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DVD/Video/Film Reviews

Tight: Johnny O'Neal Trio in Concert

By Published: March 3, 2007

Bassist Zack Pride not only walks with ground-shaking authority but solos with refreshing economy and melodic logic. Kermit Walker, while he takes few solos, is one of those attentive, fully engaged drummers ready at all times to contribute to the collective cause. Not only is he responsive to each of O'Neal's rhythmic-dynamic changes, breaks and co-ordinated melodic riffs, but he's capable of taking matters into his own hands, exploding with a vengeance at the least hint of stagnation as a wake-up call to the other two members to snap to the beat.

The audio on the disc is pristine—well-balanced, full-frequencied, spacious yet "present"—and should satisfy even the most fastidious Dolby-ized home-theater audiophile. The filming of the event, on the other hand, raises some significant questions about the best way to shoot music. If the downloading of audio files continues to increase in inverse proportion to diminishing CD sales, the concert DVD could very well become the recording industry's salvation. If so, the strategies employed by the cinematographers of concerts will deserve careful consideration and experimentation.

While favoring two repeated shot setups—a high-angle medium shot from over the right shoulder of the pianist and a medium shot of the pianist's face from the deep end of the piano's soundboard—the filmmakers employ every conceivable angle along with mixed camera styles, rarely observing the so-called 180 degree sightline rule. During a drum break, we get half a dozen shots of the drummer, ranging from medium profile to a close-up POV the percussionist's right foot! In fact, we see the musicians from every point of view with the exception of one: the audience's. The camera in turn rarely holds a shot for more than a few seconds, alternating among shaky, documentary-like hand-held shots and stable tripod set-ups along with zooms, pans and tilts.

It's not a case of the filmmakers not "knowing the score (the cuts are, for the most part, in synch with the music) but electing to employ the camera as a "4th player in the ensemble, as having a role in helping to create as much as record the musical experience for the spectator. It's an approach that probably serves some musical styles and contexts better than others. But were this a concert by an Oscar Peterson or Bill Evans, I couldn't blame a viewer who, after the first ten or fifteen minutes, decided to tune out the video and turn up the audio. In one of the intercut sequences, O'Neal himself reveals that he practices in the dark in order to avoid visual distractions and hear himself better.

If there's a lesson to learn from this latest contribution to a still-nascent multimedia art form, perhaps it's the following: the most memorable shot in the film is a single fixed-angle extended take with the camera maintaining a respectful distance form its subject—Mulgrew Miller. It's an instance where the camera's legerdemain is completely subordinated to the wisdom of the subject's insights.

Tracks: Just You, Just Me; Next Spring; Dreamy; Tight; Saving All My Love for You; Intellectual Grease; Overjoyed; I Concentrate on You; Honeysuckle Rose; Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum; Just a Closer Walk with Thee; That's All.

Personnel: Johnny O'Neal: piano/vocals; Zack Pride: bass; Kermit Walker: drums.

Production Notes: 100 minutes. Recorded at the Western North Carolina Jazz Society, Asheville, North Carolina, in July 2006. Extras: interviews with the musicians and jazz pianist Mulgrew Miller, bio information on the artists.

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