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Icons Among Us: An Epic Jazz Documentary, Part 1

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A host of visionary producers in Seattle have produced an extraordinary TV documentary on the state of contemporary jazz art and artists. Dubbed Icons Among Us: Jazz In the Present Tense, the four-part program features a virtual who's who of young jazz performers talking about their creative struggles and playing their music as they forge new paths of expression. The program is so comprehensive and carefully wrought that it deserves a review that covers all of the characters—musicians, producers and storytellers. What follows is a summary and commentary on the first episode of the documentary. For a window into the entire series, read John Kelman's four-part review.



Creators Michael Revoira, Lars Larson and Pete Vogt working out of Seattle based Paradigm Studios introduce this epic chronicle spotlighting the "young lions" on the scene. Trumpeter Nicholas Payton

Nicholas Payton
Nicholas Payton
b.1973
trumpet
is seen talking about the necessity of breaking new ground for young artists. Terence Blanchard
Terence Blanchard
Terence Blanchard
b.1962
trumpet
follows remarking that what is happening now is the "quietest revolution in jazz I've ever seen in my life." Over the commentary is heard the music of the "lions" neatly interspersed with flashes of their performances. Trumpeter Dave Douglas
Dave Douglas
Dave Douglas
b.1963
trumpet
(all of the initial of the commentators are trumpeters) alludes to the difficulty in labeling the music. Guitarist Bill Frisell
Bill Frisell
Bill Frisell
b.1951
guitar
states that "words are always smaller than what you're trying to describe [musically]." Veteran Herbie Hancock
Herbie Hancock
Herbie Hancock
b.1940
piano
, himself an innovator 40 years ago, sympathizes with the youngsters who are "bringing new blood to jazz—new expression." Trumpeter Russell Gunn
Russell Gunn
Russell Gunn
b.1971
trumpet
defiantly tells us that "jazz is gonna change" as the camera reveals trumpeter Efrem Townes playing in front of the daKAH hip hop orchestra.



The litany of lions continues as we hear saxophonist Justin Robinson wailing new sounds in the Roy Hargrove

Roy Hargrove
Roy Hargrove
b.1969
trumpet
quintet, guitarist Reed Mathis stretching out with The Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey
Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey
Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey

band/orchestra
and innovative vocal harmony emanating from Nicholas Payton's quintet. As Wynton Marsalis
Wynton Marsalis
Wynton Marsalis
b.1961
trumpet
reveals his impatience with insistence on musical categories and definitions we see and hear bassist Eric Revis
Eric Revis
Eric Revis
b.1967
bass
, trombonist Ku-Umba Frank Lacy
Frank Lacy
Frank Lacy
b.1959
trombone
and keyboardist John Medeski playing and joining the discussion. Saxophonist Donald Harrison
Donald Harrison
Donald Harrison
b.1960
sax, alto
, keyboardist Robert Walter
Robert Walter
Robert Walter

organ, Hammond B3
and bassist Reid Anderson
Reid Anderson
Reid Anderson
b.1970
bass
remind us that all the musicians need to respect past traditions of jazz ("you have to deal with the history") but pianist Robert Glasper
Robert Glasper
Robert Glasper
b.1978
piano
desperately wants to move forward because "I can be badder than Coltrane." Veteran Seattle critic Paul de Barros says that one problem is "we don't understand the relationship between new jazz and society."



It is important to note that all this discussion is never tedious because there are constant cuts to concerts, record sessions and rehearsals cleverly and expertly intermingled.



Especially appealing are shots of pianist Bugge Wesseltoft

Bugge Wesseltoft
Bugge Wesseltoft
b.1964
piano
entertaining a concert crowd by combining his pianism with sonic manipulation, and some sublime sounds from The Bad Plus
The Bad Plus
The Bad Plus

band/orchestra
trio featuring drummer Dave King, pianist Ethan Iverson and the aforementioned Reid Anderson. Pianist Aaron Parks
Aaron Parks
Aaron Parks
b.1983
piano
and guitarist Lionel Loueke
Lionel Loueke
Lionel Loueke
b.1973
guitar
create dramatic new textures as members of Terence Blanchard's group. They comment on Blanchard's determination to have his sidemen be open and free in their expression.

Saxophonist Greg Osby

Greg Osby
Greg Osby
b.1960
saxophone
is particularly articulate commenting on the lack of recognition and credit being given to the contemporary players and tells of his immediate attraction to the art of Jason Moran
Jason Moran
Jason Moran
b.1975
piano
who, in turn, apostrophizes Osby's leadership. Dave Douglas returns with a quick comment stating that Osby is the "best example of jazz mentorship out there."

This opening segment ends fittingly with scenes of a concert starring Moran playing the piano against the soundtrack of a narrator uttering compelling social commentary.


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