WWOZ DJ and Gambit Weekly contributor David Kunian has produced several radio documentaries on New Orleans musicians, winning awards and accolades for his feature-length tributes to performers Earl King and Michael Ward, and the legendary nightspot the Dew Drop Inn. His latest effort, though " with the impressive title Jonathan Freilich's Freedom Double-O Naked Klezmer Jazz Latin Boogaloo " is a little different, because Freilich is alive. The astoundingly prolific guitarist, composer and bandleader is only in his 40s. In fact, he's probably playing tonight.
'Sometimes it seems like it's easier for people to approach dead musicians," Kunian says. 'But the people who are around and playing, you want to do something with them." Kunian's radio documentaries on subjects like James Booker and Guitar Slim are beautifully reconstructed historical works, showcasing artists who invented a sound and a scene. The works may bring out details of times long gone, but in the burnished light of legacies that are well established. The piece on Freilich, he says, is a different experience entirely " creating a portrait of an artist in the middle of his career. Freilich's body of work is far from complete. And the stories and the excitement are all still fresh, making the documentary the study of a work in progress rather than a historical statement.
The energy of the documentary is audibly different from the warm nostalgia of the interviewees who participated in Kunian's historical pieces. 'If you ask anyone about doing something on Jonathan Freilich, they'll have a big smile, or they just go, "Wow,'" he says. 'Somebody literally jumped into my arms and said, "Yes, I'm in.'" The interviews in Jonathan Freilich's Freedom Double-O Naked Klezmer Jazz Latin Boogaloo exude that enthusiasm as friends and bandmates recall things that happened yesterday, not 50 years ago.
A great deal of that excitement is due to the unique nature of Freilich's long-standing presence on the New Orleans music scene. His guitar work and compositions have been essential parts of a diverse résumé of projects, from the rocksteady band 007, in which he joins the equally prolific singer/songwriter Alex McMurray, to the Eastern European punk-hybrid flavor of the New Orleans Klezmer All-Stars.
'It's all still evolving," Kunian says. It was even challenging to put together a complete list of Freilich's projects, which includes groups like the All-Stars as well as a series of one-offs that showcase different parts of his broad musical personality, from experimental jazz to Latin rhythms to classic rhythm and blues. 'Creativity is one of the codes he lives by," Kunian says.
Capturing that creativity at its apex also characterizes the reality of life as a gigging musician in New Orleans. The documentary reveals that life and music scene to be incredibly vital and strong. That's refreshing in a city whose music is often viewed as more valuable for its historical contributions than its dynamic, contemporary state. Freilich is a good subject for such a project because of the diversity of his output and his grounding in the building blocks of New Orleans musical culture. The critical look at his work actually reveals the inheritance and evolution of New Orleans music.
Kunian is currently working on a documentary on soul singer Lee Dorsey, but he says there are at least 20 local artists working today that he thinks are worthy of documentation. We look forward to hearing them " the audible proof that new, original New Orleans music is very much alive.
Jonathan Freilich's Freedom Double-O Naked Klezmer Jazz Latin Boogaloo airs on WWOZ 90.7 FM at noon Wed., Sept. 3; 10:30 p.m. Wed., Sept. 3; 10:30 p.m. Thu., Sept. 4; and noon Fri., Sept. 5
Premiere Party with special guest Jonathan Freilich
6 p.m.-8 p.m. Thu., Sept. 4
Ogden Museum of Southern Art, 925 Camp St., 539-9600; www.ogdenmuseum.org
Listening Party with the Naked Orchestra
8 p.m. Fri., Sept. 5
Big Top, 1638 Clio St., 569-2700; www.3rcp.com
Listening Party with the Jackals
9 p.m. Sat., Sept. 6
Saturn Bar, 3067 St. Claude Ave., 949-7532
Readers can contact Alison Fensterstock at email@example.com
- Jonathan Freilich's prolific output and diverse projects are the subject of a new radio documentary by David Kunian.