Thursday, March 31, 2016

Superman And The Damage Done | Birth.Movies.Death.

"Batman v Superman" is, for the moment, the most controversial movie ever made, with the internet seeming to bulge beyond its digital boundaries as critics and fans alternately debate, praise, degrade, defend and assault the film and the film maker, Zack Snyder. For the record, I enjoyed the movie immensely, seeing it consistent with the versions of Superman that have come before in the comic book source material. That is an article yet to be written by me. Another day, another year, perhaps.This book post , though, is an example of fans getting too attached to their child hood obsessions; this is somewhat like a Norman Rockwell toned reminisces of a perfect America that never existed. There is a yearning that the world they think they remember should not have changed and that matters have only gotten worse since they gained adult bodies and adult experience.

 Nostalgia is the ultimate buzz kill.  My take away from the blog article is that is still mourning for the Superman of his youth, which is pathetic on the face of it. Mark Hughes in the Forbes piece has the good sense to understand what Snyder is doing with the character and the wits to understand that this "updated" Superman is consistent with how the Man of Steel has been rendered in the comics over the decades. Interpretations of characters have to evolve, especially great and iconic characters , whether Superman, Hamlet or Otello; playing the Shakespeare card here seems a little cheesy, sure thing, but it's to make a point that what makes characters great over several decades or over several centuries is that they are adaptable to current temperaments.

 Plot elements and basic characteristics remain stable, but how characters like Superman, James Bond or Hamlet deal with their circumstances as extraordinary people among ordinary populations in crisis is the element that keeps them fresh. Superman is consistent in BvS with is comic book counter parts, but what Snyder depicts is the struggle with how to go about being a Super Hero; to quote Mick Jagger and pursue the Kal as Christ trope, Superman has his moments of doubt and pain, a man with great power whose first instinct is to help and do good facing grave unintended results and a backlash against his presence . It's an idea borrowed from XMen,of course (but then again, XMen were borrowed from Doom Patrol) , but it's an applicable approach to conveying Superman as an active agent in a world . This is not the world of Curt Swan, a hero consigned to rescuing cats from trees and suffering exposures to promiscuous varieties of Kryptonite, this is a Big Blue with the classic existential crisis, a man emerging from self doubt and ambiguity taking action against a threats and menace. this'

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Zack Snyder: choosing brilliance over coherence

Well, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is getting slammed by the majority of film critics so far, although the complaints about the Zack Snyder directed film--choppy, slow, a mangled storyline, grandiosity, too grim and dark--are not really things that would keep away from the film. Admittedly I've been a Snyder fan since seeing  300, his sword-and-sandals hit, and I've even been a defender of his much maligned riot grrll slug fest Sucker Punch. Plainly, ZS is one of those directors who has a visual style so commanding and brilliantly mounted , film to film, that style literally trumps substance in a very big way. In the case of Sucker Punch , which has a plot line that is easily explained-- an orphan teen girl is consigned to an orphanage where evil management markets them as nubile prostitutes to flabby white men with money and big cigars, and who's protagonist is able to enter another realm altogether by performing provocative dances --but is impossibly muddled in the movie's presentation, Snyder's bravura visuals, honed in comic book action panels, keep the film from being a waste. 

There is evidence of genius in how this man puts together his set pieces, scenes so amazingly executed, CGI and all, that we may have to reconsider what it is we mean when we use the term "masterpiece". Toward that consideration, let me say that I've seen Sucker Punch in it's entirety four additional times since seeing it in the theaters, and have watched large chunks of it on the premium cable channels while staying up beyond my bed time. Yes,the movie is incoherent, but I've seen it several times and I've more than one spirited (and surprisingly lucid) defenses of the film against those determined to make an audience think that Snyder is incompetent. My revisionist take on the auteur theory would advise that Zack Snyder is the Fellini of the Digital Age, a master of crushing spectacle more intrigued a a vivid since of the world, a world beset by seers, odd gods, super heroes and villains, guns, swords, collapsing skyscrapers and splendid evocations of steam punk contrasted against futuristic gleam; his vision over takes all, and his narrative style, at times, fails the visuals under way. It's like trying to find the exact words to describe the best or worst dream you've ever had. In any event, I suspect I 'll find BvS:DoJ entertaining, maybe even evidence of more divisive genius. Or maybe this will the Snyder where I find his maneuvers predictable and tattered in the over use. I will report what I find soon enough.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Sonny Stitt , a wonderful jazz saxophonist

