For an art form with such an obviously visual component, jazz can sometimes transfer awkwardly to the small screen. Whether it is because of sloppy production, stilted camera angles, or naff title screens, I rarely revisit a jazz DVD more than once. However, watching ‘Solos: The Jazz Sessions’ has proved to be a rather more engaging experience.
Originally filmed for Canadian TV in 39 parts (we can only dream of a British equivalent nowadays), this series of DVDs features solo performances from a superior roster of artists including Bill Frisell, Mark Turner and the late Andrew Hill. I watched two DVDs showcasing a couple of the most innovative American improvising musicians around today: cellist Erik Friedlander and pianist Matthew Shipp.
Both of these artists have a very physical approach towards their instruments, from Shipp’s wiry-armed, feline prodding in the bass register to Friedlander’s highly percussive slapping, strumming and scrapings. This aspect of their playing is captured well through a mix of panning shots and fixed camera angles, including some striking close-ups. As intrusive as this might sound, it doesn’t faze either artist, both of whom seem perfectly at ease in the elegantly lit surroundings of the Berkeley Church in Toronto.
With a great quality sound recording and some pithy artist interviews to boot, this series sets a high benchmark in how to make jazz DVDs. Recommended.