Saturday, July 16, 2022

In a Silent Way: Fusion Gets a Mockumentary

Jazzen Goodman is an idiot, but for us jazz fans, but he is probably the closest thing we will get to our own version of Spinal Tap. Somewhat counterintuitively, Goodman is obsessed with jazz fusion, with the kind of passion we might expect more for Hard Bop, or maybe even traditional New Orleans styles. He is not completely lacking in talent, but he is definitely his own worst enemy in Collin Levin’s mockumentary, In a Silent Way, which is now available on VOD.

Despite sharing a title with Miles Davis’s classic album (featuring Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter), Goodman seems to identify more with Weather Report and fictional saxophonist Mark Eric Rothco, whom he is sure to alienate sooner or later. So far, his band has been loyal to him, thanks to the drummer Yoshi, who is the real glue holding them together. However, Goodman is convinced he is the star and the presence of the documentarian filming him (not entirely unreasonably) confirms his judgment.

Unfortunately, Goodman is constantly humbled by the LA music scene. Often, it is his own fault. Already over-eager, the guitarist really kicks his stalkerish impulses into overdrive when he convinces himself he had a premonition revealing he only has one month to live.

For someone who loves jazz,
In a Silent Way can be painful to watch. Most of the musicians I know are absolutely nothing like Goodman, but there were one or two who might share some of his self-defeating tendencies. As a depiction of scuffling fusion players, it is only too realistic. However, the prevailing vibe is not one of humor, but rather awkward uncomfortableness.

Co-writer Nicolai Dorian is so all-in as Goodman, he will have viewers tearing their hair out. His lack of maturity and self-awareness gets exponentially more difficult to witness. The rest of the band is stuck in his shadow, except (somewhat) Dillon J. Stucky as the sympathetic Yoshi. However, Jim Meskimen feels totally legit playing legendary fusion record producer, “Tape” McDuffy. Plus, keyboardist Scott Kinsey briefly appears as himself, for added authenticity.

It is frustrating that even in a film like
In a Silent Way, music comes dead last in the final credit roll. You would hope that the producers would value the musicians’ contributions and viewers of a film like this would surely be interested to know who they were. Regardless, Jacob Scesney, Isamu McGregor, Joey Lefitz, Balam Garcia, and Zephyr Avalon sound great on numerous selections (some also featuring Goodman’s reedman rival, Nikaras). Logically, there are also several tracks from Kinsey: “Baba Moussa,” “Kingpin,” and “Near Life Experience.”

The music sounds cool and even refreshing throughout
Silent Way, but Goodman’s entitled behavior grates like fingernails on a blackboard. To their credit, Levin and co-writer-co-stars Dorian and Nicholas Tuttle (Nikaras) seem to understand the fusion world and its history. Their scenes in the Baked Potato club earn serious fan cred. Nevertheless, Goodman is a lot—in an abrasive kind of way. To spend ninety minutes with him is a big ask, with little to balance or humanize his self-absorbed behavior.

It all makes you wonder whether the film is “good for jazz” or not. The soundtrack is definitely enthusiastically recommended (should it get a commercial release), but the film is a tough call. Mostly recommended for passionate fusion enthusiasts (and not for fans of the mock-doc format),
In a Silent Way is now available on VOD.