Review: BLUE NOTE RECORDS: BEYOND THE NOTES Doesn’t Go Too Far Beyond The Surface

blue note records hancock

Blue Note Records: Beyond the Notes is a new music documentary film directed by Sophie Huber. The movie takes a behind-the-scenes look at Blue Note Records, the legendary jazz label that featured some of the pioneers of the jazz genre in the 20th and 21st centuries. It debuted at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival.

If you are interested in jazz music at all, you will likely find the story of Blue Note Record to be fascinating. They truly are one of the best jazz labels of all time, and the film does an excellent job of making the audience admire the work they did, even if you aren’t a fan of this type of music. (That said, what are you doing watching a documentary like this if you don’t like jazz?)

However, the movie fails to go much deeper than providing a general account of the history and impact of Blue Note Records. It almost seems like the filmmakers’ only concern was to pay homage to the label rather than delivering a substantial commentary on art. Although the film does succeed at doing what it sets out to do, you can’t help but feel like it could have done more.

For example, one of the main things that Blue Note Records is remembered for, and the movie discusses this, is artistic freedom. Many times over the course of the film we get to see musicians as artists expressing themselves and experimenting with their artform. The movie should have emphasized this aspect of the story with more urgency.

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The film also feels longer than it should. For a music documentary, there seemed to be a ton of talking. It would have been nice to see more performances and recording sessions incorporated into the movie, as those are the most involving aspects of the documentary. Compared to most other music documentaries, this film feels less like a movie about music and art and more like a film about a company.

Regardless, when the movie does incorporate music, it is used effectively. The few performances and recording sessions we are shown are excellent and very powerful. They do an excellent job of showing why artistic freedom is important in music. Additionally, the music that is used from the label as a score for the rest of the film is well-selected (and obviously sounds great).

On a technical level, the movie was relatively strong, but also pretty standard. The use of the available footage is good, but straightforward. Had the filmmakers been more creative with the method in which they presented the story, the film as a whole could have been far more interesting. After all, artists that are this magnificent deserve a movie that is equally impressive.

Overall, Blue Note Records: Beyond the Notes is a middle-of-the-line music documentary. Fans of jazz music may want to check this one out if they want to learn a bit more about jazz history, but otherwise, this isn’t particularly essential viewing.

Blue Note Records: Beyond the Notes hits theaters on June 14.

By Sean Boelman

Sean is a film student, aspiring filmmaker, and life-long cinephile. For as long as he can remember, he has always loved film, but he credits the film Pan's Labyrinth as having started his love of film as art. Sean enjoys watching many types of films, although some personal favorite genres include dramatic comedies, romantic comedies, heist films, and art horror.

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