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    Jerry Gonzalez in Calle 54. in Calle 54
    Jerry Gonzalez in "Calle 54."

    Escuchame mucho

    Avoid the frustration of expecting "Calle 54" to be a documentary, and just let the irresistible sounds of the Latin jazz greats sweep you away.


    The strange thing about the Latin-music film "Calle 54" ("54th Street") is that you can find half a dozen things to complain about and yet enjoy every minute of the film completely.

    CALLE 54
    Directed by: Fernando Trueba.
    Featuring: Elaine Elias, Chano Dominguez, Paquito D'Rivera, Michel Camilo, Jerry Gonzalez, Gato Barbieri, Tito Puente, Chucho Valdez, Chico O'Farrill, Bebo Valdez, Orlando "Puntilla" Rios, Carlos Valdes "Patato," Israel Lopez "Cachao.".

    Related links: Official site
    The film focuses on leading Latin jazz musicians — most of them based in New York — from the joyful-spirited Cuban emigre Paquito D'Rivera to impressive younger talents such as pianist Eliane Elias and trumpeter Jerry Gonzalez (above). Each act is lovingly filmed in its own stark, bright color for one full-length song, and the music ranges from tropical and rhythmic to avant-garde and challenging.

    Several moments deserve special mention. The late Tito Puente (below) gives one of his last-ever performances, a typically energetic number packed with jazz flute, percussion and showmanship. Cuban father and son Chucho and Bebo Valdez, long separated by distance, are reunited specially in Scandinavia, where the elder Valdez now lives. And my favorite musical piece was by Michel Camilo, who grins all the while as he leads his small group in a breakneck number, "From Within," whose complexity is belied by the simple underlying piano rhythms, unmistakeable echoes of old-fashioned salsa and mambo and the like.

    Tito Puente in Calle 54. in Calle 54  
    Tito Puente in "Calle 54."
    So what's to complain about? There is very little storytelling to link the musical pieces, and yet there's so much potential for explaining the music's history and for preserving interviews with these icons of Latin music, some of them in their last years. So you can easily enjoy every minute of the music and yet never get over the feeling that something's missing.

    But the movie does hint at some interesting points about this music — especially the implication that New York has become the world's premier meeting place for music from all over the Spanish-speaking world, from Spanish flamenco to Caribbean salsa. Meanwhile, it incorporates U.S. influences like movie scores and jazz. (Some of the old legends remember hanging out with Dizzy Gillespie, who pioneered Latin music in jazz.)

    So hey, don't let my grumbling distract you from the really wonderful music in "Calle 54." It's a great performance film, a great historical document, and a great piece of New York culture.

    MAY 29, 2001

    Reader comments on Calle 54:

  • Calle 54   from newsdiva, Jan 27, 2002
  • [no subject]   from , Sep 7, 2002
  • Gr8 Movie   from Mr. Poophead, Dec 1, 2003
  • Buy the DVD   from Eric Lugo, Dec 11, 2004
  • Calle 54   from James Morales, Sep 19, 2005
  • Re: Calle 54   from El Compi, Oct 17, 2005
  • Re: Calle 54   from David, Jul 20, 2006
  • Calle 54   from Will Douglas, Nov 6, 2009

  • Post a comment on "Calle 54"