Music Reviews

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Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says there's so much good jazz coming out on DVD now - old stuff, new stuff, TV concerts, documentaries - that it's more than anyone can keep up. But he says a few recent releases really caught his eye and ear.

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KEVIN WHITEHEAD: Music by Bill Frisell from a DVD of three otherwise silent comedies by the amazing Buster Keaton finally issued with the contemporary soundtracks the guitarist trio recorded in the '90s. Keaton's moves seem as effortless as Fred Astaire's, and he was a wizard at staging complicated mayhem before the camera. In the film One Week, newlyweds build a prefab house from mismatched parts and wind up with an accidental Cubist masterpiece that spins on its axis in a high wind.

Frisell's music is appropriately jocular and offhandedly complex; drummer Joey Baron provides the sound effects for scenes of construction and destruction, and tracks every on-screen pratfall and double-take. Matching the film's beats, the trio attains the same headlong, syncopated momentum as Keaton does.

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WHITEHEAD: Jazz musicians can be kinetic onscreen too. A new DVD of Anita O'Day filmed in Scandinavia in 1963 and '70 and released in the jazz icon series is required viewing for anyone who doubts singers are real jazz musicians. Even onstage with two accompanists she'd never met before, O'Day instantly takes charge yanking the trio ahead and using hand signals to orchestrate a performance on the fly. And she's fantastic at breakneck tempos. Sometimes lagging so far behind the band, you think she'll never catch up.

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Ms. ANITA O'DAY (Singer): (Singing) Let's fall in love, why shouldn't we fall in love? Our hearts are made of it, let's take a chance. Why be afraid of it? Let's close our eyes, and make our own paradise, little we know of it. Still we can try, to make a go of it. We might have been meant for each other, to be or not to be, let our hearts discover. Let's fall in love. Now is the time for it, while we are young. Let's fall in love, why shouldn't we fall in love? Our hearts are made of it, let's take a chance. Why be afraid of it? Let's close our eyes, and make our own paradise, little we know of it. Still we can try, to make a go of it. We�

WHITEHEAD: Anita O'Day in 1963. It's fascinating to hear her tackle some of the same tunes seven years later. It shows how even diehard improvisers may repeat certain effects and routines for years. Another standout in the Jazz Icons series is 1964 BBC TV concert by flugelhorn player Art Farmer. His excellent quartet with guitarist Jim Hall play a few tunes they never put out on record. So this DVD is available for the music alone. Farmer and Hall are prized for their understated lyricism, and there's some sweet slow stuff. But the up-tempo middle of the set is a barnburner, and it's great to hear the flugelhorn wail.

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WHITEHEAD: Art Farmer with Pete La Roca Sims on drums and Steve Swallow on bass. There's nothing quite like the excitement of jazz musicians pushing each other. It's even better when you can see it, as on tenor saxophonist Fred Anderson's DVD, "21st Century Chase," shot last March at his Velvet Lounge in Chicago. Five cameras put you in or close to the action, and if the jumps among multiple angles can get hectic, so can the music. It's loose but decidedly swinging free jazz by three generations of players, spearheaded by tenor sax elders and friendly sparring partners, Anderson and Kidd Jordan.

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WHITEHEAD: The saxophonists' fine rhythm trio includes guitarist Jeff Parker and drummer Chad Taylor, two terrific players nurtured by Fred Anderson early on. The fretboard closeups of Parker here and Jim Hall on the Art Farmer DVD are boons to guitarists on the lookout for flatted-fifth chords and fresh melodic patterns. As any musicians who ever crowded around a bandstand can tell you, you can learn a lot about music from looking as well as listening.

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