Chapter Thirty Seven of An Ecstatic Loneliness: Putting My Faith Back In Jazz and American Movie Stars: Esperanza Spalding
By Michael Moriarty
This is the second time I have postponed sharing my thoughts on the Boston Marathon Bombing and its horrifically sick, Jihadist killers.
However! Esperanza Spalding!
What a blisteringly alive tennis ball of ecstatic brilliance!
She suddenly erupted into the perfect antidote to the disease of the Tsarnaev brothers!!
After asking forgiveness for my all-too-obvious pun on Esperanza's last name, I must say, "No, this recluse up in Canada had never heard of Ms. Spalding till today, April 23, 2013."
I have not been an avid fan of Jazz since I left New York in the mid 1990's. Then miraculously I hear Esperanza Spalding quite by accident. What a breath of divinely blissful fresh air!
An utter and complete necessity to hear and repeatedly listen to Esperanza Spalding, if only for a glimpse of what could be, once we all drop our previously self-conscious efforts at being "cool".
Only Miles Davis really pulled off "cool" and he left the impression that what he's holding in might have actually been an atomic bomb.
None of us, white or black, are Miles Davis.
Esperanza Spalding has brought a rejuvenating revolution to jazz that had, not all that long ago, been dying under the fallout from "let's catch up to Miles Davis' cool", his furiously simmering revolution to the meaning of all black music.
The most distinctive and original artist in jazz since Miles Davis
What makes her not only different from Miles Davis but distinctively unique? Her ecstasy. How has she done that? Her obvious joy over the mere fact that she is alive!!
For example, her version of Body and Soul in a 5/4 that only completes the lyrics' thoughts and the ground bass figure in two sets of 5/4.
The opening, therefore, is stated in what really amounts to 10/4… and then?
For the improvisations: two 3's and one 4/4… or the by now, very familiar 5/4: one three, one two, one three, one two… etcetera.
Scatting in what feels more like a cut-time 10/4, doubled by her own bass?!
A profoundly novel and truly more swinging idea than Dave Brubeck's Take Five!
Nothing can inspire more mischief and ever-surprising fun than such an exercise between a singer and his or her own piano or bass.
Jazz is nothing if it isn't talking with notes, telling a once-in-a-lifetime story with nothing but sound. She and her musicians erupt in their shamelessly joyous tribute to the Pains of Love!!
And then there is the stunning, once in a lifetime inspiration, Jimmy Rowles' The Peacocks. The Peacocks is the kind of single, lifetime achievement that deserved a Lifetime Grammy Award for the late composer.
Esperanza, with her own, unrelentingly affirmative hold on Life itself, offers an entirely different look at a masterpiece explored so solemnly but exquisitely by both Herbie Hancock in the film Round Midnight and Bill Evans here.
Recognized, by myself at any rate, as the most haunting corner of Herbie Hancock's score for Bertrand Tavernier's film, Round Midnight, The Peacocks and a rendition of Jimmy Rowles' The Peacocks featuring the star of Round Midnight, Dexter Gordon, devoid of a lyric worthy enough for its richness, Esperanza Spalding, as a singer, treats this now legendary Jazz classic with the dramatic genius and directorial understanding which one ordinarily finds devoted to a verse play by Sir Tyrone Guthrie.
With perfectly chosen pauses or fermatas in the first A of the musical structure, she takes the seemingly atonal B or bridge out of tempo as if it were what it actually is, a sidebar to the main drama. Her vocal harmonies behind the piano's first restatement of Part A, then her and her pianist's out-of-tempo statement of the bridge and their fermatas?! Breathtakingly appropriate for everything contained in Jimmy Rowles' apparently sudden inspiration in one of his highway journeys home. He wrote most of it down while sitting in his car at the side of the road.
You don't go home to sleep without having written down such a complex idea, particularly its bridge.
Moving right along!!
I never thought I'd have a hero or heroine out of Hollywood but, having seen The Brave One, starring Jodie Foster and her generously supportive costar Terrance Howard, I'm about to award the Brave American Artist award to Jodie Foster.
A soul as clear and clean as her piercingly blue eyes!
During this irresistibly harrowing drama we succeed in or perhaps are driven to meeting the same stranger within ourselves that Jodie Foster's character is introduced to.
That the film didn't receive the Academy Award nominations it deserved is no surprise from Hollywood. Jodie Foster suddenly became the female version of the now-conservative Clint Eastwood. Either that or a Godless Bel Air and Beverly Hills are praying on their fashionably Persian carpets that the surviving bomber of the Boston Marathon escapes the death penalty.
"He's just a poor, misunderstood boy of 19."
A "Jokar", symbolically out of Bonnie and Clyde Hollywood and "You lookin' at me?!" Taxi Driver New York, who ran over the body of his own brother, not even knowing whether that sibling of trained and premeditated terrorism was dead or not.
Interestingly enough, one might wonder what Jodie Foster's character in The Brave One might have done to Robert De Niro's Travis Bickel: shoot him or hand him a Citizen of the Year Award.
Politicians and police, as is fashionable in Hollywood, don't get and I assume won't give much applause for the portrayal of them in The Brave One. Terrance Howard's courageously and gracefully under-stated police detective and that officer's career-risking courage reassures all of us that it is not the profession that deserves awards but the single and uniquely individual acts of bravery by single men and women in America that not only redeem our battered reputation as a nation and nationality but remind us of what made the United States a great nation in the first place: individually great men and women.
These two stars, during the last third of the film, renew my personal faith in the story-telling power of exceptionally honest film acting.
The over-used, academic term of "dramatic irony" is never more evident than in the breathtaking subtext that seems to shout at us but can erupt only from the eyes of these two "brave ones", since what they say has little to do with what both know to be increasingly true about each other yet cannot be mentioned.
She knows that he knows that she knows he can't know and still keep his job and they both know… well… the best set of close-ups in a film I have had the privilege of seeing in a painfully long time.
That I didn't know a thing about this 2007 release till now?!
I live in Canada!
That The Brave One was shown on television during one of the most horrifically criminal weeks in the history of America?!
I trust the Bravo network knew of the unavoidably profound resonance of The Brave One shown only days after the Boston Marathon Massacre.
Too bad we didn't have The Brave Ones arresting the brother in the boat, the one with the biggest sense of humor, The Joker, or as he prefers his self-image: Jahar.
As his Twitter symbol says:
That's what he declares about himself here.
I regret even bringing up his name in this article about two great American women, let alone selling "Jokar's psychotic idea of comedy.
It's spelled "Dzhokhar", with a "k"!
Symptomatic of the Third Millennium's concept of reality.
Oh, well, I'm driven to mention the unmentionable because I'll be discussing this, by now, relatively newest nightmare in the Free but terrorized World next week in my article, Film Noir's Black and White Mirror Images.
Michael Moriarty is a Golden Globe and Emmy Award-winning actor who starred in the landmark television series Law and Order from 1990 to 1994. His recent film and TV credits include The Yellow Wallpaper, 12 Hours to Live, Santa Baby and Deadly Skies. Contact Michael at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be found on Twitter at https://twitter.com/@MGMoriarty.