The Breath Courses Through Us (2013) is a new documentary film about the early 1960s avant-garde jazz group, the New York Art Quartet.Directed by Alan Roth, the film focuses on the group’s 35-year reunion, while reaching back through their recollections of their foundations and innovative musical ideas. The year 2014 is the 50th anniversary of this group, and a revolutionary period in jazz music, which declared its existence in the October Revolution in Jazz, in October 1964.
The New York City premiere will take place on Sunday, May 18, 7:30 P.M. at Anthology Film Archives, 32 Second Ave. Preceding the premiere will be Michael Snow’s rarely screened 1964 film New York Eye and Ear Control, with the music and images of Albert Ayler, Roswell Rudd, John Tchicai, Don Cherry, Sunny Murray, Gary Peacock. This NYC premiere takes place almost 50 years to the month when the group was officially formed after Tchicai and Rudd met Milford Graves in Michael Snow’s loft.
The U.S. premiere took place on January 31, 2014 at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. with filmmaker Alan Roth and bassist Reggie Workman in attendance (see photo). The world premiere took place at the FIDMarseille-Festival International de Cinéma (http://www.fidmarseille.org
) in Marseille, France, in July 2013.
The Breath Courses Through Us mirrors the newly open improvisationary style “free jazz” that subverted the traditional structure of jazz. Unfolding in free time and enveloped in their music, the film helps the viewer better understand the human element of the creative process, by focusing on their interactions in the present.
The New York Art Quartet was a pioneering jazz group in the early 1960s. Consisting of John Tchicai (saxophone), Roswell Rudd (trombone) and Milford Graves (percussion), the group formed in 1964 and lasted only until the end of 1965. This core of three worked with many bass players, including Reggie Workman. Poet Amiri Baraka often read his poetry at their gigs, and read his famous poem, Black Dada Nihilismus, on the group’s first album. Both Workman and Baraka joined the New York Art Quartet for the group’s reunion and are featured in this film as well.
The Breath Courses Through Us brings the viewer directly into the artists’ lives, their exchanges, and discussions with each other during the reunion dinner and on tour. The members of the New York Art Quartet—along with other musicians and a jazz historian—recount their individual history, early group development, and their new musical ideas. Saxophonist Steve Lacy, guitarist Pierre Dørge from Denmark, and jazz historian Ben Young are also featured in the film.
Director Alan Roth explains, “the story of the New York Art Quartet is not only found in the historical details, but in the interplay between artists, the joy they feel in being with each other and performing, and the transcendent nature of their live performances.”
Jazz journalist Francis Davis wrote in the New York Times “Collective improvisation was a cherished ideal in early free jazz, but …this was often just talk. For the New York Art Quartet, collective improvisation was a raison d’etre, the band’s musical starting point.”
The Breath Courses Through Us is the second of Roth’s examination of free jazz. His first film, Inside Out In The Open (2001), is one of the few documentary films on free jazz. It features interviews with 11 free jazz musicians along with live performances and continues to be screened worldwide.
[A deeper examination of the New York Art Quartet is complemented by a 2013 project (not affiliated with this documentary film) by Triplepoint Records(www.triplepointrecords.com. The New York Art Quartet: call it art, contains the uncirculated recordings of the New York Art Quartet (1964-65) in a collectors set of 5-LPs and a detailed book]
Alan Roth is based in Brooklyn, New York. His filmmaking career began in mid-life, after a career in the U.S. Postal Service in Cleveland, Ohio. Besides these two feature documentary films, he is the video director for Women’s Power Against HIV/AIDS: Love, Sex, & Choices, an innovative on-line project that uses soap opera stories to educate urban Black women about HIV prevention.
Roth also creates shorter video works, with an emphasis on culture and geographic place.