Speaking of Sun Ra, his fellow pioneers of avant-garde jazz, the New York Art Quartet, are the subject of a new documentary playing at Anthology Film Archives next month. And Amiri Baraka, who collaborated with them both, will be honored with a four-day screening series.
The New York City premiere of The Breath Courses Through Us will bring some of the Art Quartet’s former members — including Milford Graves (drummer for Albert Ayler, etc.), Roswell Rudd (trombonist for Archie Shepp, etc.) and Reggie Workman (bassist for Coltrane, etc.) — to Anthology on the occasion of the influential outfit’s 50th anniversary.
The quartet famously collaborated with Baraka during its brief year of existence. In 1964, he read his controversial poem “Black Dada Nihilismus” on their self-titled ESP-Disk album; some 35 years later, he participated in the reunion concert that’s the subject of this film.
Sonic Youth opened for the quartet during that show, causing Francis Davis, in his extensive Times preview, to describe its music as “60’s free jazz for the Sonic Youth crowd.” The show, Davis wrote, demonstrated “the long-term influence of 60’s free jazz on extreme forms of rock-and-roll, beginning with punk and no-wave in the late 70’s, if not a decade earlier with the Stooges and the MC5 — a curious phenomenon, given free improvisation’s supposedly negligible impact on mainstream jazz.”
The doc will be shown May 18 alongside Michael Snow’s New York Eye and Ear Control (which features a soundtrack with music by Rudd and his Art Quartet bandmate John Tchicai, among other free jazz legends) and it’ll follow a four-day series paying tribute to Baraka.
That series will feature screenings of Dutchman (the film adaptation of Baraka’s 1964 play), The New-Ark (his 1964 documentary shot in Newark), Amiri Baraka: In Motion (which documents the days leading up to his 1983 trial), and The Black Theater: The Making of a Movement (with filmmaker Woodie King, Jr. in attendance), plus footage of interviews with Baraka (including a lively head-to-head with Norman Mailer). For the complete rundown of dates and times, head to Anthology.
The poet died in January and was mourned by many in the East Village jazz scene.