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Saturday, November 10, 2007

Alive and kickin'

Just a short note to let everyone know I'm still around and kickin', alas very busy with other things, mostly not music-related.


I did catch some nice musicians at this year's jazznojazz festival in Zurich, though.

First I saw Susanne Abbuehl and her band with guest Michel Portal (I taped this and put it up on dime). The music was, well... as Susanne said during her Umea concert (October 2006, I got it off dime) she does "rubato music", and to be honest, it doesn't work that well in a live setting, even less so in such a big hall (the EWZ in Zurich, a used-to-be factory building). Anyway, she has a great, warm voice, and her band is very sympathetic: Christof May on clarinets and Wolfert Brederode on piano and harmonium have been with her for fifteen years now, and the new face, Lucas Niggli, has taken Samuel Rohrer's chair on drums and percussion - he provided many highlights, bringing in a bit of live and a bit of fun to the whole proceedings. I was all the more surprised then, how much I liked the music when I played it again at home the next night - beautiful music that simply doesn't work half as good on stage than it does work at home... guest Michel Portal was great to see, however, doing some fantastic solos and stuff (I used to play some clarinet, too, eons ago, so this was really fun)!
Then two days later I went to see Dr. Lonnie Smith appearing for two sets in the free entrance series of the festival, at a smaller venue. It was packed (standing room only) and they guys were "on"! The first set was rather a mess, I thought, but the second was smokin'! His fellow musicians were young Dutch guys and they did pretty well, and obviously enjoyed the company they were in! The Doctor's version of the old Beatles chestnut "Come Together" was by far the funkiest take I ever heard of that old song! Definitely a night I'll remember! (Taped it was, yes yes, of course! But not transferred yet, give me a few more days, please, and then check dime!)
The night wasn't finished just yet, as when I was to leave for home (it was midnight by then, Smith had played two sets at 70 and 90 minutes!) I was given a free entrance ticket for the closing show of this year's festival, by Cuban pianist Roberto Fonseca and his band, including woodwinds player Javier Zalba (alto & soprano sax, clarinet & flute), who was a joy to see and hear! Fonseca I got to know thanks to dime of the good zio lupo on dime, who upped the Marciac concert from August of this year, and ever since I took a vow not to miss a future Zurich appearance... I would have missed it for lack of the Swiss equivalent of eurozlotys, so I was overjoyed to get a free ticket! I stood right in front at the stage for most of the 90 minutes of a very enjoyable set. The music of Fonseca is very joyful, upbeat, mixing Cuban, Mexican (bolero), jazz, and some arab/mediterranean/andalous influences. Mostly, he's not doing the hyper-virtuoso latin-jazz stuff that I find so tiresome (think Sandoval, Chucho Valdes - not that they're bad, but they're not for me).


So that's one of the things I did in recent weeks. Another is I religiously visited as much of the on-going series of films dedicated to the late Michelangelo Antonioni at Zurich's Filmpodium.
For the first time, I had the chance to catch any of Antonioni's early films (any, besides his episode "Tentato di suicido", in L'amore in città), namely his adaption of a great story by Cesare Pavese, Le amiche, as well as Il grido, which features the first Antonionian hero (embodied by Steve Cochran). The only other early film that was part of the series, Cronaca di un amore, was on while I was still in Paris, in the first week of October.
Then I caught for the fourth and fifth time (or fifth and sixth?) both L'avventura and L'eclisse, two of the greatest films ever made, in my opinion. Monica Vitti, to me, is one of the most stunning actresses ever in these two! I missed La notte, alas, but that one I've seen several times before, too. Then I caught la Vitti again in Il deserto rosso, a film I hadn't seen before. While it doesn't nearly compare to the other three, Vitti is still fabulous - the film is taylored arund her, it seems.
Both Blow Up and Zabriskie Point I skipped this time - neither of them is nearly as good as the great ones (those being L'avventura, La notte, L'eclisse). I went to see the documentary about China, though, Chung Kuo - Cina, and it was more than just a pleasant surprise. Then this week I caught Professione: Reporter, the first film where Nicholson didn't annoy the sh*t out of me and a very beautiful film, all in all. Much, much better than I'd have expected. Also Maria Schneider is great here, much better than on the side of Brando in Last Tango in Paris, in my opinion.
Then I did catch the film Eros, with three episodes by Antonioni (crap! utter crap! embarassing! what a sorry end to his career!), Steven Soderberg (good fun, stylishly done), and Wong Kar-Wai (a treasure! actually a whole film on its own).
Now what remains is Identificazione di una donna and Al di là delle nuvole. Expectations are low... but these are rarely ever to be seen on the big screen (I still prefer that by far to TV/DVD).

