^
Keep Houston Press Free
4

Musical Theology With John Coltrane, Robert Johnson

Naxos continues to release episodes from the Masters of American Music documentary series from the '90s, and here are two from the latest releases (the two others profiling Sarah Vaughan and Count Basie). Not a straight biographical doc or even a chronological one about his album releases, The World According to John Coltrane (59 mins., $19.99) takes a more meditative, wider view of looking at the artist and how his experience and outside influences shaped his music. Interviewees include jazzmen and Coltrane sidemen/friends Jimmy Heath, Wayne Shorter, Rashied Ali and Tommy Flanagan, as well as the voice of wife/pianist Alice Coltrane. Oddly, we don't hear so much of a peep from Coltrane himself in any clips, his only expression through lengthy - and amazing - TV musical performances. If the DVD has a main thesis, it's that Coltrane was an endless seeker, not just with his music but with his life. So while he could have had a fine career simply re-recording Giant Steps and A Love Supreme over and over, his pursuit of all kinds of world music - gospel, Asian, African, Middle Eastern - permeated his own tunes. Who else could turn a poppy showbiz tune from The Sound of Music ("My Favorite Things") into a near-orgasmic, whirling-dervish exercise in intensity? "I don't know where he got the energy from," Ali notes. "He was relentless. He was always pursuing the music." Another release is the documentary Bluesland (85 mins., $19.99), a geographical trip through the country relating various blue styles. It's a more disjointed effort of a lot of elements in search of connection, though buoyed by the observations of late talking head author/critic Robert Palmer. He blends just the right amount of the personal and the professorial in his take on the music. The filmmakers make an admirable attempt to either name-check, show a photo or play a music or performance clip from pretty much every bluesman and woman from 1920-65, even the more obscure ones (Barbecue Bob! Tommy Johnson! Peetie Wheatstraw!). Unfortunately, Houston's Lightnin' Hopkins rates only a solitary photo. And while it's long been believed there are only two existing photos of Robert Johnson, this film shows a third - which has not to Rocks Off's knowledge been verified as authentic in the years since Bluesland was originally produced (narrator Keith David's telltale MC Hammer-style big suits nothwithstanding). Pehaps the best quote in the film comes from bluesman Skip James, in a clip from a '60s TV show after he was "rediscovered" in the folk boom. The highly religious James explains good versus evil in blues music thusly:

"Now Gawd and the Debbil, they don't get along so well. You gotta separate those guys!"

Joel Osteen couldn't have said it better. Naxos/EuroArts, www.naxos.com

I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Houston and help keep the future of Houston Press free.

Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.

 

Join the Press community and help support independent local journalism in Houston.

 

Join the Press community and help support independent local journalism in Houston.