With such a varied and eclectic oeuvre it is easy to get lost in the Arthur Russell universe. The man not only dabbled in, but at times reinvented, genres as disparate at electronica, free jazz, classical, disco, folk and ambient — And sometimes did so all at the same time. Arriving on the heels of my favorite Arthur Russell collection to date (Love Is Overtaking Me) is the 2008 documentary A Portrait of Arthur Russell.
Following a fairly straightforward narrative, the doc maps out Russell’s life beginning in the Midwest plains of Iowa – tracing the artist to San Francisco – on to his eventual move to new York City, where he became firmly entrenched in the downtown avant-garde art scene. While not always pretty, Wild Combination does pay an insightful, and honest, tribute to an artist that has only really begun to achieve the kind of attention barely hinted at during his lifetime. Fans of Jeff Mangum will most likely appreciate th stylistic and vocal turns on A Portrait of Arthur Russell – see the track “Eli“, below, for an example.