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NY Times Critic's Pick

NY Times Critic's Pick

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Although the free jazz movement of the 1960s and ‘70s was much maligned in some jazz circles, its pioneers – brilliant talents like Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, Sun Ra, Albert Ayler, and John Coltrane – are today acknowledged as central to the evolution of jazz as America’s most innovative art form. FIRE MUSIC showcases the architects of a movement whose radical brand of improvisation pushed harmonic and rhythmic boundaries, and produced landmark albums like Coleman’s Free Jazz: A Collective Inspiration and Coltrane’s Ascension. A rich trove of archival footage conjures the 1960s jazz scene along with incisive reflections by critic Gary Giddins and a number of the movement’s key players.

2018    88 MINS.    USA     SUBMARINE

Presented with support from the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation Fund


“HEAVEN ON EARTH. Crammed with exhilarating sounds, moving reminiscences and stimulating arguments that [free jazz] is not just music, but vital music… Incredibly well-curated archival footage and contemporary interviews that allow the viewer to briefly commune with some beautiful souls, including [Ornette] Coleman, Sam Rivers, John Coltrane, Rashied Ali, Don Cherry, Carla Bley.” 
– Glenn Kenny, The New York Times
Read the full review.

“Ken Burns’s 2001 PBS series Jazz… virtually ignored free jazz altogether. FIRE MUSIC… is a valuable addition… (with) a generous range of original interviews with key participants in and observers of the movement, as well as plenty of context to help situate ‘the avant-garde,’ as it was sometimes called - and the contributions of pivotal figures… within the larger story of 20th-century jazz. Trumpeter Bobby Bradford credits Ornette Coleman with cracking the code that made free jazz possible… and both he and Sonny Simmons cite bebop legend Charlie Parker as a vital early influence. The way the film meticulously connects the dots between bebop and free jazz is exemplary. FIRE MUSIC sets a new benchmark. The film clearly lays out how the original wave of free jazz evolved from what came before and how, for a brief yet indelible period, yielded a wealth of music that's still unparalleled in its gritty intensity and deep spiritual resonance. Thanks to Tom Surgal, we have a record of what it felt like to be there.”
– Hank Shteamer, Rolling Stone

“Should be on any serious music lover’s must-see list. FIRE MUSIC provides a concise, thoughtful account of the musical form which first blossomed in the late 1950s, likening it in historical terms to such similar artistic movements as the Abstract Expressionists in painting and the Beats in literature. The documentary does an excellent job of making the music come alive with its gripping performance footage and incisive interviews with many key players including Taylor, Sonny Simmons, Bobby Bradford, Prince Lasha, Roswell Rudd and others. That the documentary’s producers include such well-known musicians as Jeff Tweedy, Thurston Moore and Nels Cline only adds to its air of authoritativeness.”
– Frank Scheck, The Hollywood Reporter

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