Saturday, June 29, 2013

Dallas Symphony in Vail

Dallas Symphony Rehearses in Vail

Last night the Bravo Vail Valley Music Festival opened with an excellent concert featuring a jazz sextet performing jazz classics and backed the full Dallas Symphony Orchestra. 

This concert brought back a lot of memories. Conductor Jeff Tyzik was the lead trumpet player when Chuck Mangione toured with full orchestra after the success of "Feels So Good" in 1978.  I remember seeing him play several times live. And featured soloist Byron Stripling played with the Rochester Jazz Band at the same concert where I played with the MIT Festival Jazz ensemble under Herb Pomeroy, at the Notre Dame Festival. Stripling's playing was the highlight of that 1983 concert, and it was perhaps the first night I realized I would never be a good enough player to be a professional performer. He blew me away. 

He did again last night with several other great performers, including Wycliffe Gordon on trombone and soprano trombone (basically a slide trumpet), Jeff Clayton on sax, Dave Mancini on drums, and Kenny Walker on bass. Stripling and Gordon were the standout performers of the night, both of them singing as well as playing. Tyzik's arrangements of jazz classics were quite good harmonically (although the string were frequently lost as they were voiced too low to be heard over the winds). The best tunes of the night were"West End Blues," "Night in Tunisia,"  and "St. James Infirmary Blues." 

This morning we were invited to an open rehearsal of what was billed as a tribute to Arthur Fielder and John Williams. The Williams material was quite fun. Hearing "Annakin's Theme" followed by "The Imperial March" showed how brilliant a composer Williams is, reverse-engineering a theme for the prequel character that is far better than anything in the movie itself deserves. And the march never fails to give me goosebumps. Following that with "Schindler's List" never fails to evoke a tear, and shows the huge range of ability Williams has as a composer. 

All in all, a worthwhile trip!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

56 Up

56 up is the eight movie in what may be the most famous documentary series in film history, directed by Michael Apted. Roger Ebert referred to the series as the most important in history, and he may be right.  The series has followed the same group of individuals every seven years since they were seven years old. It's an interesting experiment, but the biggest change in the last seen years is the proliferation of reality series, which has watered down the importance of the series somewhat. In addition, instead of the camera being cinema verité, showing only what happens, over the course of the films, the films themselves have affected the subjects. Also, many of the subjects complain that they have not been fairly represented in the films, and Apted himself has admitted that he has previously shaped the footage fill a narrative that he predicted. In fact, the whole thesis of the series was originally to show that where you are at age seven is where you will be for the rest of your life. The series has actually proven the opposite.

Perhaps the most extreme example of how the movie is being used by the subject, rather than the other way around, is one subject who had not participated since 21, but decided to come back only to whore his band's most recent album. He complained that he left because he did not like the audience reaction to one of his comments at age 21, but now comes back wanting audience reaction. I think the point of the series is lost here, and I probably would have cut his footage out; it clearly does not belong.

Apted also puts himself in the footage far too much. There are too many questions, rather than simply showing the subjects doing what they do, and there are too many scenes that are clearly setups (including arranging for travel so the subjects can meet relatives other subjects that they have not seen). Nonetheless, after watching the first couple of films, almost anyone will be hooked. I do look forward each time a new film is released; it's like getting a home video from distant family that you haven't seen in years.

The films are likely to get more difficult over the upcoming years. Watching people we met at age seven go through the aging process is likely to be painful (having watched my own family members go through it).  Also, since the subjects are 6 years older than me, each time a film comes out, they are at the place in time that I will be when the next film comes out, so it's a bit of a crystal ball as well. Yet I still look forward to the next film.

One final note, the audio on the DVD I purchased has pops and clicks all over it. There are no scratches on the disc, and no video problems. If I didn't know better, I'd think the tracks were analog and played back on a machine that was not properly grounded and had constant static throughout. That's a real letdown.

Monday, June 17, 2013


My aura really lights up the stage at the Denver Film Society
I was lucky enough to be invited to speak after a screening of the Italian horror film BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO at the Denver Film Society on Friday night. The film is much more of a psychological thriller than than a horror film, and it is much more of an art film than either of those.

The film does have a lot going for it. Lead Toby Jones (most well-known for playing Capote in the film INFAMOUS, reviewed here) does a great job as a British sound editor who has been asked to come to Italy to create sound design for an ultra-violent (and sexist) horror film in the style of Dario Argento. He demonstrates the obsessive and personal nature of the art.

And the fact that it is about sound at all is a big plus. The sound design for the film (as well as the film-within-the-film) are fascinating. And it's a trip down memory lane for sound geeks like myself. The script and art direction are extremely faithful to both both the time period (late 70s) and the craft. It was nice seeing someone build an actual tape loop again. And using (real) tape delay instead of digital. And the appearance Nagra IV-S, a peculiar homage to inventor Stefan Kudelski, who passed away last year. The film truly brought back a flood of personal memories. It also references a lot of great other sound films, from THE CONVERSATION to BLOWOUT.

The film falls apart badly in the third act. When they finally cut to the end credits, the person sitting behind us said, "I could tell it was going to be one of those films where there is no ending, and you just pray that they cut to the credits." He was right, the film loses all sense of plot and pacing in the last half hour and becomes much too artsy for its own good. Also for what plot there is, it's predictable. There were a ton of great setups that were never followed up on.

Still, if you are a fan of the genre, sub-genre, or even just a sound geek like myself, I highly recommend the film.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

What's Up? Doc at 85!

Last night we had the pleasure of hearing Doc Severinsen perform with the CSO and his Latin quartet (Doc has lived in Mexico since 2006). Doc was a huge influence on me musically, I probably saw him first on THE TONIGHT SHOW not long after I took up the trumpet as a kid, and after Maynard Ferguson, he was probably the trumpet player I most emulated through junior high and high school, and a motivator for me to want to be a better lead trumpet player. In fact, at one point I thought my career would be as a lead trumpet player, only to find that in the 1980s there were not that many big band jobs.

I've seen him play live a few times, most memorably  the first time I saw him, which was only days after I moved to California in 1986. The Tonight Show Band played at the NAJE conference in Anaheim, and I remember my first time driving California freeways to hear him. He and the band were fantastic as always. About that time the band released two great CDs as well.

I had assumed Doc was in his 70s when we got the tickets for last night, and when he took the stage  he was full of life and played extremely well; I was surprised to discover that his is 85! He still has a huge, fat sound on the instrument, and hit plenty of high notes, although probably not as consistently as he did 30 - 40 years ago, but at age 85 he is still very impressive.

Also impressive is his backup band, including Charlie Bisharat on electric fiddle, Latin guitarist and musical director Gil Gutiérrez, bassist Kevin Thomas, and  Cuban drummer Jimmy Branly, who played both trap set and cajon at the same time. The band had a blast.

The range of musical choices was a little limited. I most enjoyed the two Django Reinhardt/Stéphane Grappelli pieces, which were the ones most outside the Latin idiom of the night. Otherwise I got tired of the Spanish phrygian mode pretty quickly. However the playing was all outstanding and clearly the crowd enjoyed it.

Last week we saw the Bugs Bunny at the Symphony Concert for the third time in five years. (We had subscriber tickets that we needed to use by the end of the season, and this was one of the last concerts.) It's definitely getting a little old and could use some new material. (They made significant changes between the first and second time we saw it, and have announced that there will be more changes next year.) But it did give me a nice title for the Doc review above.

That's it for the CSO's regular season this year. We will probably try to catch a summer concert.