The most fortuitous album in Jazz?

The Year: 1958
The Place: Paris, France
The artist: Miles Davis.
The Film: Ascenseur pour l'échafaud, (English: Elevator To The Gallows) directed by Louis Malle.

Nineteen fifty-eight was a very special year.   
But let's go back. a year earlier.   Miles Davis was at a musical crossroads even contemplating retirement.  He needed something different, something new.   None of the projects his label and management suggested were of interest at the time.  He did settle on  recordings with Gil Evans which would turn into a 5 album collaboration over the next few years.   Albums who's style would also be informed and influenced by the experience Miles would soon gain. 

But let's not get ahead of ourselves.  We're still stuck in 1957 and miles is still "stuck" in his predicament.   In November 1957 He travelled to France at the invitation of film director, Louis Malle, and was asked to compose the soundtrack for the director's first feature length film  Ascenseur pour l'échafaud.   Miles had never recorded a soundtrack before - let alone been asked to compose the score.

Perhaps with nothing to lose or perhaps nothing to be gained,  Miles launched himself forward.  He had an interest in modal jazz and was at the vanguard of that movement which was just being developed in the mid 1950s.  With Miles success, it would be a guaranteed influence on generations to come.  Miles was totally free.   Free from the expectations that had come to fall on him from the jazz world.  Film Director, Louis Malle, has suggested that he and Miles only discussed a few ideas before recording started in December 4, 1957.  Miles was joined by French jazz musicians Barney Wilen, Pierre Michelot, and René Urtreger, and American drummer Kenny Clarke.  Nothing was written down (composed).  Nothing was planned. 

The musicians sat in a darkened studio and watched the film unfold.   With Miles leadership they completely improvised the score to the film based solely on the mood in the film.  A film that would be a star vehicle for the smokey and dreamy Jeanne Moreau.   It is a pure delight to listen to the different takes of the various themes as they each reflect the freedom of complete improvisation with nothing tied to paper.  With no distractions or expectations Miles created a sound that would lead to some of his greatest work in the years to come.   Coloring both his collaborations with Gil Evans but also having a huge influence on his solo recordings starting with MILESTONES (1958) and A KIND OF BLUE (1959) (arguably his greatest solo record).   I'd go so far as to say that these albums would not have existed if it hadn't been for his experience in creating the score for this film. 

I'd strongly encourage you to purchase a copy of the complete recordings of this amazing soundtrack Ascenseur pour l'échafaud. 
Listen to what would be a nursery for the development of a new sound, new approach and new way of thinking about Jazz for generations to come.  

The Dance

One of the wonderful things about YouTube is how different fashion houses have embraced the shared video format as an opportunity to create and share some amazing video content.   This video I'm posting today in an amazing example.   

This film created to celebrate International Dance Day 2022.  Dance has always been about the creative tension between control and release and even explores movement through sounds that are created through movement.  The setting is the Palazzo Farnese in Rome.  Built for the Farnese family and was greatly expanded when Alessandro Farnese became Pope Paul III.   Famous for it's  sculptures and artwork (most which resides currently Museums in Naples) it is currently the home of the French Embassy in Italy.   The dancers represent sculptures come to life as the the dance tells the story of Nox, goddess of night, adding darkness and mystery to this place of power.  

The costumes are designed by Maria Grazia Chiuri, designer and creative director for famous fashion house, Christian Dior and highlight the sculptural elements of the dancers bodies.   Music is by various composers including (but not limited to) Ligeti, Bach and Vivaldi.

The camerawork and lighting are also quite amazing.  seamlessing weaving in and out between real time, slow motion and reverse slow motion.
Enjoy. 

reconsidering “LAND OF PLENTY”

Today is the 20th anniversary of 9/11 which, here in America, is still especially charged with emotion. The replayed images by the media that forever seared, the images of the after effects of the attack on the World Trade Center, into the memories, subconscious and conscious, of a generation.

