Calle 54

Rated NR

While many Americans have a working knowledge of a few jazz greats (Davis, Coltrane, Monk, etc.), most wouldn't know Tito Puente from Tito Jackson. Fernando Trueba's new documentary, Calle 54, makes great strides toward remedying that ignorance. A thorough if not comprehensive exploration of Latin jazz masters, Calle 54 focuses heavily on performances rather than biography. Trueba uses the lingua franca of jazz itself to communicate the emotionality of the subject matter; explanation is superfluous to the beauty of the music. Despite the fact that Calle 54 is redolent of Buena Vista Social Club, it's clear that Trueba isn't trying to duplicate Ry Cooder's Cuban ethnography. Instead, the viewer understands Trueba to be an enormous fan of this uniquely beautiful style of jazz, and the performances he captures (in a studio on titular 54th Street in Manhattan) are meant to convey his infectious enthusiasm. Standout performances abound, from the Gonzalez Brothers and their Fort Apache Band, to Cuban piano legend Chucho Valdes reuniting with his father, Bebo Valdes (bandleader at the Tropicana in Cuba in the pre-Castro era), for a musical conversation. Trueba also succeeds in making what is essentially a concert film visually interesting as well, with intimate and dynamic camera work in the studio. And of course, there's the late, great Tito Puente, whose boisterous smile says it all: Listen up, this is some great shit we?re playing you.

Film Credits

Director: Fernando Trueba

Cast: Gato Barbieri, Cachao, Tito Puente and Paquito D'Rivera

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