Some reflections on Antonioni posted on my preferred jazz hangout:


Upon my return from my Paris visit, first thing I did was go to the movies, catching first Antonioni's Le amiche (based on a probably superior story by Cesare Pavese, though it's been a long time that I read it) - pretty good film, all in all, but some scenes were a bit... well, it does show it's age a bit, and the language of Antonioni's big films (starting with "L'avventura") isn't yet fully developped.
Then I stayed on to join mère ubu and we caught King Vidor's Duel in the Sun - now there's a ridiculously bad film for you!


of the early feature ones, plus one I missed as I was in Paris, and they also don't show that weird one - I don't know it, though - Il misterio di Oberwald or what's it called again).

Anyway, I already mentioned Le amiche - pretty good, based on a great short story by Cesare Pavese.

Then I saw Il grido, again a first for me. Seems the main character is the first truly "antonionian" "hero" (weird word... if there are any heroic characters in his films, it would have to be the women, but definitely not the men!).

I found these two rather interesting, as sort of an hors d'oeuvre for the big films to follow. Parts of the language and style of Antonioni is there, already, but it hasn't fully blossomed yet.

That first fully finished masterpiece is of course L'avventura from 1960, one of my most favourite of all films. I caught it again with mère ubu and another friend, both of whom hadn't seen it before, and gee I was astonished once again. The soundtrack is one of the most outstanding I know, the images are plain beauty... it there's something about it that hurts, it's that beauty! The beauty that lies in the loneliness, in the "not having to" (compete with social expectancies, fulfill others wishes for love, whatever).
And of course Monica Vitti is the most beautiful actress ever (ok, maybe Delphine Seyrig in Resnais' L'année dernière à Marienbad is similarly stunning in her mystery)


On my trip of (re-)discovering the films of Michelangelo Antonioni, I had the rare chance to see his documentary Chung Kuo - Cina from 1972. It is merely a documentation of what he sees, not much as far as analysis goes (admittedly so, though - he states that the Chinese are much too mysterious for him to grasp within the time and very limited access given to them, this sentence from the beginning of the film is quoted in an IMDB comment: "We have just wanted to get a picture of China, we can't offer more"). Still, it's extremely strong, as far as the images go, and the mere observation is very fascinating to see.
Also Antonioni himself does the narration in a very charming way. The images alone, of men, women, children, old and young, of industry and remote rural areas, of villages and the huge cities of Bejing and Shanghai, as well as of another old city whose name escapes me, with a dense net of canals, similar to Venice, made it a very intense experience.
There isn't much music in the film, but it has been overseen by Luciano Berio - mostly it's almost a verité approach, using chantings and some original chinese music, played - like that it sounds, at least - by small transistors and picked up by the camera microphones, just as the usual "real" sounds.

I have also caught L'eclisse yet once more. It's right up there with L'avventura, sort of a mix between a poem in film and a mathematical essai - utterly fascinating! (With some stoopid/weak/of its time moments, alas, but in the end these are needed to to make the bare-bones story work at all).

From now on, it will all be new to me: Il deserto rosso, Professione: reporter, and maybe one or two of the late ones (they skip at least one of those weird ones, the one with Vitti in it again, I think). Not sure I need to catch Zabriskie Point again... would like to see the ending again, but other than that I found it merely an ok film, not much more. Blow Up is the last really good one, to me. [EDIT: NEEDS CORRECTION! IT'S Professione: reporter!]


I'm looking forward a lot to finally catch Il deserto rosso next Saturday (and probably again Wednesday 31st), but from the ones I know, L'avventura and L'eclisse are the greatest, and they're among the greatest films ever made. La notte is a notch behind - more conventional music (albeit by Giorgio Gaslini! but the abstract music by Giovanni Fusco in the other two is a lot more fascinating).

Anyway, allow me some remarks:

General: don't get put off by the usual readings of Antonioni's films (alyways meaning this trilogy) being about "lack of communication" and "Entfremdung" (alienation? estrangement?). That way of watching these films will hopefully soon be put ad acta. The films are mainly - to me, at least - films about pretty normal stories - the beginning, frailty, end of love, about joy and sadness. There's no need to over-emphasize the "heaviness" of what the films deal with - it's nothing heavy, it's just normal life in its sad beauty and joyful sadness.