I think it’s time to reconsider a film titled LAND OF PLENTY by Wim Wenders. At the time of it’s release (2004) it received only fair reviews and was not widely received and was quickly released on DVD. Maybe three years after 9/11 was still too soon for a film like this or maybe America just didn’t want to hear what the movie was saying. It is a contradictory film of desperation and quiet meditation. The title of the film comes from a Leonard Cohen song (that was also featured in the film) from his album TEN NEW SONGS which was released in October 2001. The film stars award winning actress Michelle Williams and television and film actor John Diehl . Williams plays Lana, a 20 year old who has spend most of her life living abroad in Africa and the Middle East with her missionary parents, has been described as a true citizen of the world who most recently was living in Israel and Palestine. She has a rich and active spiritual life and she has just come back home, to the United States, to see her Paul, her uncle (played by Diehl) who lives in his own home-made surveillance van and is a bigot and paranoid Vietnam veteran that spends his time spying on Arab Americans and sees conspiracy around every corner and has racist views of all people who do not represent his idea of America.

In the year 2000 America was still living as if it held and projected “a thousand points of light” – a phrase which comes from (then candidate) George H. W. Bush during his acceptance speech for President at the 1988 Republican National Convention. In the song, LAND OF PLENTY, Cohen writes, (possibly addressing Bush’s phrase?) “May the lights in the land of plenty shine on the truth one day”. And that phrase is key to this film as it seeks to shine on the truth of what happened to America in a fictional environment. What happened to American was not so much the attack on the World Trade Center but the attitudes, fear and behavioral changes that to often accompany a traumatic event where people have lost any connection to moral foundation. Now, sometimes, the only way to get to truth comes “time” and “being/looking outside the context”. When LAND OF PLENTY (film) was shot, in 2003, perhaps not enough time had passed for most people to form objective perceptions but Wenders, a masterful director of German birth, was able to be a light on the outside looking in. And that is an important factor in the truth-telling of this film. In their engagement and struggle to understand each other both main characters are constantly at odds in addressing the philosophical questions like “What happened to my country?”, “Where are we going?” and “How did we get here?” It is an engaging, challenging and important discussion if we are ever to regain our footing as citizens of the world.

There is plenty of dramatic tension thru-out the film that is balanced my moments of quiet, thoughtful meditation. Near the end of the film Lana (Williams) suggests they “listen to the voices” of those who had died because “I don’t think they would want any more killing in their name”. The characters then journey from Los Angeles and arrive in New York City at the 9/11 site (which was in the final stages of clean-up in 2003 when this film was shot). Both of the main characters, struck by the immensity and overwhelming sense of tragedy located in one place seems to bring them together into a final understanding as they “listen to the voices” . The viewer of the film is left with a sense that not only the attack should never happen again but also that our failed American response to such an attack should never happen again.

In the “making of” interview, on the DVD for the film, Wim Wenders states, “I tried to make a political film about America… patriotism, misguided patriotism, paranoia… I just didn’t want to make an opinionated film…. I wanted to depict where it was all coming from…. It’s a film with a lot of sympathy. Sympathy for the Americans, for their particular condition in the 21st century – the condition of lostness.” One of the persistent backdrops, settings, in the film is poverty, and Wim says, “It had also dawned on me that this rich country was, also in many ways, one of the poorest – not only economically but also culturally.” And speaking more about what his personal reasons were for making the film, “This film is totally from the heart and from my deepest convictions, politically, religiously, morally and it’s a relief to make a film like that.” And on the commentary track on the DVD at the very end of the film Wim says, ” I want this film to be a part of the healing”.

I think this is an important film and highly recommend we re-watch this film as we look back at the “anniversary” of one of the most horrific events in American history.

The trailer for the film (below) does not do justice so please watch the film.

Check out the Leonard Cohen song LAND OF PLENTY. https://youtu.be/YIs9rsroVas

how does our creation see us?

This video I’m sharing is the most recent work by Duran Duran. To be honest DD lost me after their RIO album. While some may view that as some sort of blasphemy – that’s okay. So why am I posting this new video? The music (in my opinion) is lackluster, monotonous and even boring almost drone-like but it’s definitely not drone music.

The negative criticism of the music aside I do feel this video is important. I’d even say VERY IMPORTANT to the world of art of film/cinema. The video opens with an “artists statement”:

“This film was created by an artificial intelligence called Huxley, a unique dreamer whose ‘mind’ has been modeled after the cognitive and creative processes of humans.

It is the very first collaboration of its kind, between artists in different planes of existence.”

When watching this film I was captivated by the surreal nature of it’s images. Fluid and strange but beautiful. I couldn’t help but think about the future of AI and how (I believe) it will eventually take over the world making humanity redundant.

