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|Joachim Ernst Berendt||Participant|
|Julian Benedikt||Director, Screenwriter|
|Bernd Hellthaler||Executive Producer|
Posted October 1, 2010
When Julian Benedikt’s documentary on the famous Blue Note record label aired as a two-part television special in 1997, it was cause for celebration among jazz fans, albeit tempered with a sense of frustration. The small, independent company, founded by German immigrants Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff in 1939, played a seminal role in the development of jazz from the postwar period through the late 1960s. Lion and Wolff privileged quality over all other considerations, and recorded artists when other labels wouldn’t touch them. (Thelonious Monk is a prime example.) Such an enlightened and progressive corporate attitude would be unthinkable in today’s bottom-line climate. Blue Note had a sound, a style and a look all its own. The label arguably reached its artistic peak in the late-50s to early 60s with its roster of powerhouse hard bop players as Hank Mobley, Jackie McLean, Art Blakey and dozens of others. If Benedikt had simply focused his camera on the surviving musicians and included generous amounts of archival concert footage, this could have been one of the greatest music documentaries ever. Unfortunately, his film goes off in a number of inexplicable directions that seriously compromise its impact. In a misguided attempt to give the film “relevance,” Benedikt accords an inordinate amount of camera time to the likes of Carlos Santana, Taj Mahal, and DJ Smash. Their perspectives, while sincere, lack the kind of insight that the original artists, many of them happily still alive, could have provided. Trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, pianist Horace Silver and bassist Bob Cranshaw are given a fair amount of time to reflect on the creative freedom they experienced as Blue Note artists, but for the most part, Benedikt is content to name check famous musicians like Lee Morgan and Hank Mobley without providing any context. Even more problematic is the matter of concert footage. Benedikt is generally stingy with archival footage of such legends as Dexter Gordon, while indulging in extended performance footage of contemporary musicians Junko Onishi and Cassandra Wilson. Onishi is a nice pianist, but has nothing to do with the classic era. And including Wilson’s smooth jazz pabulum is an insult to the innovative spirit the label represents. Moreover, Benedikt’s kaleidoscopic, MTV-style of editing, while meant to be hip and cutting-edge, just comes across as annoying. Having said all that, I would still recommend this DVD to jazz fans, if only for its historical significance and the chance to see and hear icons like Herbie Hancock and Hubbard reminisce about an era when jazz was about pushing boundaries and enriching the culture. When Benedikt lets the original musicians speak and play for themselves, his film soars. If only he had left it at that.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.