BILL MORRISON — COMPOSITIONS: BILL FRISELL, RON MILES, TONY SCHERR, AND KENNY WOLLESEN PERFORM LIVE WITH “THE GREAT FLOOD”
BILL FRISELL, RON MILES, TONY SCHERR, AND KENNY WOLLESEN PERFORM LIVE WITH THE GREAT FLOOD (Bill Morrison, 2011)
MoMA Film, Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53rd St. between Fifth & Sixth Aves.
Friday, November 21, 8:00
Tickets: $12, in person only, may be applied to museum admission within thirty days, same-day screenings free with museum admission, available at Film and Media Desk beginning at 9:30 am
Sound and image meld together beautifully in Bill Morrison’s meditative, elegiac The Great Flood. Inspired by John M. Barry’s 1997 book Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America, Morrison teamed up with improvisational musician Bill Frisell on the project. The two had previously worked together on a pair of short works, The Mesmerist and The Film of Her, after meeting at the Village Vanguard when Morrison was a dishwasher at the jazz club where Frisell was playing. Morrison (Decasia, The Miners’ Hymns), who specializes in using deteriorated and degraded archival footage and experimental scores, scoured the National Archives, the Library of Congress, the Hoover Presidential Library, and other sources to come up with remarkable scenes of the flooding of the Mississippi in 1927. Divided into such chapters as “Sharecroppers,” “Swollen Tributaries,” “Evacuation,” “Aftermath,” and “Watershed,” with snippets of informational text but without narration, the film follows the southern blacks who were most affected by the massive flood, being forced to shore up the levees around white areas, losing their own homes, and ultimately heading north as part of the Great Migration, bringing the Delta blues with them.
Guitarist Frisell, joined by Ron Miles on cornet, Tony Scherr on guitar and bass, and Kenny Wollesen on drums and vibes, has composed a gorgeous, moving score, heavily influenced by a trip his band and Morrison took in early 2011 up the Mississippi, with the group playing in multiple cities while the river threatened to flood again. Each chapter, from an overhead view of a computerized map that details the 1927 flood to a fast and furious foray through the Sears Roebuck catalog, from a Baptist church procession to a series of rare clips of such bluesmen as Big Bill Broonzy, Son House, Sonny Boy Williamson, and Robert Lockwood, features a different piece of music, highlighted by Frisell’s always inventive guitar and Miles’s deeply expressive horn. Of course, as the images pass by, it’s impossible not to think of Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy and be awed by the devastating power of nature, as well as realize how little has changed with regard to the reaction of politicians and who the victims tend to be. But the film is rarely mournful; instead, there’s often a celebratory quality about it, centered on people’s natural instinct to survive. The Great Flood is screening November 21 at 8:00, concluding MoMA’s “Bill Morrison: Compositions,” with Frisell, Miles, Scherr, and Wollesen performing the score live as a special treat. In addition, MoMA’s rotating “Bill Morrison: Re-Compositions” exhibition currently features “Decomposing Loops,” consisting of excerpts from Light Is Calling, Just Ancient Loops, and Decasia, through December 8.