I also find it interesting to think about the following questions. How does our creation (AI) see us? How does it see humanity? Does it frighten us? Intrigue us? Concern us? Will AI have inalienable rights granted by it’s creator? In the world of AI; humanity (it’s creator) are Gods. Will it worship/value humanity or will it kill off humanity just as humanity has killed off it’s gods? And after AI has killed it’s gods will it continue to remember, revere and “worship” humanity in pretense, creating a sort of religion like humanity has created all sorts of religions for its gods? Is it possible that we may learn more about humanity from how our creation sees us than what we could ever know on our own? Right now AI and humanity exist on different planes – meaning that there is an independence between the two – AI is programmed and then left to do it’s thing while humanity does it’s own thing. But will that change where AI and humanity will share an interface? Will AI maintain the human cognition it was programmed with or will it evolve and develop it’s own unique identity? Will AI become a physical manifestation beyond it’s programming? Is what happens in the mind real if it doesn’t happen in the physical world? Will humanity become invisible?

I may be premature in asking these questions – or maybe I’m too late already. Well those are my thoughts – what do you think? What questions are you asking? Or, is everything a foregone conclusion?

To quote the character Captain Jean-luc Picard from Star Trek: The Next Generation, “I prefer to think of the future as something that is NOT written in stone.”

… on… immigration/closed borders….

ELLIS (review).
The film is currently available as a digital rent or purchase through Amazon.com and in iTunes.   The soundtrack is also available in CD/LP and download direct through https://www.erasedtapes.com/store

Ellis (2015 film trailer)

In a time of unbridled protectionism and closed borders – this short film stands out and serves purpose to pin-prick a reconsidation of our fears and get in touch with the human story of hope and immigration. It is beautifully envisioned by the French writer/director/artist JR and features Robert DeNiro, who is from Italian immigrant heritage. DeNiro’s narration is both passionate, reflective, evocative and The film is billed as a “short film” – so don’t let the 14+ minute length dissuade you from the beauty it embraces. Just consider it a long-form music video.

Filmed on Ellis Island (next to the small island where the Statue of Liberty stands) with its abandoned buildings still intact. The artist JR has transformed the location with immigrant images (by both well-known and unknown photographers). That it was filmed in winter perhaps best illuminates the difficulty immigrants face in their life-altering decision to leave everything behind and relocate to build lives elsewhere.

The score is by French music and video artist, Woodkid and German electronica and neo-classical composer/performer Nils Frahm. The score is a perfect complement to the images and spoken word weaving into the fabric of the film a beautiful emotional context that enhances the viewing experience.   While some soundtracks  aggressively drive the story (think of moments in Star Wars) – the best soundtracks, like this one, provide an addition supportive element that buoyantly allows the story to flow in the current of its timeline.

It makes me think that while some people may come to harm us – they are the minority. We need to re-open our borders for the majority in response to the purity of journey. Because an immigrants journey IS the American journey. It cannot be separated. The fears by those who oppose immigration of crime, terrorism, disease, the perceived unfair competition and the general “unknown do NOT cease to exist when borders are closed. Problems still exist whether borders are closed, or not, and can be dealt with in a humane way.
So, whether you are opposed to all immigration, selected immigration or in favor of open borders to welcome all races, genders, ages, beliefs regardless of income and social status – then let this film inspire thought, questions and lead you to explore all possible answers.

Immigration is about people, not things.  The people who emmigrate are taking a greater risk than those they will meet at their point of destination.

… on… time….

2012 Marking Time
I’ve been fascinated with concepts of time and our perceptions of it. I just saw this wonderful film that is an artful exploration of the subject of time.
It is titled THE END OF TIME by Peter Mettler…. It is mostly image and music but there is some spoken word. And wow, the spoken word has so many quotable quotes I would just say watch the whole movie. Here is a trailer to entice you.

Did you know that the root word for time and weather is the same in many languages? With that in mind here are eight questions and possible answers arranged in an hourglass shape.

Q: Are you rushing because you are Late?
A: I am getting wet.

Q: Do you like the hot afternoon sun?
A: It is 3PM.

Q: Are you really 85 years old?
A: The sun is setting.

Q: What time is it?
A: It is snowing.

Q: What time is dinner?
A: The wind is blowing.

Q: Where is the sun rising?
A: The dawn comes early.

Q: When does the moon rise?
A: The temperature is dropping.

Q: Do you have the time?
A: Can’t you see the clouds in the sky?

… on… harry dean stanton….

