“Blue Note Records: Beyond the Notes” Documentary Review

by Ian D.

This is a good movie to watch when you’re stoned. (And being stoned for this review helps too.)
"Blue Note Records" film poster

“Blue Note Records” film poster

Blue Note Records: Beyond the Notes, a film by Sophie Huber, tosses you straight into a stylish mood poem. It’s medium-raucous to medium-mellow jazz with low-toned shots of “cool cats” opinionating on a range of topics – improvised jazz-chat. Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Robert Glasper, Norah Jones, Don Was, and more, these jazz musicians cross a discourse-portal to play in dimensions of possibility beyond the dilemmas of yes or no. Consequently, they have a points of view more engaging than your Average Joe. It’s conversation composition – hard and soft, tales of tribulation trumpets and triumph, high and low, cool and hot as jazz. 

Alfred Lion heard American jazz as a wee kid in 1920’s Germany. Little Alfred was blown out of his lederhosen by the “good time Jesus” music of King Oliver. Cosmic connection was made – imaginings of N’awlins and self-expression; wow. The Nazis came, with their diabolical directives. No jazz. No decadent other-world music. No Jews. The Lion family fled. They landed in New York City, in the land of the free.

"Blue Note Records: Beyond the Notes" documentary

“Blue Note Records: Beyond the Notes” documentary

Alfred worked in the music biz for a couple years and managed to open a studio in 1939, with Max Margulis, and later Francis Wolff. Blue Note Records was born. He loved the music and cared about the music-makers. A safe-haven for creativity arose. Legendary happenings were pressed into vinyl. Alfred had the sensitivity of an artist and enough steely resolve to navigate the stormy oceans of predatory Capitalism. Bravo! Lion had a brilliant ear. Wolff had an impossibly cool eye.

“For influence, it’s right up there with Democracy and Rule of Law.”

A pictorial history is presented with Wolff’s vintage photos and arty album covers, plus archival footage, giving a no-punches-pulled timeline from 1940s to present, featuring the heavy hitters from La Monde de Jazz, delineating the politics and protests, the fusion of high and low culture and influences of gospel, blues, soul, bebop, hard-bop, avant-garde and beyond, bringing it in, breaking it up, blowing it out, handing it down, and the fight to keep it free, the fight to keep it open.

Blue Note Records album covers

Blue Note Records album covers

They take us up to the present, with young musicians embracing jazz and transforming to hip-hop – a newly defiant legacy-culture. We get their worldview, too. Hey, this reviewer wouldn’t mind spending an evening getting stoned with these guys. Perhaps some bread and butter and jam. Would be cool to jam with these hot cats.

Blue Note Records

This movie left this Brit wondering why a homegrown art form like jazz has such a limited support system in its country of origin. How does a jazz musician get a million dollars? Well, you start with two million…  and chuckle at an old, sad joke. First line of the movie: “Why would someone start a record company not to make money?” And yet, with its smooth diplomacy, jazz has spread American culture all over the world. For influence, it’s right up there with Democracy and Rule of Law. Where is the justice? Go ask Jazz; it’s at Blue Note Records – still there, still smokin’.

I give this movie a two-toke rating.

I remain your humble, east-coast-elite servant.

Watch the trailer for the Blue Note Records film below:

News: This film premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2018 and has since been shown at more than 50 international film festivals. It will screen in New York at the Metrograph beginning June 14 and in Santa Monica at the Laemmle Monica Film Center beginning June 28. The film will then roll out to cinemas across the nation this summer followed by television broadcasts and a DVD release later in the year.

News Update: Now available on DVD and Blu-ray! BONUS: full takes of BAYYINAH and MASQUALERO.



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