Sound Unseen: films on jazz, metal, folk — you name it

The Arab Film Festival ended Sunday, the Cine Latino last Wednesday, the Jewish Film Festival the Sunday before, but don’t hang up your coat just yet. From tomorrow (Wednesday, Nov. 12) through Sunday, Sound Unseen will screen more than 20 documentaries and narrative films about music and musicians.

Founded in 1999, now in its 15th year, Sound Unseen is a niche festival, which puts it under most people’s radars. Its films have shown in various places. We saw our first Sound Unseen film, a documentary about Albert Ayler, in 2006 at the Riverview and “Let’s Get Lost,” Bruce Weber’s searing film about Chet Baker, in 2007 at the now-demolished Oak Street Cinema. This year’s films can be found at McNally Smith, the Trylon Microcinema, and the Amsterdam.

We can usually count on Sound Unseen to feature at least one film about jazz, sometimes two. (Festival director and lead programmer Jim Brunzell admits to being a sucker for jazz documentaries, for which we’re grateful.) This year’s offerings are the Minnesota premiere of “The Case of the Three Sided Dream” and the Midwest premiere of “Lady Be Good: Instrumental Women in Jazz.” (There’s also a 13-minute short, “An Evening at Angelo’s,” about a club in Milwaukee.)

“The Case of the Three Sided Dream” is the first and likely the last film about Rahsaan Roland Kirk, who played up to six instruments at a time: not as a gimmick or a novelty act, but because he had that much to say, and because the technique came to him in a dream. Kirk followed what he called “the religion of the dream.” Blind since infancy, he was 3 years old when he tried to play a garden hose. Talked out of the trumpet, he turned to saxophones, flutes, clarinets, recorders and whistles, dangling them all from his neck, moving from one to another, using circular breathing to create a continuous tone. (In circular breathing, a musician breathes in through the nose while pushing air stored in the cheeks out through the mouth. The cheeks expand and contract like balloons.) He often sang or hummed while he played, adding another instrument to the mix. He called jazz “black classical music.”

Kirk made political rants and comical monologues part of his performances. Booked to play the Ed Sullivan Show in 1971, he was expected to deliver a jazzy but harmless version of Stevie Wonder’s “Ma Cherie Amour.” Instead, he showed up with bassist Charles Mingus, drummer Roy Haynes, and avant-garde saxophonist Archie Shepp, and before Ed knew what was happening, America was hearing Mingus’ fiery, explosive “Haitian Fight Song.”

That performance is part of this fascinating and illuminating film by New York documentarian Adam Kahan, who first heard of Kirk when he bought one of his records at a garage sale. Kahan tells the story of Kirk’s life through music, interviews with people who knew him well (including his trombonist and sideman Steve Turre), home movie footage and audio recordings. Kirk died in 1977 at age 42, leaving a musical legacy that deserves a close listen. There simply hasnt ever been anyone like him, before or since. “The Case of the Three Sided Dream” screens Friday at the Trylon at 9 p.m. FMI, trailer and tickets ($10 advance, $12 at the door).

Sound Unseen opens Wednesday at McNally Smith with “Heaven Adores You,” Nickolas Rossi’s film about the life and music of American singer/songwriter Elliott Smith, another musician who died too young. Rossi and producer Marc Smolowitz will be in attendance, and the screening will be followed by a reception with live music. On Friday at the Amsterdam, a showing of “Flood Tide,” starring the Minneapolis-based folk band Dark Dark Dark, will include short films scored live by band members Todd Chandler and Marshall LaCount.

Other films explore indie rock, metal, folk, punk, ska, power ballads, ’80s and ’90s guitar bands (“Beautiful Noise”), the Bakersfield Sound, Grateful Dead guitarist Bob Weir, a recording studio in Brooklyn, Theremin master Armen Ra, and the story of Scottish rock musician and lyricist Edwyn Collins, who suffered a stroke and emerged from a coma saying only two phrases: “Grace Maxwell” (the name of his wife) and “The Possibilities Are Endless.” There’s something for almost every music fan, unless you’re into classical music. That is neglected except for one short, “The Curse and the Symphony,” about a punk musician who writes a symphony. It airs Saturday afternoon. View the complete schedule, watch trailers and order tickets here.

The picks

Tonight (Tuesday, Nov. 11) at the Jungle: “On Golden Pond.” Bain Boehlke and Wendy Lehr have been friends, coworkers and collaborators for 50 years, sharing the stage in plays as diverse as “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” “Romeo and Juliet,” “My Fair Lady,” “Cinderella” and “The Gin Game.” They’re back for Ernest Thompson’s play about a couple in their twilight years. 7:30 p.m. FMI and tickets ($25-$43). Through Dec. 21.

Wednesday at a movie house near you: “Billy Elliot the Musical Live.” Based on the hit film, with a score by Elton John, this musical has won more than 80 awards, including 10 Tonys. In a performance filmed live at the Victoria Palace Theatre in London’s West End, 27 current and former Billy Elliots come together on stage in a grand finale. 7 p.m. FMI and tickets. Also Saturday, Nov. 15 (12:55 p.m.) and Tuesday, Nov. 18 (7 p.m.)

Wednesday at the Loft: Nuruddin Farah book launch with Dur-Dur Band. Award-winning Somali novelist Farah reads from his 12th novel, “Hiding in Plain Sight.” Dur-Dur, once one of Somalia’s most famous bands, is spending a November residency here as part of Midnimo: Music for Unity, Campus, and Community, a program of The Cedar and Augsburg College. 7:30 p.m. Free.

Thursday at Westminster Town Hall Forum: Sr. Simone Campbell: “Nuns on the Bus: The Call to Compassion.” The executive director of the Washington-based public policy research organization NETWORK, Sr. Campbell is an advocate for immigration reform, health-care and economic justice, peace-building and the poor. We can’t all be nuns on the bus, but we can all be more compassionate. At Westminster Presbyterian Church, 1200 Marquette Ave., Minneapolis. 12 p.m. Free.

Thursday at Arlington Hills Community Center: Club Book presents Nikki Giovanni. A popular poet, children’s book author, activist, educator, winner of the NAACP Image Award (five times), the Langston Hughes Medal for Outstanding Poetry, and the Rosa Parks Woman of Courage Award, Giovanni is one of the best-known African-American writers in the world. Her voice is strong, her message uncompromising, her language clear and compelling – accessible to adults and kids. 1200 Payne Ave., St. Paul. 7 p.m. Free.

The Weekend

Saturday at Red Balloon Bookshop: 30th Birthday Bash. It’s hard to believe that St. Paul’s famous independent children’s bookstore has been around for three decades. Generations have walked through its door. Head over (with a child or two) for a day-long party including live music by the Roe Family Singers, birthday cake, face painting, an in-store scavenger hunt, art & engineering activities with students from the University of St. Thomas, giveaways and more. Starts at 10:30 a.m. Free.

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