Derek Bailey (1930-2005)
Playing For Friends on 5th Street (2004)
IDirector: Robert O'Haire
Year: 2004
Time: 50 mins
Music: Derek Bailey

The camera's movements are casual, and the post-production efforts meagre. But that is just part of the narrative strategy to convey the sense of intimacy implicit in the title: a small friendly circle of amicable ears and eyes, casually enjoying the music of someone who just happens to be the most celebrated guitar player in the history of adventurous music, but who behaves as if he were just playing a few chords while waiting for his dinner to cook. In between, a few funny stories about the man's past as a guitar teacher in London, some interactions with the "public", and even Django-like interludes and a Penthouse Serenade quote to boot. Both the performance and film-production were designed as an intimate portrait: of Bailey and his music, of course, but also of the DMG (Downtown Music Gallery) store in Downtown NY, where several such performances by avant and not-so-avant musicians have been hosted before. The camera effects used to spice up the film are absolutely superfluous and risible, but the sound capture is close to optimal: Bailey's surgical attacks on the strings sound as clear as in any other good recording you may have, and probably as close to the listening experience you'd have there as possible. Bailey's performance is unsurprisingly entrancing: twisting notions of tonal and atonal, at times hectic but also placid and meditative, his acoustic guitar playing covers the sometimes irreconcilable values of emotionality and artistic adventurousness. Of course, one may legitimately ask how free these improvisations actually are, given the unmistakeable "baileyness" of the performance; but I'd say that in view of this 2001 performance's impressive technique, passion and inventiveness, such issues sound like mere theoretical trifles.