The first feature documentary by Ron Mann (Grass, Comicbook Confidential) is an eloquent tribute to a group of highly celebrated artists that helped forge the avant-garde jazz of the 1960s. Critic and film historian Jonathan Rosenbaum has said Imagine the SoundI "may be the best documentary on free jazz that we have." The film features mind expanding interviews and singular, dramatic performances by pianists Cecil Taylor and Paul Bley, tenor saxophone Archie Shepp, and trumpet player Bill Dixon. Not since Scorsese's The Last Waltz has a music documentary been so thorough and compatible with its subject. Alongside the dynamic performances, the film captures the diverse history and politicized roots of this unique musical genre. Imagine the Sound is an important chapter in the history of the jazz documentary.
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When Imagine the Sound was released in 1981, Chicago Reader critic Jonathan Rosenbaum deemed it "the best documentary on free jazz that we have." Decades later, the same praise holds true. Director Ron Mann (Grass, Comicbook Confidential) gathered four seminal avant-garde jazz musicians--pianists Cecil Taylor and Paul Bley, tenor saxophonist Archie Shepp, and trumpet player Bill Dixon--in a studio for interviews and individual performances. The result is an incredibly philosophical look at the how their social, political, and creative free-form explorations changed the face of jazz music in the early '60s. Like free-jazz players improvising on tonality and time, this documentary itself is structureless, as Mann continuously spins off on different tangents. He weaves numerous heady interviews--completely devoid of nostalgia--with long, uninterrupted, intimate sequences of all of the musicians breaking new musical ground. During one particularly illuminating interview, Bley states that free jazz arrived from a "tremendous disdain for the known," and the same can be said of Mann's thrilling approach here. --Dave McCoy
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