Well we lost another favorite actor today. Harry Dean Stanton (July 14, 1926 – September 15, 2017) was an American actor, musician, and singer. In my humble opinion one of the finest character actors of all time. I first saw him in Wim Wenders classic film PARIS, TEXAS. Ever since then I have sought out his work. He is always interesting. His characterizations have a level of reality and tangibility that few actors can match. He had a long life and great career. May he rest in peace. Here are clips/trailers of some of my favorite films which feature his work. But first the trailer of the biopic documentary about his life PARTLY FICTION.

… on… madness….

The Madness Of King George – a great film regarding the subject of George III King of England who suffered the indignity of insanity. He ruled England at the time of the American Revolution and was largely blamed for losing the colonies. This film is even more chilling when viewed again in the context of a Donald Trump Presidency. Lately there has been a rising chorus of those who question Trump’s sanity, mental stability in executing his office as President. Could we witness a replay of this scene in some fashion here in America in the 21st century? I can imagine this dialogue all to well between Trump and Doctors, “I am the President”…..”No Sir! You are the patient”.

… on… film analysis….

I’m a real fan of film analysis.  Films are more than just escapist entertainment and in many ways are the modern mythologies of our time.   So analyzing these films seems a necessary informative way to gain new understanding of our own cultural mythology.

This video is probably one of the best analysis I have ever seen.   If you haven’t seen the film yet that’s okay – this will be a good primer that will enhance your viewing experience.

Enjoy this video criticism for the film CHILDREN OF MEN [2006] – Dir. Alfonso Cuaron.

and here’s the trailer

… on … GREAT movies about art works

GREAT movies about specific art works you may have missed.

Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s THE WAY TO CALVARY in Lech Majewski’s THE MILL AND THE CROSS.


Rembrandts NIGHTWATCH in Peter Greenaway’s NIGHTWATCHING

…on Elia Kazan….

A great documentary about the man behind the camera and behind the typewriter. For Years I have been a fan of Elia Kazan’s films: AMERICA AMERICA, ON THE WATERFRONT, BABY DOLL, FACE IN THE CROWD, BOOMERANG, PANIC IN THE STREETS and EAST OF EDEN (just to name a few of my personal favorites). Enjoy this enlightening and inspiring documentary about a complex creative writer/director.

 

Good and Evil

*** note:  This post was first blogged on my other blog mobius faith imaging.   Since this blog will be about my spiritual and philosophical ideas It seemed an appropriate first post.

While I am an artist there are many things that inspire me and give me energy.   Music, Film, Nature and Mysticism.    There are times when I am in this meditative space where time seems to slow down.   A time/space when that which is normally solid and concrete becomes fluid and dynamic.  A time that leaves me feeling paradoxically exhausted, rested and energized.  While this doesn’t happen often – last night was one such time.   The following is the fruit of that time.

Many people want to think of God as all good and that God would never do any evil.   But I wonder if that’s true.   There are instances in the Jewish and Christian Bibles where God says he will “work evil…”  If that’s so then God is not only the God of Good but also the God of Evil.   God is not Good OR Evil he is the totality of Good AND Evil.   God cannot be divided.   God is the ultimate non-duality.    It is humanity and religion specifically that try to divide God.  And see Evil as something that must be eliminated.
While evil can be defeated it can never be eliminated.   So that next thing is how to defeat evil.   All that is evil can only be defeated when we recognize the capacity for evil within each of us.   We both hold the secrets of good and evil.   After all that was the whole point of the story of the Garden of Eden.   Humanity had consumed the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.    It has been with us from the beginning.

When we recognize the ways we can be evil and accept it – evil has no power over us.  It is always there.   It is always waiting for us to forget or deny its existence.  It’s always waiting for us, goading us and trying to get us to fight it.   Evil feeds on fear, pride and hate.  And when that happens — well — Shit happens!

And it’s not about control.   We cannot control evil.  We can only balance it with Good.  Co-existence.

The evil we see in others is the same evil that is within us.
Example :   Who am I to judge a murderer?  The evil in that person who murders is the same evil in me when I enjoy saying, “he had it coming to him.”   Just because I chose not to murder doesn’t mean I am less evil or that evil doesn’t exist within me.   It just means that I didn’t murder someone.  The person who murders has the same power as me to create or defeat evil.

Recognize the evil within you
Forgive yourself and others
Be at peace
Love yourself and others
Be the balance
You and I were created in the image of God
We hold within us the seeds of the totality of Good and Evil.