From the director of "Belle Époque"/ aka "Age of Beauty" (1992) comes "Calle 54," a rich concert/documentary that shines a bright light on the cultural beauty of Afro Cuban and Latin jazz. Though comparisons to director Wim Wender's moving 1999 documentary "Buena Vista Social Club" are inevitable, Wender's film focused on a very specific period of Cuban jazz, whereas "Calle's" director has chosen to reveal the wondrous music that developed beyond Cuba.
Key musicians from several generations - including Tito Puente and Chico O'Farrill, both in their last film appearances - recorded six minute performances which director Trueba filmed with gliding film cameras (sometimes using as many as seven), hyper-focusing on subtle gestures, and performance nuances of the enraptured musicians.
The 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer preserves the rich colour and black and white palette of the film's cinematography, and the video-to-film documentary segments which introduce each musical set are fairly short - their brevity, therefore leaves less chance for visible pixilating, a problem that greatly affected the theatrical prints of "Buena Vista Social Club."
The 5.1 sound is very crisp, taking advantage of quiet pauses and sharp bursts of introductory music. A highlight includes veteran arranger Chico O'Farrill, raising his baton in a busy, colourful New York Club, and Trueba's smash-cut to the piece being performed at the studio. Captured on smooth black and white film stock, the effect is heightened by the clean 5.1 sound that pours from the speakers.
There's an English subtitle option to translate the sparse dialogue segments (in their original Spanish and optional French languages), and Latin music historian/Associate Producer Nat Chediak provides brief introductions on the DVD's English and Spanish commentary tracks which begin at each musical performance, but allow the listener to still hear the remaining half of the music.
Longer interview segments were edited into a moving and edifying video documentary, "Calle 54: Side B," with the many musicians and composers explaining their craft and cultural heritage, often giving nods to New Orleans and New York City as key cities where musical ideas where exchanged and evolved into Afro Cuban and Latin jazz.
© 2001 Mark R. Hasan