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TV REVIEW : 'John Creach' an Enjoyable Sample of an Eclectic Series

July 09, 1993|CHRIS WILLMAN

Its ratings will probably look less like those of "MTV Unplugged" than just "The Nielsen Families' Sets Unplugged." But, however limited an audience it might draw, the series "Played in the U.S.A." promises to take hard-core American music buffs on a commendably eclectic ride in the coming months. It airs on KCET-TV Channel 28 Friday nights from 11 to midnight.

The series (previously shown on cable's Learning Channel) is actually a succession of independently produced music films, some new and some vintage, introduced each week by Martin Sheen. Last week's opener was the already widely seen D. A. Pennebaker documentary on the making of the 1970 "Company" Broadway cast album. Next week, there's Christian Blackwood's filmic biography of Eartha Kitt, to be followed later in July by a trio of short films about the blues and a look at Latin jazz pioneer Machito. Future hours worth waiting for down the pike will spotlight diverse subjects from polka to Art Pepper.

Tonight's installment, "Papa John Creach: Setting the Record Straight," is an agreeable time-passer for viewers with pre-MTV attention spans, though far from an example of the series at its best. The better part of the show is straight performance footage of the 76-year-old violinist leading his band or just jamming with pianist George Winston, sax player Eddie (Cleanhead) Vinson and Hot Tuna guitarist Jorma Kaukonen.

The playing is fun, but the interview footage is much less revealing than you'd suppose. And the hour doesn't include a single clip documenting Creach's most famous stint, as incongruous fiddler with the Jefferson Airplane/ Starship. The title's implication is that the show will prove Creach a gifted player in jazz and other idioms and not just a rock 'n' roller, a theorem of less urgency than the producers might suppose.

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