I have to share two fantastic musical documentaries, both of which happen to be in stunning black and white. The first features guitarist Lenny Breau and comes from the National Film Board of Canada. If you don’t know their work, or that their over 13,000 productions are available to stream free on their site, get on it! (Their name also inspired one of my favorite groups.) The casual style of Toronto Jazz reminds me of Jazz on a Summer’s Day, another amazing film. However, instead of sunny Newport, the action takes place in a handful of smoky Toronto clubs. I’m a huge Breau fan and there just aren’t many visual examples of his work, especially this early, so it’s a real treasure. His later style features brain-numbing arrangements on the seven-string guitar and his famous harmonics, which Tommy Emmanuel learned from him!
The second film, a documentary on guitarist Fred Frith, I learned of through the French filmmaker Vincent Moon (he says it’s his favorite film on music). Even if you don’t know Moon, you’ve likely seen his Take Away shows with La Blogothéque or his ethnographic Petites Planétes series of music shot around the world. This film is quite loosely structured and the filmmakers never identify who’s speaking. The vérité treatment is in the mode of Grant Gee’s Meeting People is Easy shot for Radiohead’s OK Computer. Frith is known as an improvisor and for his work with Henry Cow. I must admit I usually go cold when someone references “free” improvisation though I like to think my ears are wide open (my secret’s out). But that fear made it doubly fun when I heard his playing. For lack of another word, it rocks! The film also has cameos by saxophonist John Zorn, cellist Tom Cora, and other musicians.