Sheffield Doc/Fest film review: Universe (2020)
Ivan Radford | On 27, Jun 2020
Director: Sam Osborn, Nick Capezzera
Cast: Wallace Roney, Felipe Luciano, Phil Schaap, Miles Davis
Watch Universe online in the UK: Doc/Fest Selects
Sheffield Doc/Fest has gone online for 2020, with films streaming until 10th July – and others streaming alongside cinema screenings in the autumn. For more information, click here – or see our picks from the festival line-up here
“You ready? Because when I stop, I’m done.” That’s Wallace Roney in Universe, a documentary that comes with a poignant note of tragedy, with Roney passing away earlier this year.
Roney was not a household name, but he was a legendary one, a jazz trumpeter who became the protege to Miles Davis. Weeks before the cool icon himself passed away, Roney played with Miles in Montreaux, a concert that saw the younger trumpeter play out a piece with a fanfare that, as one onlooker recalls, was like seeing the torch being passed from one musician to another.
Carrying that torch on, though, was not a simple ask, and we hear in multiple candid conversations between Roney and directors Sam Osborn and Nick Capezzera that his career was almost stalled entirely by the fact that he was always considered the Miles Davis tribute act. There is, buried in this gorgeous portrait of a skilled artist in his own right, a heartfelt story of finding one’s voice and passing one’s musical legacy on to the next generation of players.
All this is filtered through the lens of The Universe Compositions, written by Wayne Shorter for the Miles Davis Quintet. Ultimately never performed before the band broke up, Miles’ dying wish was for Roney to recover that music and release it into the world. We follow Roney as he fulfils that wish, leading an ensemble through rehearsals that range from tough instructions and hugely complex musical flourishes to finding joyful inspiration in the rhythm line from a familiar pop song. It’s fascinating to hear the creative conflicts and collaborations unfold, as the musicians try to find a level on which they can grapple with Shorter’s compositions.
These rewarding insights are balanced with footage of Miles and Roney in action, all cut together in a beautiful, smoky monochrome by Osborn and Capezzera. The result is a must for jazz fans, and a moving, entrancing celebration of Roney’s warm, generous talent in the way that you suspect would appeal to him – by focusing on the music at hand. Like Davis before him, the notes played will linger in the air for decades to come.
Universe is available to rent for £4.50 on Sheffield Doc/Fest Selects, or as part of a £36 pass, until 11.59pm on 28th June 2020.