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Work Series: Musician, The (DVD Review)

18 May, 2008 By: Pete Croatto


Street 5/27/08
$24.95 DVD
Not rated.

In the latest entry in his “Work Series,” director Daniel Kraus profiles the daily life of avant-garde jazz musician Ken Vandermark and comes away with a fascinating piece of documentary filmmaking.

There seems to be a misconception that creative types lead a charmed life and can coast on attitude and massive talent. Vandermark, a recipient of a 1999 MacArthur fellowship, still has to hustle. The Chicago resident tours various clubs and small venues eight months out of the year with different bands and on his own, leaving behind his wife and two frantic dogs.

Spare days are spent composing, scheduling tasks on his jam-packed wall calendar, and recording. No one records 100 albums with nearly 40 ensembles by being a couch potato.

Kraus' biggest attribute as a filmmaker is his refusal to offer opinions. He doesn't ask viewers to enjoy Vandermark's musical efforts, something many viewers may find impossible. Thankfully, the affable, goateed Vandermark doesn't spout poetic jibber-jabber like the jazz equivalent of Robbie Robertson in The Last Waltz.

In showing Vandermark doing basic stuff like silently composing in his basement or paying a band member an extra dollar for driving, Kraus highlights the effort behind what many presume is an intuitive process. Rarely has the mundane been so enlightening.

What makes Musician so compelling is how closely Vandermark's on-the-go lifestyle may resemble our own. Musician is a sound recommendation for viewers interested in documentaries that examine the real story behind a storied lifestyle such as Comedian, the upcoming Big Rig, or the first film in the “Work Series,” Sheriff.

DVD extras include deleted scenes, which feature a brief, but revealing interview with Vandermark, and a written essay by German jazz musician Peter Brötzmann.

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