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Ebba Jahn: Rising Tones Cross

Andrey Henkin By

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In 1984, before Tonic or CB's Lounge or even the Knitting Factory and Rudy Giuliani, New York City was a rough-and-tumble place filled with a wonderful array of musicians in a state of hyper-creativity.

Some of them had come out of the loft scene of the '70s or even earlier and were reconciling all the shades of the avant-garde while others were creating entirely new vocabularies still being solidified today.

German filmmaker Ebba Jahn made "A Jazz Film" that year with interviews, musical performances and fascinating visuals of the city before it became sterilized. For the film's 20th anniversary last year, Jahn put the film onto DVD format, a nostalgia piece for some, a valuable historical document for others.

Many of the musicians featured are still active players: Charles Gayle, William Parker, John Zorn, Jemeel Moondoc, Irene Schweizer, Peter Brötzmann. And unsurprisingly, the film captures many who have departed firmly in their element: Charles Tyler, Don Cherry, Denis Charles, Peter Kowald.

The two main voices of the film are Gayle and Kowald, an American and a German playing improvised music in basements and lofts and in the Sound Unity Festival, the precursor to today's Vision Festival.

The film is romantic. There is a certain appeal and charm to the images of a dirtier, grittier New York. The scene, always the scene, seemed to be more vibrant and the musicians less weighed down. And the music is wonderful, compelling stuff even for people jaded about improvised music. Rising Tones Cross provides some continuity, showing how jazz survived when pop and rap and heavy metal began to fully take over the public consciousness.

Directed by: Ebba Jahn
Written by: Ebba Jahn
Cast: Peter Kowald, Charles Gayle, William & Patsy Parker, John Zorn, Wayne Horvitz, Billy Bang, Charles Tyler, Don Cherry, Peter Brötzmann, Irene Schweizer, Rüdiger Carl, Rashied Ali, Jemeel Moondoc, Marilyn Crispell, Dennis Charles
Length: 119 minutes

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