Sunday, June 23, 2024

Music for Black Pigeons, with Lee Konitz, Jakob Bro, Paul Motian, etc.

The musicians in this documentary are a looser group than a band, but they are more tightly-knit than a game of “six degrees of Kevin Bacon.” It is more like one degree of Jakob Bro, whom all the assembled jazz artists perform and record with (often for producer Manfred Eicher of ECM Records). The resulting music is adventurous but still melodically accessible in Andreas Koefoed & Jorgen Leth’s documentary, Music for Black Pigeons, which screens as part of Laemmle’s Culture Vulture series.

Obviously, Koefoed and Leth were documenting Bro and his musical associates for over a ten-year period, since they recorded extensive footage of the late, great Lee Konitz. Although captured late in his life, Konitz still sounds terrific. In fact, Bro’s music seems to inspire him, even if he does not entirely “get” it. He certainly gets the vibe. (He also supplies the film’s title, in a perfect example of the alto and tenor player’s sense of humor.)

Unfortunately, Koefoed and Leth were not able to record the legendary Polish composer-trumpeter Tomas Stanko before his death, but he captures Bro composing and recording his tribute, “To Stanko,” fittingly produced by Eicher. For fans of Stanko, their reminiscences alone will be worth the price of admission.

Although the structure of
Black Pigeons has a somewhat free-association vibe, it certainly fits the music. Yet, the film’s approach is still very intentional. Clearly, they want to elicit some insight from the musicians into the process of creating music, either than before or after they perform. Sometimes it is amusing and in the case of bassist Thomas Morgan, it is almost uncomfortably revealing. Yet, they were right to include that interview segment, because his difficulty verbalizing the process actually says a lot.

Bro’s compositions are both more complex and more elusive than typical “Great American Songbook” standards, but if viewers give them a chance, they should appreciate their evocativeness. If you listen to a lot of ECM artists, you will obviously be on solid ground. Jazz fans who appreciate artists like Andrew Hill, who were in between hard bop and free, should also be able to relate to the music Bro and his colleagues create.

Nobody can deny Bro plays with some great musicians, including Joe Lovano, Andrew Cyrille, Palle Mikkelborg, the late Paul Motian, Mark Turner, and Bill Frisell (whom some cineastes might know from his own documentary). Just seeing the dearly departed Konitz and Motian playing at such high levels is a gift. Very enthusiastically recommended,
Music for Black Pigeons screens Monday and Tuesday (6/24 & 6/25) at LA Laemmle theaters and it releases on VOD 7/2.