Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Film: Blue Note Records -Beyond the Notes (Eagle Rock, 2019)

This is a film about Blue Note Records, which was founded in 1939 and despite a period of inactivity from the late 1970's to mid 1980's is still releasing jazz and some pop music to this day. This documentary moves back and forth between the present day (2018) with an all star band of younger musicians in the studio, playing and talking about the influence that the music of classic Blue Note Records have has upon them. We get flashbacks to the origin story of the label, Alfred Lion and Frank Wolff were jazz loving German Jews who fled the Nazis, settling in New York and putting out their first records in 1939. Excerpts from a radio interview with the two men fill in the backstory somewhat, and there is a nicely done section about the label's relationship with Thelonious Monk. There is some fine footage and audio clips of label legends like Art Blakey, Horace Silver and Lee Morgan, and one of the last interviews with the famous engineer Rudy Van Gelder. But this film is not designed to be a label history, in fact it seems stuck much like the modern label itself between promoting the current roster and their connection to modern hip-hop while fostering reverence for past triumphs. Bruce Lundvall ran the label for twenty five years and gets a short snippet about signing Norah Jones, while current label head Don Was spews platitudes throughout the program. There are some warm and revealing interviews with legendary musicians like Lou Donaldson, Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter. The musical highlight of the film was Hancock and Shorter sitting in with their younger colleagues improvising on a skeletal arrangement of "Masquelero." This is worth checking out with reservations, the musicians are always genuine in their comments, and these are genuinely interesting, but the film is disjointed and the direction seems uninspired: is this a historical documentary, a promotional film about the present day label, or a music film? Trying to cram all of the above into a ninety minute movie leaves it feeling strangely empty. Blue Note Records Beyond The Notes - amazon.com

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