Jazz Icons, Vol. 2
(Reelin’ in the Years Productions)
Jazz Icons is not a history of the music but rather an intimate look at the “extraordinary visual appeal” of jazz improvisation, said Don Heckman in the Los Angeles Times. This collection of DVDs remembers some of the most accomplished names in jazz, ranging from John Coltrane and Duke Ellington to Sarah Vaughan and Dexter Gordon, and has been filmed with a “great respect for the players” and their craft. The artfully shot, black-and-white recordings of these unreleased performances “offer an almost palpable sense of communication” among the musicians, said Ari Messer in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. On the disc dedicated to Wes Montgomery, Live in ’65, the guitarist’s brain seems to be throbbing solidly in his right thumb. The Coltrane disc, Live in ’60, ’61, and ’65, captures him in a performance that plays out like “a release and cleansing of demons.” Mainly taken from concerts and television broadcasts across Europe, the DVD gives us a sense of being onstage—or at least in the front row—when these music legends were at their height. Eight DVDs, $120.
Runnin’ Down a Dream:
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Like one of Tom Petty’s slow-churning guitar ballads, the four-hour rockumentary Runnin’ Down a Dream “goes down as smoothly as well-aged whiskey,” said Ronnie Scheib in Variety. Director Peter Bogdanovich, known for such hits as The Last Picture Show and Paper Moon, makes this seem less like a documentary and more like a seamless feature. The result is a “feast for Petty fans and a joyous confirmation of the vitality of the collective creative process.” The film visually traces the highs and lows of Petty’s life: from age 11, when he met Elvis in his hometown of Gainesville, Fla., through his popular success and tortured relationship with the music industry. One highlight reveals the beginnings of the Traveling Wilburys in the 1980s, said Andrew Perry in the London Telegraph. The short-lived supergroup consisted of Petty, Jeff Lynne, Bob Dylan, George Harrison, and Roy Orbison. The film turns out to be not just a life story but also an “intricately woven American saga, which becomes more absorbing the longer it goes on.” Three DVDs, one CD, $40.
M22: The Salzburg Festspiele
M22: The Salzburg Festspiele Opera Boxset is proof that Mozart will “never be less than good box office,” said Peter Davis in The New York Times. In 2006, to commemorate his 250th birthday, the Salzburg Festival set forth on a bold undertaking to stage all 22 of the composer’s operas. Films of these performances allow listeners to explore his “operatic development at close range” and make up their own minds about which stand up. Many works, such as Cosi Fan Tutte or Don Giovanni, have been filmed multiple times. But with every changing generation, Mozart remains the most “thoroughly reassessed, recontextualized, and re-embraced” of all composers. Uniting past with present doesn’t always fare well, said Barney Zwartz in the Melbourne Age. A few directors’ “gross insensitivity to Mozart’s music” drove me crazy. Watching M22 gives you the peculiar feeling of watching two events—in which music and staging are separate and ultimately “disconnected.” Still, because it brings together so many of Mozart’s inimitable works, this set will be a collector’s item nevertheless. 33 DVDs, $540.