(Un) Easy Listening; Slight Return

I watched the new Netflix movie Stowaway last night. Five out of ten, I thought. But there was one point at which I had to do a sort of double take.

As a link to the last blog on Vijay Iyer, one of the four main characters in the film is David, an Asian-American scientist. One of the others, the ‘stowaway’ of the title, is Michael, an African-American. As they are working away together in the laboratory of the spaceship (travelling to Mars), the background music playing in real time in the story, is clearly Free Jazz, chosen by David, who loves the music whilst recognising its intractable initial aura. He recommends that Michael give it a go, citing Pharoah Sanders, John Coltrane and Bird “and all the other 60s guys”. Now, the pedantic nit-picker in me thought, “but Bird died in 1955!”, but, more pressingly, I thought how ironic it was to have an Asian-American lecturing an African-American about jazz and one of its offshoots, when it was the latter’s forebears who had invented the music in the first place. Michael seems discombobulated by the improvised squeals, and this reminded me that, apparently, Free Jazz was never that popular with America’a black population, who were more enamoured with Motown, soul and funk (hence Miles’s interest in the latter by the late 60s)

So this clip, which only lasts a minute or so in the film, is (perhaps unintentionally) a bit of a window into why so many Free Jazz musicians had to move to Europe to receive a degree of acceptance and even some popularity? I found this ironic moment the most interesting part of the movie, which, for this viewer, suffered from poor pacing and nebulous characterisation.

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The banner picture is by the late Mal Dean (1941-1974), which featured on the cover of the 1972 Incus Records vinyl release, Live Performances at Verity's Place, by two free improvisation pioneers, the English guitarist Derek Bailey and Dutch percussionist Han Bennink.