Image result for SONNY STITT In the seventies, while a young man appropriately bored with the slamming two-dimensional dynamics of late-period jazz-rock (which had morphed into a stylized arena of tick-rock riffing termed "fusion" that was monotony incarnate), I ventured forth into older jazz forms, bop, swing, big and, Ellington, Davis, Mingus, people who swung over unpredictable tempos and fantastic chords. It was a love affair that hasn't stopped yet. Curiously, though, I formed jazzbo attitudes about artists I hadn't heard, a phenomenon not uncommon among some of us desperate for a hip reputation. You followed the herd-thinking. What I heard was that alto saxophonist Sonny Stitt was nothing but a low down Charlie Parker imitator, technically adept and adroit in extemporizing over a 6/8 time breakdown of a popular tune, but he was a technician only, without a soul. I went with that for years and dug into my Miles Davis phase, binging over a the late eighties and nineties on as Much MD as I could afford, everything from what he'd done as a sideman with Bird and through his various labels as band leader, from the hard bop session he'd done, through the modal experiments and into the blistering jazz-rock he created., noting, as well, the history of his saxophone players, a fine fettle of reed geniuses: George Coleman, Cannonball Adderley, Gerry Mulligan, John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, Sam Rivers, Dave Leibman. Nothing but the best for Miles. I was one of those who scoured the used CD bins, looking for my preferred artists and one day, lo! I came across a record titled "Walkin': A Jazz Hour With Miles Davis" on a released on the now-defunct economy label Laserlight.

 Featuring a previously unavailable live performance in Stockholm in 1952, this was not the classic earlier studio album "Walkin'" (one of MD's many masterpieces), but so what, it was Davis live and on sale. Reading the personal, all seemed worth the purchase despite the misdirection of the title, as it highlighted, worthies like pianist Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers on drums, Jimmy Cobb on drums, on saxophone...Sonny Stitt?? The plagiarist, the rip off artist, the Parker wannabe? The man I relegated to the minor leagues without endeavoring to hear what he played like? With Miles? This wasn't so earth-shaking a revelation as I might want to make it sound and, of course, I didn't ask myself that sequence of disbelieving questions presented in incomplete sentences. I was curious and bought the record. I was more than pleasantly pleased with the hard bop brilliance of the band--Miles Davis of this period is essentially flawless as he applies to his muted, modulated, middle register approach to the hard-charging changes this fine band challenges him with--and came to the conclusion that Sonny Stitt had been given the short shrift as a musician. 

The resemblance to Parker is there, undeniable, and it's understandable how to jazz snobs of the time, wanting to consecrate jazz as America's art music in opposition to the tradition of European classicism and establish both canon and criteria for our best gift to the world, would deride particular players, diminish them in stature without fair estimation in an effort to create standards for an emerging aesthetics. Understandable and unfair, because what I discovered was a musician of envious fluidity and lyric invention within his scope as an improviser who could negotiate steeple-chase tempos and obstacle course chord progressions with precision and yet never, or at least rarely lose a song's melodic nuance ; for all the high-velocity bravura bop-related jazz musicians are known for, Stitt had a ribbon-like, sweetly undulating method of teasing notes and shading their sounded presence with variations within the pitch, a legacy from the blues that maintains a vocal quality, a sharp note of surprise as the solo unfolds. 

 Stitt, in any regard, was not a soulless technician. Whatever debt he owed to Charlie Parker is nearly besides the point; the style is something Stitt took possession and made it his means to express something that, in itself, was beyond race, economics, and the general ugliness mere existence weights us with; it is simply beautiful and exciting music made by a musician who deserves to be reexamined for his best recorded moments. Life itself does not get rosy, as a unified condition of creation that maintains a just and serene equilibrium, merely because a black musician could make beautiful music with a saxophone. Whatever his whole story, Sonny Stitt remained black and a male and, above all, only human when it came to the combined forces of human stupidity, judgment and physical gravity pitted against his too-too vulnerable flesh. He made his music, found some solace for those moments during and after the notes played, and then returned to the eternal struggle of being in the world, dragging our burdens, sometimes easily, sometimes slowly, dirge like, always toward the grave. But the magic a person can make with imagination, skill, a mind that wants something better than the weight of weather and wealth grinding them into the ground, well, I believe, that much makes life worth living and worth going back. We have the capacity to make this life of ours a better one, if only by the smallest increments, a little at a time, and , let us not forget, we can make the lives of each other better, even if only slightly. 

