This short film ostensibly documents a collaboration between two very different arists trying to find common ground on stage and in improvisation. While the mash-ups and live aural experimentation of DJ Spooky often seem to be in competition with the more intense, deep explorations of the Matthew Ship Trio, Freedom Now is a sweet sampling of a dizzying array of sonic avenues, only some of which are explored fully.
It’s possible that the deck is stacked a bit. For the last 20 years or so, Matthew Shipp has carried the banner of free jazz with a bravery and awareness of his predecessors that has only been matched by the likes of the more mercurial Charles Gayle, David S. Ware, and Arthur Doyle, horn players all. Shipp’s piano and the various instruments around which he has chosen to surround himself express, as he says in the interview segments at the end of the film, the idea of free jazz as a lifestyle, a worldview. (It should be noted here that Shipp’s trio features drummer Guillermo E. Brown and the holy, legendary William Parker on bass.) In contrast to all that, the more immediate glee and chance involved in Spooky’s work seems tame. But his contribution is also certainly less heavy, if Shipp’s sonic wanderings strike you as too cerebral. The point is this: Where else but New York City could such a pairing even be possible, at least on the level of accomplishment?
Spare, unobtrusive direction by Jacques Goldstein — four handheld cameras placed right amid the action on stage, as well as an informal, parlor-style interview ambience for the interview pieces — give this film a feeling of inclusiveness. The aim seems to be to show that the music, even a blend of different, “difficult” genres, is available to anyone willing to participate. Freedom Now is apparently intended as a series of such partnerships, which I hope will help turn people on to music they may not be exposed to, by hearing it juxtaposed with the music they are immersed in. It’s democracy at its best.