This article appeared in the June 3 edition of The Film Comment Letter, our free weekly newsletter featuring original film criticism and writing. Sign up for the Letter here.
This Is Not My Music (Urban Lasson, 1978)
Urban Lasson’s 1978 made-for-television documentary observes and emulates the life and work of jazz musician Don Cherry, whose entire career was predicated on finding stillness in constant motion. The opening sequence alone is representative of the apparent contradictions at the heart of Cherry’s music. The camera finds the Los Angeles native—who made his name playing trumpet in Ornette Coleman’s iconic quartet—sitting in an idyllic near his home in the rural Swedish village of Tågarp, piping birdsong on an ocarina. After a brief title sequence, Lasson cuts to a view from the JMZ subway train as it crosses the Williamsburg Bridge in New York City, which the itinerant Cherry and his family also called home. Though the birdsong continues across (as if having made the transatlantic flight), the crosscutting between the radiant greens and blues of the Swedish forest to the brutalist greys and smoggy browns of the city is a shock.
Lasson’s film doesn’t attempt to make sense of the family’s swings between the rural and the urban, from relative silence to constant noise any more than he attempts to make sense of Cherry’s borderless music. Instead of explanations, the film seeks out discrete moments—a family picnic in the woods; children dancing on the streets in Harlem; snippets of an coruscating performance with guitarist James Blood Ulmer and drummer Rashied Ali—that collect into a portrait of an artist and his family, at home in the world.
Though Cherry’s partner and collaborator Moki occupies the background of It Is Not My Music, her painting, clothing design, and shimmering pop-hippie textile work is currently receiving its due as the focus of a beautiful exhibition at Blank Forms gallery in Brooklyn. Organic Music Societies: Don and Moki Cherry is on view through June 26 and features daily screenings of Piff, Paff, Puff, the anarchic children’s music show the couple produced for Swedish TV.
It Is Not My Music is available on Youtube.