music would stop any second. The melody blurs. The harmonies become foggy. The beat tends to get lost, and a moment later, found again. The seemingly dying music continues for nearly nine minutes. Through Clifford Brown's memory, Bud is lamenting himself, his very existence.

That bipolarity could came to surface in another forms, too. In a struggle between a classical completionist mode - when your piece have a clear beginning, middle and the end - and a sense of incompleteness and constant transfiguration which makes it hard to detect the real core of the music. From the first category, the jewel of all Blue Note recordings, The Scene Changes, from 1958, is documented to the degree of perfection. All the songs are originals and executed neatly around 4 to 5 minutes. The second category is mostly consisted of tunes in slower tempos, as if Bud never manages to finish what he has started. Music of the second category is the closest thing to films of Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu: static, organic and free from overstatement and jagged emotions - painfully true and precise. Even in the later years, after gaining weight, with a motionless figure and impassive face staring at nowhere, Bud began to look like Buddha.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Big Ben: Ben Webster in Europe (1967)

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)