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November 15, 2001

Edward Angel Sotelo

Special to The Plain Dealer, Cleveland Ohio

Even after three decades, the music known as free jazz hasn't been graciously welcomed into the membership of popular American music. Many find its avant-garde sense of composition and reliance upon improvisation noisy and nonsensical. Yet free jazz touches those who find self-expression by transcending musical and sociocultural barriers.

One such advocate is former Clevelander Alan Roth, whose debut film, "Inside Out in the Open," attempts to explain this American musical movement in the words of the genre's pioneers and practitioners. It's being shown at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow and 9:30 p.m. Sunday at the Cinematheque in the Cleveland Institute of Art.

The culmination of a lifelong love of music and Roth's studies at the New School for Social Research in New York City, "Inside Out in the Open" features interviews and performances by Sun Ra and his Arkestra, Matthew Shipp, Peter Brotzmann, William Parker, Susie Ibarra and additional music by jazz giant John Coltrane and late ex-Clevelander Albert Ayler.

"I was helped by growing up in a household that listened to jazz," said Roth, calling from his home in Brooklyn, N.Y.He said his exposure to Case Western Reserve University's radio station, WRUW FM/91.1, also helped to nurture his budding musical sensibilities.

"In high school, I was very much into music from around the world and experimental composers like John Cage. But listening to WRUW play records by improvisers like Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor helped me to connect emotionally with this music." To Roth, that bond is both elusive and powerful. "It's hard to put into words. Even though you can't define it, the openness of the music and the surprise of improvisation can draw you in. Traveling is a good example. I like those unconventional, less-than-obvious destinations. I think that free jazz parallels that."

"Inside Out in the Open" is itself a journey. Roth's film spans the 1960s to the present day, and documents the musicians both at their homes and at performance venues such as Cleveland's Speak in Tongues.

Their interviews are much like the music: both expansive and deeply exploratory. "Their journey, musically speaking, isn't just based on spontaneity," Roth said. "These musicians are all extremely knowledgeable and studied without being locked into a rigid system. While that approach makes their artistry sometimes difficult to understand, it also lets the individual or collective reach a new level of expression."

The emotion behind such expression is what gives meaning to both free jazz and "Inside Out in the Open." It comes down to issues of emotions and feeling and the ability to communicate that with an audience. It requires the listener to think and pay attention. It's not always an easy ride. What's important to remember, though, is that this music is conversational - between the musicians playing it, and the audience listening."

Published November 14 - 20, 2001

THINGS TO DO THROUGH NOVEMBER 20TH

FRIDAY 16

In the wake of Ken Burns broad jazz documentary, in which he made it perfectly clear that he didn't much dig "free jazz," former Clevelander Alan Roth has produced and directed an outstanding hour-long film that takes on the history and meanings of the free-jazz form.

Assisted by Cleveland State University Professor of Film Communications Austin Allen, Inside Out in the Open is at once an intelligent and emotional exploration of the jazz world's most controversial outgrowth. Not only does the film explore the function and the key players of free jazz, but its cinematography impressively imitates the musical form as well.

Roth will appear to discuss the film. Inside Out in the Open debuts tonight at 7:30 pm at the Cinematheque, with an encore showing on Sunday at 9:30 pm. $6.