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The Great Flood With Music by Bill Frisell Coming to the Wex

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by Mark Subel on March 19, 2012

Wexner Center for the Arts will present The Great Flood, a collaboration between Grammy-winning jazz guitarist/composer Bill Frisell, and Obie-winning filmmaker Bill Morrison, on Saturday, March 31 at 8 pm at Ohio State’s Thurber Theatre in the Drake Center. Co-commissioned by the Wexner Center, this 75-minute program focuses on the great Mississippi River flood of 1927, a catastrophe that instigated a transformation of American society and music as displaced sharecroppers and musicians migrated to Northern industrial cities in the wake of the flood.

Frisell will perform his original elegiac score with his outstanding jazz quartet, featuring Ron Miles on trumpet, Tony Scherr on bass, and Kenny Wollesen on drums. For the film, Morrison has incorporated ghostly historic archival footage from the 1927 flood, as well as contemporary images shot during the recent major flood in the Mississippi delta during the spring of 2011. Together, they create an evocative and poetic portrait of the impact of this natural disaster on the land and the lives of its denizens.

Charles Helm, the Wexner Center’s director of performing arts, notes,

“We are delighted to extend our relationship with Bill Frisell by co-commissioning a third new work by this master of Americana, this time in collaboration with the noted filmmaker Bill Morrison who regularly works with key composers. With The Great Flood, Morrison and Frisell capture not only the historical significance but also the emotional poignancy of this catastrophic event which has echoes in recent times with events like Hurricane Katrina, the massive Gulf oil spill, the earthquakes and tsunamis that shook Japan, and even the big flood in the same Mississippi region that occurred last year.”

The Great Flood is touring nationally and was commissioned by Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (where it had its world premiere); Wexner Center for the Arts at The Ohio State University; Carnegie Hall; Symphony Center Presents, Chicago; and Hopkins Center, Dartmouth College.

MORE ABOUT THE SHOW

The Mississippi River Flood of 1927 was the most destructive river flood in American history. In the spring of 1927, the river broke out of its embankments in 145 places, inundating 27,000 square miles. The disaster became a major force in spurring the Great Migration of rural sharecroppers to northern industrial cities. As a result, the migrants took their music with them, triggering the evolution of acoustic country blues into urban electric blues, then R&B, rock, and jazz.

The research for the project included a trip by Morrison, Frisell, and the band to the Mississippi Valley in the spring of 2010, coincidentally at the same time that the largest flood since 1927 struck the same area. Frisell has said about the impact of the trip: “The music is now more than just notes on a page. We’ve seen, heard, felt, learned so much more than what we can read in a book.”

For his part, Morrison captured an array of contemporary digital imagery in 2010 that introduces the film and frames the actual footage of the 1927 flood (including source material from the Fox Movietone Archive and the Pathe? collection). Because that older footage was shot on volatile nitrate stock, what remains is pock-marked and partially deteriorated. The degraded footage and distorted images emerging from the nitrate prints suggest different planes or layers of reality: lived, dreamed, and remembered.

Preview of the show:

MORE ABOUT THE ARTISTS

Based in Seattle, Grammy-winning composer and guitarist Bill Frisell has been composing and performing for more than 25 years. Through his independent work and as well as collaborations with artists, filmmakers, and musicians, he has established himself as notable guitarist, jazz musician, and American icon. Since the early 1990s, Frisell has had a longstanding relationship with the Wexner Center through various projects and performances, including the world premieres of No So Fast (2011) which was commissioned by the Wexner Center, and Disfarmer (2007), which was co-commissioned by the Wexner Center. More information can be found at www.billfrisell.com. More on Frisell and his partnerships with Charles Helm can be found here: http://wexarts.org/wexblog/?p=2549

Over the past 20 years, New York-based filmmaker Bill Morrison is admired for his creative use of archival images. His work has been featured in the Museum of Modern Art, The Nederlands Filmmuseum, The Library of Congress, and other venues. The Wexner Center screened his film Decasia (a collaboration with composer Michael Gordon) in 2003. For more information, go to www.billmorrisonfilm.com.

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