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St. Louis Film Festival - Icons Among Us

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 17, 2009 - Icons Among Us, Directed by Lars Lason, Michael Rivoira and Peter J. Vogt, 93 minutes | U.S.

There is some terrific and challenging music to be heard in the documentary "Icons Among Us: Jazz in the Present Tense," but in the first half, at least, the music is too often drowned out by talk.

Most of the talk is in response to a legitimate question - was it a good thing or a bad thing for Wynton Marsalis and some of his tradition-minded young colleagues in the 1980s to lean so heavily on the Hard Bop sounds of the 1950s? The problem is that filmmakers Lars Larson, Michael Rivoira and Peter J. Vogt interview about 75 musicians, and sometimes it seems like every one of them (including Marsalis) weighs in on the subject, with much repetition.

The second half of "Icons Among Us" contains much more music, and delves into such interesting byways as jazz in Europe and jazz influenced by hip-hop, which is not as bad - nor as new -- as you might think. Here, on the whole, the filmmakers let the musicians speak through their instruments, although the talky debate on the definition of "jazz" at one point threatens to put a damper on the fun. But some of the music is extraordinary.

Several of the featured musicians, including trumpeter Russell Gunn, saxophonist Greg Osby and drummer Montez Coleman, are from the St. Louis area.

-- Reviewed by Harper BarnesHarper Barnes,  the author of Never Been A Time: The 1917 Race Riot That Sparked The Civil Rights Movement, has also been a long-time reviewer of movies.