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Film Review

One Night With Blue Note


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Herbie Hancock and Tony Williams were playing in lovely simpatico in 1985... Freddie Hubbard sounds amazingly on-point throughout.
This DVD is a richly supplemented version of a videotape of the 1985 Town Hall concert celebrating the relaunch of the Blue Note record label. Sound quality has been vastly improved over the videotape version, some video editing adds welcome visual variations, and four previously unreleased selections enrich the experience.

Of the four selections missing from the original video the most rousing is very hot version of Jackie McLean's "Appointment in Ghana," much improved over the original Blue Note recording of 40 odd years ago because of the interplay between trumpeter Woody Shaw, soloing with feverish intensity, and alto saxophonist McLean's. Joe Henderson revisit of his "Recorda Me" is good listening, but not as sharply articulated as the one on his original Blue Note incarnation. And saxman Stanley Turrentine bravely tries to imaginatively blow in spite of being backed by a Jimmy Smith and Kenny Burrell who seemed locked into riffing as if they inhabited an eternal 1959.

Feelings about the value of this DVD hinge on what you think of the "second wave" of Blue Note. This concert film has some peaks and a few valleys, and that summarizes my sense of the label after 1985. It does no good to wax nostalgic about the "good old days" of the prime Blue Notes years, though having Grover Washington Jr. do "Summertime" as a stand-in for Sidney Bechet (whose Blue Note version of the Gershwin tune rightfully assumed its play in jazz history decades ago) made me pine for "the good old days." Imagine a tribute to Charlie Parker's recording of "Yardbird Suite" with a concert appearance of Curtis Steigers handling sax duties? Pop vulgarity has its place, but not here. Equally deplorable is guitarist Stanley Jordan whose display of dazzling chops on the guitar's fretboard would be fun if only he came in touch with one original musical idea.

On the bright side, Herbie Hancock and Tony Williams were playing in lovely simpatico in 1985, and they mesh like old lovers still freshly interacting after all these years. McCoy Tyner does a lush yet tasteful solo rendition on a resonant Steinway of "Sweet and Lovely," and Freddie Hubbard sounds amazingly on-point throughout.

The highpoint of the concert? The closing act, the most experimental artist Blue Note ever signed, and the one who remained unsigned after the label's 1985 relaunch, pianist Cecil Taylor. I would relish this DVD if only for Taylor's endlessly inventive ramble, "Pontos Cantados," full of ecstasy, and rage, and what the Blue Note label after '85 generally avoided. I wonder who decided to edit and sequence the concert so that Taylor followed organist Jimmy Smith who was swimming in every ersatz-soul cliché of his career that night? Anyway, just imagine if the relaunched label had signed Cecil Taylor? So much for dreams. Meantime, this "historic" concert footage has enough satisfying moments to make it a worthy purchase.

Approximate running time: 110 minutes.

Performers: Art Blakey, Kenny Burrell, Ron Carter,Jack deJohnette, Herbie Hancock, Tony Williams, Joe Henderson, Freddie Hubbard, Jimmy Smith, Woody Shaw, Stanley Jordan, Stanley Turrentine, Grover Washington Jr., Jackie McLean, and more.

Special Features:
New 5.1 Surround Mix
Francis Wolf Photo Gallery
Blue Note Album Cover Art Gallery
Japanese/French/Spanish subtitles
ISBN: 243-4-90354-9

Visit Blue Note Records on the web at www.bluenote.com .

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