Photographs by Roberto Masotti
16.5 cm x 23.5 cm,
160 pages on black, silver ink
Reviewed by Steven Albahari
Jazz Area is a personal document of musicians and their experience within the jazz, avant-garde, and jazz rock idioms. Shot primarily in the 1970s, it is a collection of intimately expressive photographs from Roberto Masotti, a shooter who clearly has a passion for the music and a relationship with its makers.
Masotti’s camera defies conventional rules. Angles reveal grandeur in the details of songs, even in the choreography. If I were to guess, I would suggest that Masotti is a musician, or once was. Having been a musician and a photographer myself, I understand how difficult it is to express music through image. It takes a collaborative effort of ear and eye.
These are images of intimacy in the upbeat, in frozen syncopation—unpremeditated moments of pure, passionate improvisation. Photography and music at its best.
The collective youthfulness of RM’s subjects are refreshing, lively, invigorating. Many of the greats are here: Thelonious Monk, Ornette Coleman, Sam Rivers, Archie Shepp; a sublime portrait study of Steve Lacy, McCoy Tyner, Miles Davis, Anthony Braxton, Pharoah Sanders; an image, unlike most, of a burning Mats Gustafsson on tenor; an exquisite photograph from an exquisite angle of the double bass hands of Bruno Chevillon (perfection), and the dance of Carla Bley conducting.
Jazz Area presents a wide variety of musicians in the act of playing, some playing on the fly, several group shots, many looking like they’re posing for an album cover, a few great still-lifes, close-ups, etc.
The book is sectioned, rather than sequenced, by instrument, musician, group, music style, and so on. But sometimes less is more, and with musicians and images as good as these, the last thing you really want is for something like sectioning to interrupt the flow. That said, the photographs themselves go a long way to make up for all those little nicotine intermissions.
I can almost hear the playing. If one listens closely enough, the sounds are there on the page, and the printing itself is as sweet as the music. Printing an entire photobook on black paper is no small undertaking. And finding photobooks that take that kind of risk doesn’t happen often. Seipersei, the publisher of this gem, printed with silver ink, which really comes off well. It creates a kind of atmospheric metallurgy that pairs wonderfully with jazz.
While Jazz Area is not an insider’s guide to the music, it is an invitation to all outsiders. Very few photographers have been able to capture the energy and spontaneity of these musicians doing what they do best. Masotti belongs to that elite troupe of music-seers.
The physical book (9 ¼ in X 6 ½ in) is bound and sewn, so the pages lie relatively flat when open. The typography is simple, even raw, with few embellishments. The overall production really speaks to the publisher’s care and thoughtfulness. At $50, it’s worth it to buy more than one copy, especially if you run in jazz-friendly circles. But even if you don’t, there’s more than enough good mojo in this book for the curious too.