Monday, September 11, 2006


Keystone has been in heavy rotation at HurdAudio for some time now. Dave Douglas autographed my copy along with simple instructions: "Enjoy." That hasn't been a problem.

I only recently put on the "second disc" - the DVD pairing the music with the Fatty Arbuckle films that inspired this score. The juxtaposition of such a polished sound with these nearly century-old, scratchy silent film images is unsettling. Individually, each part of this "collaboration" is incredibly successful. But the joining of sound and image highlights the rift that exists between music and film.

The music of Keystone is simply outstanding. Anyone who has been paying attention realizes that Dave Douglas has been releasing an incredible body of work that features great perfomers and spans an astonishing range of styles and aesthetic approaches. With Keystone Douglas mines the electronic textures that marked Freak In and Witness. The narrative form of Arbuckle's silent films reins in much of the frenetic energy found in these early releases and steers the arrangements toward a more restrained harmonic territory. The resulting sound is addictive.

For all the adventurous strains within Dave Douglas's music he remains deeply grounded - and passionate about - the traditions and history of jazz. Fatty Arbuckle's work as an actor and film maker of the silent era is a subject Douglas is uniquely qualified to take on given his track record for paying homage to so many figures that have been such a rich source of inspiration. And the result is a vibrant, living accompaniment for these early cinematic achievements.

And yet I can't help but feel much closer to the music than the moving images. Not just chronologically -- or technologically. As a medium, film is still in its infancy at just over a century of existence compared to thousands of years of music history. The pairing of jazz with early film - two expressions that have developed roughly in parallel over the past 100 years - is a natural fit. I remain estranged from film as the lesser experience. I'm simply not aware of any cinematic equivalent to the evocative experience of Miles Davis' Kind of Blue or the Bela Bartok string quartets. With Keystone, film has been the source of musical inspiration. And this music will endure. Much as these silent films will endure. But they are far from inseparable. And right now it's hard for these ears to get enough of this funky, beautiful sound.

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