Judge Gordon Sullivan is glad Miles Davis never went metric.
The timeless story of two of the most prolific jazz musicians' magnetic collaboration one night in New York City.
As someone who came to jazz later in life, I was always struck by how everyone in the post-World War II scene knew each other. Growing up a fan of sixties rock 'n' roll, it was a miracle if two greats go together; you didn't hear about Jimmy Page sitting in with the Rolling Stones, or the Beatles jamming with Keith Richards. However, in the jazz world, almost all the greats played with each other, either on official records or on nightclub dates in one of the famous jazz clubs in New York or on the European concert circuit. It's especially remarkable because some of those mid-century jazz players have some of the biggest egos in music history. These were cats who could play, who brooked no argument, and wanted things done their way—and yet a titan like John Coltrane played for a notoriously demanding Miles Davis on more than one occasion. One of those occasions was the titanic Kind of Blue, considered by many the greatest jazz album of all time. Trane & Miles looks at the relationship surrounding the recording of that seminal album. Though it makes clear that this unlikely partnership deserves further dramatic development, the film itself is too mired in nostalgia to be truly effective.
Adapted from a one-act play, the 19-minute Trane & Miles begins with a reminiscence by Miles Davis (Travis Hinson, Potluck), who narrates the experience of working with John Coltrane (Ricco Ross, Aliens) on Kind of Blue. These reminiscences are intercut with dramatizations of conversations between the two and the rest of the group on the record.
I really wanted to like Trane & Miles. As a fan of both musicians, and someone who has read a couple of books on the making of Kind of Blue, I was hopeful about a dramatization of one of the great relationships in twentieth-century music. Sadly, Trane & Miles doesn't live up to that hope. The problems start with the writing. The dialogue in this film is terrible. We get hackneyed exchanges, like Davis saying to Coltrane, "The sixties are gonna change everything, like that rock 'n' roll." The pair then trade names of rock 'n' roll icons from the late 1950s. Then there's the dialogue between the musicians, which includes lots of usage of "cool" and "hot" in a self-conscious, unnatural sounding way. We have extant audio from the Kind of Blue sessions, as well as some other Davis dates, so it's not hard to find a model for his dialogue. Instead, we get guys saying things like, "This tune is hot man, so me and Trane going hot." Maybe different actors could have made this kind of dialogue work, but everyone maintains a kind of stagey urgency, like they're telegraphing for a live audience rather than acting for the camera. Finally, the whole film has a gauzy look to it, like it was shot in a 1940s Hollywood style through muslin. That gives the lights a bright glow that surrounds the actors. In context, it looks cheesy. These were some of the coolest cats in the world in 1953; they don't need to look like Hollywood starlets.
The one mistake Trane & Miles doesn't make, though, is in using the music. We get pretty generous cuts from several tunes on Kind of Blue, though (I assume for licensing reasons), they're re-recorded by a new group of musicians.
The DVD is pretty solid. The 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer does a fine job with the source. There's a soft, glowing look to the film that's recreated perfectly here. That means detail and colors aren't great as far as technical accuracy goes, but they're as the filmmaker intended. Black levels are deep and consistent, with no noise. The LPCM 2.0 audio keeps dialogue perfectly audible and balanced with the film's score. Extras include a 10-minute making-of feature, five minutes of interview with the musicians who recorded the score, and a minute-and-a-half montage of photos from the production. Considering the brevity of the film, a commentary would have been nice, as would have more historical information about the famous pair.
Miles Davis and John Coltrane are two of the biggest names in jazz, and their relationship remains one of the most remarkable pairings in the history of American music. The fact that both released landmark albums (both together and separately) for the decade surrounding Kind of Blue and struggled with heroin addictions means there are a lot of stories to tell about both of them (again, separately and together). While I admire the impetus behind Trane & Miles, its execution only highlights how badly we need a strong feature-length telling of the story of these two giants.
Trane & Miles are not guilty, but this flick sadly is.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Visionary Cinema
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