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Musician

The second in documaker Daniel Kraus' ambitious "Work America" series, "Musician" is a precise and insightful cinema verite study of Ken Vandermark, a Chicago-based musician who doggedly makes a living by performing atonal improvisational jazz. Pic offers an unglamorized portrait of the artist as a purposeful drudge, focusing on Vandermark as he divides his time between menial but necessary tasks -- conducting rehearsals, negotiating fees, deciding the color scheme of promotional flyers -- and savoring magical moments of live performance before receptive audiences. Pic could score as a pubcast and homevid product.

The second in documaker Daniel Kraus’ ambitious “Work America” series, “Musician” is a precise and insightful cinema verite study of Ken Vandermark, a Chicago-based musician who doggedly makes a living by performing atonal improvisational jazz. Pic offers an unglamorized portrait of the artist as a purposeful drudge, focusing on Vandermark as he divides his time between menial but necessary tasks — conducting rehearsals, negotiating fees, deciding the color scheme of promotional flyers — and savoring magical moments of live performance before receptive audiences. Pic could score as a pubcast and homevid product.

Pic might have been even more effective had Kraus more clearly established Vandermark’s relatively substantial cachet — he has more than 100 recordings and a 1999 MacArthur “genius grant” to his credit — as a contrast to his working-stiff approach to spending better than eight months a year on the road. (While he trudges down a motel stairwell, his fleeting reference to “This Is Spinal Tap” sounds like the jest of a man who is laughing, but not smiling.) Even so, Vandermark comes off very ingratiating, and the pic as a whole is well-crafted and compelling.

Musician

Production: A Sheriffmovie release. Produced by Jason Davis, Daniel Kraus. Directed, edited by Daniel Kraus.

Crew: Camera (color, DV), sound, Kraus. Reviewed on DVD, Houston, Aug. 27, 2007. Running time: 60 MIN.

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