Frank Zappa famously titled one of his records "Shut Up 'N Play Yer Guitar." Pretty early on during "Touch the Sound," a documentary about the Scottish-born percussionist Evelyn Glennie, I wanted to shout: "Stop talking and go bang something!"
Glennie, now 40, is a remarkable talent, a woman with a marked hearing impairment, developed in late childhood, who never let a potentially insurmountable obstacle keep her from becoming an important and successful classical artist. "Touch the Sound" is at its best when Glennie is actively engaged in making music, whether by herself on a snare drum in the "great indoors" of Manhattan's Grand Central Terminal, in an improvised duet with guitarist Fred Frith or grooving on a rooftop with a funk band.
Unfortunately, a good deal of "Touch the Music" is devoted to vacuous interviews with Glennie, who seems positively incapable of saying anything substantial. Nor is most of the music very good: It is, I suppose, some sort of accomplishment to create an impromptu piece with empty plastic bottles and assorted litter on a Broadway street corner, but once the novelty wears off, not much is left.
The best sequence is toward the end of Glennie's collaboration with Frith. For much of the time, they've done the usual "free jazz" shtick: crashing, rattling, booming and pulling string bows across items that weren't intended to be bowed. And then suddenly -- amazingly -- the two artists find a point of agreement: Glennie hammers out a cool, reiterative rippling on her marimba, while Frith soars into a gorgeous, lyrical electric guitar solo that is as hymnlike as it is bluesy.
-- Tim Page