Review: ‘The Family Jams’

A curiously effective musical docu that captures the raw dynamics of collective creativity.

A curiously effective musical docu that captures the raw dynamics of collective creativity, “The Family Jams” was shot during the 2004 tour of an eclectic traveling troupe composed of “freak folk” artist Devendra Banhart, polyrhythmic harpist/singer Joanna Newsom and Andy Cabic’s group Vetiver. It was to be the last time these acoustic avant-gardists — motoring by minivan to small-scale venues including clubs, coffeehouses and fellow musicians’ backards — could enjoy such loose, pressure-free intimacy prior to gaining greater recognition. Bowing April 8 at Brooklyn’s ReRun Gastropub, “Jams” affords the opportunity to hang with gifted, genre-defying fringe artists at a pivotal point in their evolving careers.

In marked contrast to the homemovie coverage in the overwrought Patty Schemel docu “Hit So Hard,” Kevin Barker’s untreated mini-cam footage, cheaply shot in available light (sometimes to the point of indecipherability), includes the viewer in an organic process that distinguishes little among rehearsals, musical doodlings and actual performances as integral parts of ongoing artistic experimentation. Banjo-strumming Barker takes time off to chronicle his Chinese grandmother’s 100th birthday celebration and uses these culturally connected images to bookend the chronicle of the troupe, his alternate family.

The Family Jams

Production

A Factory 25 release of an East Gable production. Produced, directed, edited by Kevin Barker.

Crew

Camera (color, DV), Barker; music, Devendra Banhart, Andy Cabic, Joanna Newsom. Reviewed at ReRun Gastropub Theater, New York, March 30, 2011. Running time: 81 MIN.

With

Devendra Banhart, Joanna Newsom, Andy Cabic, Kevin Barker, Alissa Anderson, Meg Baird, Zach Cowie, Antony Hegarty, Jim Gaylord, Espers, Linda Perhacs.

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