Few Queens bands get lucky enough to have a film made about them, let alone one that captures their rare performance at an ancient Buddhist temple – the oldest in New York City.
The just-released documentary, “The Temple of Memories” by Rego Park filmmaker Rene Sing and OwlSpring Media, features well-known Sunnyside jazz composer, trombone player and bandleader Jeff Fairbanks and his 17-piece jazz band, Project Hansori, performing a sound collage of exhilarating and multi-layered arrangements to a mesmerized audience.
The film picks up with the band’s performance at last year’s Asian American Arts Alliance’s “Locating the Sacred” Festival. They play beautifully, surrounded by ancient temple artifacts.
Fairbanks says he approaches East Asian traditions from a Western jazz context in his music. Since 2007, Project Hansori has presented a signature mix of big band jazz – with its bold Western brass and drums sound, accented by the gentler fluidity of East Asian-infused tunes, using Eastern instruments.
In a special Dec. 19 performance — set in Sunnyside’s quaint, Gothic style All Saints Church — Fairbanks and his band were featured in an all-new, Queens Arts Council-funded program, “New Sounds of East and West,” while in May 2013 he and his wife Heun Choi performed at Queens College, as featured guest performers in a concert of the New York Korean-American Chorale.
The film is a must-see, entertaining and informative experience for any jazz buff. The film takes viewers behind the scenes of an epic and unlikely, East-meets-West musical collaboration between Japanese taiko — ensemble drumming on Japanese percussion instruments — and Western jazz, interwoven with Fairbanks’ closeup, candid interviews. The filmmaker said he first encountered Jeff at a meeting of local artists searching for ways of collaborating.
Fairbanks said the performance itself was very experimental; it wasn’t a traditional concert setup. With 25 musicians total, he split them into five smaller groups in each room of the temple: trombones on the first floor, saxes upstairs, taiko drums in the basement, etc.
“I gave them all different music to play at the same time, unsynchronized, for 45 minutes,” he said. “It was a sound collage, and very ethereal, as you could hear traces of the other groups from a given room. This was an extension of the effect I often heard, while playing with multiple bands ...“
The audience wandered freely from room to room to see each group, like an art exhibit. The film shows a couple of glimpses of the unique setup, and at the end there’s footage from the traditional concert setup of the combined groups that Fairbanks closed the performance with.