Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Concert Review--Tin Hat, Albuquerque, New Mexico, April 23, 2006

I always wanted to see something like this--a jazz band playing to silent film tracks. It's as good as I figured it would be. And this was no ordinary silent film either. Tin Hat, a fairly experimental group featuring Carla Kihlstedt (violin), Mark Orton (guitar, dobro), Ben Goldberg (clarinet, contra-alto clarinet), Ara Anderson (trumpet, pump organ, glockenspiel), and Zeena Parkins (accordion, drums, sound effects), played music written to accompany the Russian animator Ladislaw Starewicz. Starewicz was an entomologist who wanted to make the first documentary on insects. But the camera lights were too strong at the time and killed the insects. So he began experimenting with stop motion animation. He built very realistic models of insects, frogs, and other small creatures and placed them within very human stories.

Tin Hat played to 5 of Starewicz's films and also played a few of their own songs. The films ranged from a pair of married beetles who are both having affairs and get found out to frogs praying to Jupiter for a King and when they complain about the first king, he sends them a stork that eats them all to a ridiculous WWII propaganda piece about how the Germans had overrun the noble and brave Lily of Belgium. The films ranged in time from 1908 to about 1944 and were completely fascinating.

As was the music. It was interesting to have this experience. It was hard because I kept wanting to both watch the films and watch the musicians. I enjoy watching musicians' technique, especially at jazz shows. But ultimately, I let the music be a soundtrack and focused on the great films. Unfortunately, Starewicz's granddaughter controls the rights to his films and she rarely lets them be shown. In fact, when Orton introduced the WWII film, which includes her as a small child in the live action part, he encouraged people to hiss when they saw her, which several people did. Sounds like she's more than a bit unpleasant. Luckily, the show was far more pleasant than she was. If Tin Hat comes through your neighborhood, with or without the Starewicz films, treat yourself and go.