Inside Out in the Open
dir. Alan Roth
Thurs Jan 10, San Jan 12
Guild Theater

"Kids who go to 'university' play free jazz," a friend dryly explained to me this morning, when I told him I'd just watched Inside Out in the Open, a documentary about free jazz, or "out music." He meant it as a funny, backdoor dis, and I agreed with him; everybody knows a pretentious liberal arts school guy who got into free jazz before he could play any instrument, subjecting his audience to noodles' worth of wanking. But if you don't check all preconceived notions at the start of this film, you will by the end; this documentary not only captures free jazz at its greatest and most vital, but reveals the exciting context in which it was born.

From the beginning of the film's interviews, we learn that free jazz has had this stigma since its beginnings in the '60s. But free jazz is inherently rooted in conflict--it was a direct response to the cultural upheaval of the '60s, the musical version of the concept of being free from structure. Everyone had their own way of speaking: the Black Panthers gave away free breakfasts to the kids in their communities, students rallied for peace in Vietnam, and Albert Ayler, Eric Dolphy, and Ornette Coleman protested by throwing away their sheet music.

This rhetoric is put to live action with incredible performances. As if a clip of Sun Ra and his million-person Arkestra, all dressed up in glittering, sequined bravado, weren't enough to make the whole film, there are clips of Cooper-Moore, his hands twitching crazily into his piano, Matthew Shipp, Reggie Workman, and many more. The sight of Peter Brötzmann's mad saxophone playing is some hot shit, and enough to convert anybody to free jazz for life.

Ultimately, what the film wants us to understand about free jazz is that it's about shortening the distance from the heart to the audience. By shedding the trappings of day-to-day life and playing whatever comes to mind, the ultimate goal is to send the audience into the same trance the performer reaches. There's a lot of philosophical talk about deconstruction in Inside Out in the Open; Joseph Jarman, co-founder of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, says free jazz seeks to "eliminate reason." By doing so, these musicians make a passionate, life-affirming racket.