[photo courtesy of Submarine Films]
Our pal Nels Cline -- currently gearing up for a 20th anniversary tour with newly minted civil rights heroes Wilco -- can now add the title of "movie producer" to his C/V. Cline, along with friend and fellow guitar shredder Thurston Moore, is co-producing a new feature-length documentary called FIRE MUSIC, which aims to "tell the definitive history of the Free Jazz revolution." According to press materials, "Fire Music reveals the little-known story behind the irrepressible, American-born art form that has inspired generations of fans the world over, and is experiencing a new renaissance today among music lovers." The film will feature interviews with 25 leading practitioners of Free Jazz, including Peter Brotzman, Gunter Hampel, Evan Parker, Ken Vandemark and Evan Parker.
In the late 1950s, when the Abstract Expressionists took the art world by storm and the Beats forever changed the face of literature, a new radical form of Jazz erupted from New York’s Lower East Side. This new music was a far cry from the toe- tapping, post-Bebop sound of the Jazz mainstream popular at the time. This was an angry form of Jazz that mirrored the turbulent socio-political time. The young mavericks who pioneered this movement came to create some of the the most unconventional sounds ever heard. They eschewed every preconceived notion of what music was, abandoning melody, tonality, set time rhythms, the very concept of composition itself, creating new songs spontaneously.
This coming together of these like-minded artists, iconic figures such as Albert Ayler, Sun Ra, Eric Dolphy and Pharoah Sanders, was one of those remarkable phenomena that rarely occur in the course of history. Like the Dadaists, the Lost Generation and the Italian Neo-Realists before them, the early progenitors of the Free Jazz scene were initially met with skepticism and outright disdain. They were accused of being anti-Jazz, and the music they played was dismissed as being pure noise. Undeterred by their critics, they soldiered on in relative obscurity and in the process created one of the most influential bodies of work of the contemporary age.
Turned away by nightclubs and ignored by the mainstream media, these cutting edge trailblazers were driven to create their own subculture. They self-released their own albums and found unconventional places in which to perform, like coffee houses and lofts, eventually forming their own communally-run venues.
The ’60s was a politically charged era, and no music reflected the tenor of the times better than Free Jazz. The resounding cries of atonal saxophones and the spastic pounding of drums reflected the growing indignation of a youth in revolt.
As the ’70s wound down, America embarked on a new era of conservatism. As Reagan assumed power, a new breed of musician lay claim to the Jazz idiom. These young Turks denigrated the great Free Jazz innovators who had preceded them, and sought instead to champion a revisionist brand of Jazz, what fabled soprano saxophonist Steve Lacey dubbed “Re-Bop.”
With the advent of popular Jazz becoming even more mainstream, an already marginalized form became even more pushed to the outer fringe. But Avant-Garde Jazz persevered. As the ’80s progressed, a new development started to occur. The Post-Punk enthusiasts who comprised the whole Alternative Rock Nation discovered kindred souls in the sonic blasters of the Free Jazz scene. The music actually enjoys a larger audience today than it ever has. This is the story of an irrepressible art form that has inspired generations of fans the world over. The originals that bucked convention in order to forge their radical sound must have their story told, for their fire will never be extinguished.
Fire Music's producing/directing team has a good pedigree for this subject. Writer/director Tom Surgal, (pictured above, with Ornette Coleman) a teenage protégé of Brian DePalma, has directed videos for Sonic Youth and Pavement and performs in the New York experimental duo White Out and has curated new music series at John Zorn's performance space The Stone. (He also claims one the world’s largest collections of Free Jazz recordings.) Dan Braun produced the out-music documentaries Kill Your Idols and Blank City and is also involved in Miles Davis in Paris, an upcoming project from Going Clear director Alex Gibney.
[Fun fact: Gibney also co-directed a 1980 short documentary called The New Music, which profiled L.A. avant-jazz stalwarts John Carter and Bobby Bradford. The guy who did the sound recording for the film was a young kid named...Nels Cline!]
So, the pedigree is there, folks. More to come!