It's fitting that one of the great films about jazz centers on the re-creation of a moment. Kasper Collin's exquisitely haunted meditation I Called Him Morgan, about the life and untimely death of hard bop trumpeter Lee Morgan, employs all the techniques you would expect from a documentary study of a musician's tragedy. Here's performance clips, talking heads, black-and-white stills from the Blue Note archives, and judicious excerpts from Morgan's recordings. But Collin, in collaboration with cinematographer Bradford Young (Selma, Arrival), has filled out the usual with a vital evocation of the bandleader's milieu, often with new 16 mm footage that audiences might take for an archival find. Morgan was gunned down in the Alphabet City jazz club Slug's Saloon in February 1972, during a blizzard so thick that -- we're told -- the ambulance took an hour to arrive. Collin shrouds his film in shots of New York whited out with snow, the lit-up lightning of the Chrysler building one point of orientation. Pulsing and alive beneath it: Morgan's crisp, insistent trumpet, somehow both preening and coolly nonchalant. (Collin, unlike too many other creators of jazz documentaries, has no qualms about asking audiences to listen to actual jazz soloing.)
Musicians reminisce in the film about the parties they would attend at the West 53rd street apartment of Helen More, the woman who took the trumpeter in and helped clean him up after he succumbed to heroin addiction in the 1960s. More later shot Morgan; audio of a chance interview with her gives the film, a love story, its second most urgent voice, after Morgan's trumpet.