'Blue Note Records - Beyond The Notes'
(Blu-ray / NR / 2019 / Eagle Vision)
Overview: 'Beyond The Notes' is a revelatory journey behind the scenes of one of the most important labels in the history of jazz - and by extension, that of American Music - Blue Note has been home to groundbreaking legends as well as present-day luminaries.
Blu-ray Verdict: Founded in New York in 1939 by German-Jewish refugees, the history of the label goes beyond the landmark recordings, encompassing the pursuit of musical freedom, the conflict between art and commerce and the idea of music as a transformative and revolutionary force.
Early on wise words are spoken and suddenly we all reflect back on a business that we had taken for simply an entertaining friend: "Why would anyone start up a record company not to make money?"
It's a very true statement and one that German-Jewish refugees Alfred Lion and Francis Wolf took to heart from the off. But it wasn't obviously all about the money, because as another persona says in this quite revealing new documentary, "They were just fans and there were records that they just wanted to hear, so they decided to make them".
These two knew the value in trusting their musicians at Blue Note, encouraging them to push through boundaries in search of uncompromising expressions. The result, as we all know now, was music with heart, originality and social conscience.
Ergo, 'Blue Note Records - Beyond the Notes' is a rather stylish, and totally engaging new documentary by Sophie Huber that not only explores the past of the little label that could, but the inquires into the future also.
Opening inside a recording studio where a motley crew of modern jazz musicians are coming together, behind a keyboard set up American singer, pianist, record producer and multiple Grammy-winner Robert Glasper suggests ideas for a new arrangement to the gathering.
Early on producer and saxophonist Terrace Martin sums it all up quite succinctly: "A lot of the artists that found their home on Blue Note understood that we all had the survival situation in common," he says, "and that came out through their music."
The man currently serving as Blue Note's president, Don Was (American musician, record producer, record executive and founder of the brilliant Was (Not Was) group) hovers around, ready to input from his mind at any time.
Indeed, as we progress, Was clearly remembers the first time he heard a Blue Note record. It was 1966 and the experience resulted in an epiphany that awakened him to the visceral – and spiritual – power of jazz.
Understandably, perhaps, it changed his life forever. “I was 14,” he reveals, “and I was just riding around in the car with my mum when she was running errands on a Sunday. She left me in it with the keys so that I could play around with the radio and I landed on a jazz station.”
That was when the Detroit-born Was chanced upon a piece of music that he later found out was called ‘Mode For Joe’ by tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson. Was found it eerie and otherworldly, but also hypnotic. The music gripped him and commanded his attention.
Was also remembers that he and several of his like-minded jazz-digging friends would go on a pilgrimage to track down Blue Note LPs in Motor City. “Me and my buddies, we’d get on a bus and ride 45 minutes across town just to hold a record,” laughs Was.
“We couldn’t afford to buy them. We’d just hold and look at them and read the liner notes and maybe, if we were lucky, we could get the store owner to break the shrink wrap and play it for us. So it became a mission to find and save up for these records.”
Simply put, 'Blue Note Records - Beyond The Notes' which Huber and her editor, Russell Greene, keep brisk and fluidly ticking over, never hovering or staying too long in one magically captured moment, is an incredible look back at a time a lot of people thought had gone by; but is revealed here to still be influencing the music of today in oh so many ways.
This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.78:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs to 1080p High Definition and comes with the Bonus Feature of: Blue Note All Stars perform 'Bayyinah' and 'Masqualero.'
About the Director: The Swiss filmmaker Sophie Huber gained her filmmaking experience as a member of an award-winning Berlin film collective, for which she co-directed several films before directing her debut feature documentary, the critically acclaimed 'HARRY DEAN STANTON: PARTLY FICTION', which premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 2012. 'BLUE NOTE RECORDS - BEYOND THE NOTES' is Sophie's second documentary.