Solo may refer to a musical statement which announces mastery and emotion. It may also refer to piloting a course by one’s self. Both of these definitions find their union in director David R. Liu’s film of the same title. Known for his New York Jazz Film Festival award-winning film Bebop, Liu’s enlistment of “Ivy” Xiaoyuan Xiao (at the behest of producer Xin Li) to help him manifest the story testifies to the renown this Chinese born producer has amassed throughout the Indie film community. Solo’s status as an Official Selection at festivals including CAAMFest, the FARCUME International Film Festival of Faro, the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, and numerous others confirms his trust was well placed. Solo is as moody and ethereal as the Jazz music which serves as the backdrop for the journey of the young boy who is so central to its plot. His interaction resonates with dissonant harmony against his father, while his challenging situation is the moving picture personification of the beautiful awkwardness of Thelonious Monk or tempered uncomfortability of Charles Mingus. This film is as much for Jazz lovers as those who understand nothing of the genre but appreciate emotional struggle.
Max Tepper stars as Jeffrey, a teenage saxophonist who is adjusting to life after his parents’ separation and impending divorce. His troubled father Alex (played by George Tsai of the FX series Mayans and Netflix’s two-time Golden Globe Winning original series The Kominsky Method starring Michael Douglas and Alan Arkin) is at a point of crisis, having lost both his marriage and his job. The comfort Alex feels with the presence of his son is counterbalanced by Jeffery’s musical desires; a nagging reminder of his soon to be ex-wife’s imprint on their offspring.
Solo offers no huge effects or complex production numbers; which is precisely what stands out about this film. The producers, director, crew, and cast have cohesively created a mood of gravitas that permeates the entire story. The intensity of life’s uncomfortable relationships and moments are to be channeled into Jeffery’s artistic expression. It’s a fitting parallel to that of the artists who created this production. In the same way that “Birth of the Cool” featured Miles Davis rejecting the template of jazz of that era for a slow moving artistic statement, Solo echoes this tempered language with a fictional tale of a present day aspiring horn player. It’s not so much a jazz story as a human story. Ivy confirms that you don’t need to be a music aficionado to connect with Solo, stating, “I am actually the opposite of Jeffrey if I have to make a connection. My parents bought me piano when I was interested in learning but the passion only lasted a short time. I had so many interests learning an instrument growing up but unfortunately, nothing lasted. Solo reminded me how lucky I am to have open-minded parents and opportunities to explore. That’s the essence of our film and why I wanted to be involved in telling it.”