Monday, March 21, 2016

Better Get It In Your Soul

jazz vespers
Archie Thompson and The Archtone All Stars
Tenor saxophonist Archie Thompson leads a cracker jack ensemble called the ArchTones and with this record release, Jazz Vespers, Vol. 3, he and his troupe offer the latest volume of in an ongoing project to perform and record gospel—inspired jazz at the Chapel of the First Presbyterian Church in San Diego. This isn’t, rest assured, slow, plodding, and sinner–beware rants from a musical pulpit. This is in line with my own feelings of what the foremost goals of a spiritual life and art are, which is to create joy, that state when you are aware of the miracle of being alive and the power of kindness and creativity to rouse the downtrodden soul and lift a person up with an open heart.

The music made by Thompson and the ArchTones is intended to move the listener to have the willingness to live in the moment, senses fully alive, imagination active, to go into the world with the conviction that life needn’t be dour, sad, and tragic. It is testimony praising the Creator, couched in terms of the African–American Christian tradition, but it’s a liturgy that concerns itself with life here and now; one needn’t wait for life after death for reward or judgment. Now is the time to get the feeling, to feel pulse, to experience the love of one’s fellow man in a community that nurtures service and creativity. Thankfully, Thompson and his players use music, not a slew of over–heated words, to get the message across. This jazz of the old school values, showing an intimate relationship with black gospel and blues roots, jump swing and classic ballad work. It’s not just a session of hot licks, though, being an album whose title describes an evening prayer service; gospel songs are strongly represented, their message of deliverance and joy in pursuing the good in life made more emphatically swinging and alive by the vitality of the musicianship on hand.
Especially revealing in how the spirit can be moved by music and letting go of old ideas emerges as the band brings their talents to bear on the Jackie Wilson 1967 classic “Higher and Higher.” Wilson’s original version is a rhythm and blues masterpiece, a stirring melody that complements the singer’s magnificently ascendant vocal, one of those testaments of a man’s undying love for a woman. The ArchTones mix it up just a bit, make it a tad funkier with a New Orleans march beat, sweetly framing a sinner’s profession of love in his or her God, the force from which all that is worth living for flows. Tony Davis’ vocal is crisp and clear, testifying as it climbs the scale. This is an inspired transformation of a classic song. Thompson gets behind the piano and takes a turn at a vocal with “Old Blind Barnabas,” a rumbling, keyboard-charged performance, a fine, grizzled, graciously raspy vocal. With steadfast drumming from Danny Campbell, this is music that sways and rocks, rousing the soul to follow example and do better by our fellow citizens. Gospel receives equally rewarding treatments throughout the rhythmic uplift this album brings us, as in Whitney Shay’s clarion–like rendition of “Come Sunday,” a magnificent voice of a young singer who reveals skills and nuance of an older, subtler approach to a vocal. Spirituality in repose, there is a sense of ease when gratitude is expressed and the tonnage of woe is released.
The ArchTones and their guests have ample opportunity to strut their sense of what truly swings and moves the listener. A standout number is the standard “Sweet Georgia Brown,” a chestnut in lesser hands, but Thompson’s saxophone is sure and spry, chasing down the effectively propulsive rhythm of drummer Danny Campbell and the resonant bass underpinning provided by Jason Littlefield, stating the melody just slightly and causing a glimmer of recognition but then breaking off the iteration and moving ahead with swift and sweeping forays. It’s a performance that seems to me to dance on the edge of the band’s accents and rapidly modulated chord voicings, or perhaps more like Olympic gymnastics performed on a high wire.
Thompson has grace and instinctive sure–footedness when he offers up a brisk sortie, but he performs the deeper, moodier colors of ballads as well. His tone cuts deep and his manipulations of his pitch, stretching upward toward a breaking point but then easing off the stratospheric exploration to return again closer to the ground where he stands, burnishing his sound with a dark, gritty sound that contains the bark and back beat of classic rhythm and blues. His reading of “Comin’ Home Baby” makes this quality clear, his saxophone work nearly vocal in telling the tale of a man returning to his one and only by any means he can devise. It’s a tale without words, just notes shaped to the resonance of human emotion. There are quite a few memorable moments here—a lively combination of gospel, blues, and mainstream jazz. 

This is a sparkling jazz session that inspired me to plug in my microphone and play harmonica along with some of the tracks and inspired me further to walk along Mission Bay, no destination in mind, nothing but me, blue sky, the blue water, and hundreds San Diegans and visitors taking advantage of warm temperatures and sunshine. This is what Jazz Vespers Vol.3 can inspire you to do, perhaps: turn off the computer, arise, and explore the miracle of the world we’re blessed to live in.