Tag: music

A homecoming for the Queen of Soul

At 4 Columns, film critic Melissa Anderson writes about the release of Amazing Grace, a “long-delayed” documentary concert film chronicling two widely revered 1972-era Aretha Franklin performances that comprise a live album of the same name. From Anderson:

All the emotions of the world: that’s one way to characterize what is evoked while watching Amazing Grace, the long-delayed documentary of Aretha Franklin’s two performances, on January 13 and 14, 1972, of (mostly) gospel standards at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church, in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles. Those live recordings were assembled as the double album Amazing Grace, still the highest-selling disc of Aretha’s career and the most successful live gospel record of all time. Released in June ’72, roughly midway through Aretha’s 1967–79 tenure at Atlantic Records, the label where she reached her artistic and commercial apogee, the album was billed as a homecoming of sorts for the Queen of Soul, returning to the music she sang as a child as a star attraction at her father’s sermons in Detroit and beyond.

To document these two extraordinary nights, Jerry Wexler, Aretha’s longtime producer at Atlantic, arranged for director Sydney Pollack to film the performances; Warner Bros., the parent company of Atlantic, had planned to release the movie, rather incongruously, on a double bill with Super Fly in the summer of ’72. But Pollack didn’t synch sound and image properly, so the project languished for decades. With the blessing of Pollack (who died in 2008), Alan Elliott, a former associate of Wexler’s, oversaw the completion of the documentary, which was originally set to premiere at the Telluride Film Festival in September 2015—until legal action by Aretha scuttled those plans.

Elliott heard about the decades-old film when he was an Atlantic Records employee in 1990, and nearly bankrupted himself over the years to “buy the existing footage, edit the film, and pay for insurance and lawyers” in order to stave off Franklin’s legal efforts to prevent Amazing Grace from seeing theatrical release.

“The reasons why Aretha, notoriously litigious, didn’t want audiences to see Amazing Grace—which shows her, then twenty-nine, fully in ‘the zone,’ performing perhaps her most beautiful, transporting music—will forever remain unknown,” writes Anderson at 4 Columns.

Amazing Grace is at Film Forum this week in New York City and will head to theaters in 2019.

Can I find that again?

m dean comics paris review

The Paris Review publishes an excerpt of I Am Young, NYC illustrator and cartoonist M. Dean’s new collection of comics. The book’s publisher, Fantagraphics, describes I Am Young as being “tied together by one central narrative about two teenagers who meet and fall in love after a Beatles concert in 1964.”

At NPR Books, critic Etelka Lehoczky writes about I Am Young‘s focus on “sentimentality,” which is “practically the only driver of these stories.” From Lehoczky:

The most affecting story in I Am Young isn’t about romantic love, but about friendship. High-school seniors Kennedy and Rhea both dig Tom Jones and want to be novelists someday. Kennedy is “my very good friend,” Rhea declares solemnly. Instead of gossiping about boys, Kennedy and Rhea act out scenes from Hamlet and read Camus. Dean perfectly captures the anxious sense of portent common to brainy teenagers in every decade. The friends’ greatest sources of tension are philosophical: They disagree about whether graduation is a significant milestone, whether Robert Redford is “plain” and whether there are such things as happy endings in life. “Maybe, even if she doesn’t admit it, Kennedy is actually happiest knowing there are no real answers,” Rhea says. The question is as vitally important to her as it is to every teenager with a reflective bent.

Read the whole review at NPR Books. See more of M. Dean’s illustration work here.

 

Tapes of everything

Before “music discovery” meant algorithm-driven recommendation engines, we found bands and DJs and record labels through radio shows, record shops, mixtapes, and other tangible interactions with human beings.

Everybody digs Bill

At The Believer, Steve Silberman explores the life and work of influential jazz pianist Bill Evans and “Nardis,” a piece written in 1958 by Miles Davis but never actually recorded by him:

For three takes, the band diligently tried to make it work, but (trumpeter Richard “Blue”) Mitchell couldn’t wrap his head around it, particularly under Miles’s intimidating gaze. The producer of the session, legendary Riverside Records founder Orrin Keepnews, ended up scrapping the night’s performances entirely.

The next night was more productive. After capturing tight renditions of “Blue Funk” and “Minority,” the quintet took two more passes through “Nardis,” yielding a master take for release, plus a credible alternate. But the arrangement still sounded stiff, and the horns had a pinched, sour tone.

Only one man on the session, Miles would say later, played the tune “the way it was meant to be played.” It was the shy, unassuming piano player, who was just shy of twenty-eight years old. His name was Bill Evans.

As a sideman, Bill Evans performed on seminal albums from Miles Davis, Chet Baker, Cannonball Adderley, and more. Recorded over the course of several sets one night in June of 1961, Sunday at the Village Vanguard is the work of the widely celebrated trio that Evans put together after a troubled stint at Manhattan’s Basin Street East. It’s one of the most popular live jazz recordings of all time. “If you are vulnerable to this music, you are completely vulnerable to it,” wrote The New Yorker‘s Adam Gopnik of Evans’s work in 2001.

In the August 2018 issue of The Believer, Silberman writes about the beginnings of the Bill Evans Trio, the “full-on musical obsession” that is ‘Nardis,’ and Evans’s crippling struggles with heroin and cocaine. Read that piece now.