Tuesday, October 23, 2012


The Master
One of the best movie experiences I've had in a long time was seeing The Master in 70mm at the Ziegfeld Theater. I avoided reviews before seeing it, and still haven't caught up with them (so some of my comments may be inadvertently repeating critical conventional wisdom), but I did see some chatter about the 70mm format possibly being a gimmick. Maybe the images on the screen would've been just as impressive in 35, but on the genuinely big screen of the Ziegfeld, this was a flat-out beautiful-looking movie. One particular beauty shot stands out in my memory, of The Master's Fitzcarraldo-looking ship sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge.

The Master seemed like a further exploration by Paul Thomas Anderson of some of the themes/conflicts/relationships seen in There Will Be Blood. Some of those themes, and certainly the title character, made me think of Orson Welles. The Master, Lancaster Dodd, would've been a natural role for Welles - a charismatic patriarch with serious flaws and an outsized gift for bullshit (not to mention a somewhat outsized waistline). Philip Seymour Hoffman (who is commanding in the role) and Anderson surely must've had Welles in mind, at least as one reference point. Joaquin Phoenix is captivating and weird and brilliant, and despite a fairly large cast, the movie almost feels like a two-hander between Phoenix and Hoffman, with the other characters receding into the background when these two are in the same scene.

Oliver Lake
If you've been wanting to see Oliver Lake play in NYC, the last couple months (centered around his 70th birthday) have offered plenty of opportunities. During his multi-group run at Jazz Standard, I saw a set of Trio 3 (Lake, Reggie Workman and Andrew Cyrille) with Geri Allen. This trio, whose combined discographies must be mind-boggling, has a wonderful chemistry, perhaps partly due to their being more-or-less contemporaries, having each made important contributions to the development of the jazz avant-garde. The trio has a strong book of compositions, and Geri Allen was featured effectively, but I was most impressed by Reggie Workman - his sound, his time, and his melodic ideas were all exquisite.

I also saw Lake around the same time with Tarbaby, one of the most exciting groups going, and one Lake has been collaborating with since his appearance on their End of Fear album. Their show at Le Poisson Rouge included a number of compositions from a new, commissioned project inspired by the anti-/post-colonialist writer Frantz Fanon (The Wretched of the Earth). I didn't make any notes from which I could try to describe this new music, but there were at least one or two pieces that didn't sound to me like anything this band has done before. The album will definitely be on my must-buy list whenever it appears.

Tarbaby members Orrin Evans and Nasheet Waits were scheduled to be on Oliver Lake's night of improvised duos at Roulette over the weekend, but Waits was apparently under the weather and had to cancel. I only managed to catch one set, but Lake's duo with Evans was a highlight, with the pianist touching on blues, gospel, and what sounded to me like Milton Babbitt. Another of Lake's duo partners, Joe Daley, on tuba, was something of a revelation. I don't have much of a point of comparison for tuba in this context, but Daley seemed to be doing things technically that I hadn't imagined a tuba could do. I missed Lake's Big Band the next night, one of his groups that I have not yet seen, but I did see another excellent big band at Shapeshifter Lab, Andrew D'Angelo's DNA Orchestra. Driven by D'Angelo's charismatic playing, conducting, and composing and a powerful rhythm section of drums and electric bass and guitar, the music embraced relentless rhythm, daunting complexity and unabashed emotion. Both Lake's and D'Angelo's big bands have records on the way, and I'm sure both will be highly worthwhile.

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