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The Cry of Jazz: A Film by Edward O. Bland featuring Sun Ra & His Arkestra  E-mail
Thursday, 09 February 2006 08:14
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The Cry of Jazz
A Film by Edward O. Bland
Featuring Sun Ra & His Arkestra
Unheard Music Series
MVD Music Video DJ-865

Starring George Walker, Dorthea Horton, Linda Dillon, Andrew Duncan, James Miller, Laroy Inman, Sun Ra & His Solar Arkestra (35 minutes, B&W, 1959)

By John Sinclair

Now that Sun Ra has been missing from our particular planet for a few sad years, any previously unheard music by Ra's stellar Arkestra issued in present time is a welcome addition to the great composer's voluminous discography. And to gain access to performance footage of Ra's incredible late 50s Chicago ensemble in action is a rare and even more exciting prospect.

The Cry of Jazz, filmed in Chicago by experimental filmmaker, composer and arranger Edward O. Bland and finished in 1959, offers both music and performance footage of the original edition of the Arkestra in splendid abundance. Arkestra fanatics will thrill to the sight and sound of John Gilmore's saxophone, the dramatic bass of Ronnie Boykins and the stellar contributions of other members of the ensemble as they negotiate a set of Ra's classic early compositions in an intimate concert setting.

The Arkestra performances that provide the soundtrack for The Cry of Jazz underline and accent Bland's relentlessly didactic story line and offer vivid visual contrast to the extended narrative scenes which depict a group of collegiate jazz enthusiasts heatedly engaged in a profound intellectual discussion centered on the politics of music and race and the definition, meaning and future of jazz.

Bland's passionate, well-ordered polemic extremely advanced for the late 50s presents a systematic economic analysis of the social forces which produced and shaped the music called jazz, carefully relates them to the shape and form of the music then prevalent, and boldly forecasts what he calls the death of jazz  that will be administered by a new experimental movement led by creative artists and composers (here typified by Sun Ra) who are dedicated to freeing the music from its historical strictures, reflecting the social conditions of the present, and projecting and interpreting the world of the future.

At first the story proceeds with excruciating slowness: A college jazz society meeting breaks up, leaving behind a group of stragglers a pair of white women, a white man and two black men who continue the discussion among themselves and soon reach sharp disagreement on the issues of where jazz originated, what forces shaped its development and why it sounded the way it did. Then one of the black men seizes center stage and carefully unfolds his increasingly radical analysis until his listeners are left virtually stupefied and without coherent response.

Sun Ra & the Arkestra lay down a pulsating track of sound under the narration and serve to punctuate the protagonist's long, engrossing lecture with appropriate segments of performance footage and musical counterpoint. It's easy to picture Sun Ra enthusiasts editing together these Arkestral appearances and eliminating the talking parts altogether, but inquisitive viewers may gain immensely from exposure to Bland's fiercely iconoclastic exposition on the state of African American creative music on the historical cusp of the modern jazz era and the free jazz,  avant garde,  New Black Music  movement of the 1960s.

The MVD Unheard Music Series edition of The Cry of Jazz, digitally transferred from a pristine print, is the first commercial release of this 45-year-old film, and the Arkestral soundtrack has remained otherwise unreleased. Now you may enjoy the singular treats of Sun Ra's incomparable music and Edward Bland's startling filmic treatise in the privacy and comfort of your home, and you are hereby advised to do so.

May 17, 2004

(c) 2004, 2006 John Sinclair. All Rights Reserved.