Finding mainstream jazz performances and documentaries on DVD is relatively easy. A quick in-store or online search will bring to light several excellent choices on favorites like Louis Armstrong, Miles, Mingus, and Ellington. However, if youâ€™re seeking the avant garde on DVD, you gotta dig a bit deeper. Two films to be on the lookout for are Rising Tones Cross and Imagine the Sound.
Rising Tones Cross was filmed mainly during the 1984 Sound Unity Festival in New York. This 2-hour film includes performances by, but not limited to, John Zorn, Don Cherry, Charles Gayle, William Parker, Charles Tyler, and Peter Brotzmann. Director Ebba Jahn dedicates a great deal of time to examining what goes into these live performances and eavesdropping on intimate conversations with Charles Gayle, Peter Kowald and William Parker. The film is stark, as the locations occur on the grittier side of the city.
The 90-minute Imagine the Sound is similar, but focuses specifically on four free jazz stalwarts: Paul Bley, Archie Shepp, Bill Dixon and Cecil Taylor. Filmed in 1981, the performances are great and director Ron Mann (Grass, Go Further, Tales of the Rat Fink) gets into the soul of these engaging musicians, who are temperamentally different yet share a similarity when approaching music and performance.
Rhapsody Films has also produced great documentaries and performance films focusing on Art Ensemble of Chicago, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Ornette Coleman, Sun Ra, and others of the genre.