Jards is a jam session. Taking an apparent cue from Robert Altman’s definition of jazz as “an extension of a moment,” the documentary manages to avoid confessional pitfalls or gotcha-style interviewing by giving the full of its frame to 70-year-old samba musician Jards Macalé. There’s no checklisting of albums, drug busts, or divorces, with director Eryk Rocha (son of Glauber) instead focusing on the primal sum of the musician’s performances in making his new album (also called Jards). No talking heads or fawning acolytes appear to contextualize Macalé within the tidal wave of post-bossa nova Brazilian music or weigh in on his relevance to future generations. (Literally and figuratively, Rocha’s imagery is designed around the notion of bringing Macalé in and out of focus, to better paint his unconscious flow and its resultant product.) Rocha introduces Macalé as a blurred shadow who rouses himself and walks down a neon hallway with harsh, droning undercurrents of sound grinding beneath the images.
Wry, easygoing, and sometimes powerfully obtuse, the Brazilian music legend is so open to this type of abstract-documentary collaboration that he doesn’t directly address the camera (or the filmmaker) in the process. There’s no doubt that the studio is Macalé’s domain, but no skirmishes appear on camera aside from Macalé teasing a sound engineer that “time is money.” The overall impression is leisurely and indulgent, as it takes about 10 minutes before the piano-, guitar-, and violin-playing legend is introduced differently. Between lyrics of an introductory track about the “terrible, beautiful sun,” Rocha’s camera swings from Macalé’s weather-beaten, crinkled face up to a ceiling lamp and then back again, the singer’s bellowing mouth eating up the full frame, flecks of his spit landing on the lens—in rhythm. The applause, from Macalé’s studiomates, that follows dislodges the camera again, and it ponderously encircles the offices of Macalé’s studio as the fuzzed-out readjustment process begins.
If initially gripped by this kind of burbling buildup and its musical release, Rocha manages to encompass the overall recording experience as well, often zeroing in on key details such as bundles of cords, fingers on a keyboard, or the face of another old-timer backup musician. The filmmaker bridges sessions with long interludes of waves crashing, trees reflecting off of the hood of Macalé’s car, home-movie footage of the musician’s vibrant younger years and the Brazilian skyline careening by. Toward the end he seizes on a conversation Macalé has with an old colleague about the Fukushima meltdown, spinning the narrative into a brief portrait (in video collage) of a world gone to hell. Music aside, he appears as any elder statesman swimming in his own private stew of memory, sensation, and regret. The feeling of remoteness from anything resembling a professional music industry (or even city life) feeds itself with every shot of Macalé smoking on his jungle veranda, effectively sweeping the viewer away to the musician’s faraway place.