Some technical stuff, aspects that make the films as special as they are, just some lose comments (I'm no film historian, don't know the correct terminology and technical vocabulary):
Camera: angles, how if frees itself from following the main characters, goes with others in between, is playful, at times almost in a childish/naïve way. Special thing to note: the double 180 degree turn on the volcanic island, when Vitti goes outside and Ferzetti follows her, on their way back to the small hut, she almost falls, he catches her arm, camera turns twice - a very fascinating moment!
Sountrack: totally emancipated - you'll see on the part of L'avventura that's situated on that volcanic island. Sometimes you hear naturalist sounds of the waves of the ocean, mixed with voices etc, sometimes the ocean totally disappears and you hear only artificial sounds. The solo motives (clarinet, flute) that turn up are kind of haunting yet in a very abstract way.
Vitti: she's just one of the most special actresses of that time, embodying a new type of woman - independent, cool, self-conscious yet fragile, but sort of "in the know", while the men (Delon in L'eclisse and Ferzetti and a zombie-like Rabal in L'avventura) seem to struggle with themselves, seem to be sort of lost (the main character in "Il grido" is actually behaving most normal/sensible at those moments where he thinks he's totally lost it...). Anyway I guess it's Vitti who plays the main part in the exchanged roles of gender - she looks after a guy and also whistles after a police man in L'eclisse, hiding behind a tree making Delon look ridiculous... so generally, she's not just a new type, but also the traditional roles are exchanged alltogether (that applies less to L'avventura though).
Cadrage: there are tons of stunning little things to discover, like the scene in the end where you can see Ferzetti's back (dressed in a black suit) and Vitti (black dress) stretching out her (white) hand to reach for him - some stunning stuff!

And one last remark, contrary to the old (hopefully soon to be old) way of interpretating the films, there are moments of everyday luck in these films - in L'eclisse there's the flight to Verona, for instance, or the scenes depicting their love affair (but Vitti's hand hanging out of the sofa for a moment is shot in the same way as the hand of dead drunkard who stole Delon's car, when they fish the car with him inside out of the lake... you wouldn't notice such tiny details necessarily, if you didn't know about it). Anyway, in L'avventura there's that whole trip they do, searching for the missing main character (another thing that's totally beyond what had been done in mainstream cinema before, I guess it would still be impossible to do that in a big Hollywood film), where they end up in that deserted valley and later when they're at a hotel in Noto, they climb up on a campanile and start playing with the church bells - that are wonderful moments of joy, and they're to be found in the films as well.

In short, I think what makes Antonioni special is that with his films, the spectator had to grow up, or had grown up. You can't really trust what you see, but there's absolutely no need to fill that void with any heavy theories of mis-communication and alienation. The more often I see these films, the more I'm simply stunned by their beauty!

(As for Blow Up, in one of the obits I read that it was the film capturing best that "swinging London" style and mood... I don't know if that's true, but Antonioni himself was an astute observer, and that's one point going in favour of him. However, I have never found Blow Up and even less Zabriskie Point coming even remotely close to the fascination of his great masterpieces done in the earliest 1960s.)


And one most central point I forget: how Antonioni treats everyday life, how he brings small actions and things into images, in a way that it was never done before. The opening of L'eclisse is a perfect example for that. The sound of the fan that you can hear before you can see it, how the fan turns into the most lively actor in the room, while Rabal sits in his armchair like a zombie, not making the tiniest move.
And out of his treatment of things, another observation, about his treatment of architecture. Again L'eclisse is most fascinating, with the scenes shot in the stock exchange of Rome (done on location), where he kind of turns the building into a (morphing) actor itself... they keep a minute of silence (done in realtime, of course) for a deceased broker, and with just a couple of new camera positions, he establishes that most worldly of buildings as a sacral church-like room. Very, very fascinating!
And all of that is done with an ease and lightness that betrays the huge amount of work that must have been done behind the scenes.


Will catch Antonioni's Il deserto rosso a second time tonight (already saw it on Saturday, for the very first time) [EDIT: I DID NOT, ALAS!].
Definitely the most dated of the four great films of his, but Vitti alone is stunning! Sort of the contrary to Cassavetes/Rowlands' "A Woman Under the Influence", on the extreme quiet side, with madness as a shock and unableness to act, rather than the artificial extreme business of Rowlands'.
And there's yet another great Fusco score, and the colours of the film (all pastels) are fascinating, too.
It's a big parable, in the end - madness isn't the diagnosis for Vitti, rather it's the diagnosis for the whole society, while she who is said to be crazy, is actually the sane, sensitive person. That kind of story wouldn't be told today, and if it would, it would never be done in such a total way... even more so that makes it a fascinating film, extremely suggestive!


In between I also caught Preston Sturges' dear film The Lady Eve, with Barbara Stanwyck outdoing herself!


Alright then, I guess no one's still reading by now, so I'll wind it up with a couple of short remarks:

My edit of a recent Mike Gibbs seed on dime (Southampton 1983 - fantastic show):

My fixed re-seed of a great Ellington show on dime:


And then to end, here's a promise for some new stuff to be uploaded here sometime soon (meaning: a week or two - doesn't work faster, I'm sorry! Still need to cut some stuff - all unreleased/radio material!)

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