Calle 54 has been widely hailed as one of the finest documents of jazz yet made.
However, I find it strangely antiseptic and contrived for much of its course - this modern survey of Cuban-derived Latin-American jazz (with its roots in New York) is very derivative of 1960s and 1970s jazz; there seems to have been remarkably little evolution along the way.
It is beautifully filmed, as you would expect from director Fernando Trueba (who gave us the totally luscious and erotic Spanish Civil War romance Belle Epoque). But as a document of jazz, it falls far short of the genre's one genuine masterpiece, the sublime Jazz on a Summer's Day, Bert Stern's chronicle of the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival.
But despite this, Calle 54 is a 'must have' DVD for anyone interested in jazz piano, or just in great piano-playing, whatever the genre.
Two long chunks of the DVD are devoted to Cuban pianist Chucho Valdes - first playing solo, and then in duet with his father Bebo Valdes.
And Chucho Valdes is an awesome talent. He is an imposing man, of large physique, and a dignified, solemn aspect at the piano. But his playing is anything but dignified or solemn... it is electric in its invention, and revelatory in its power. He is to jazz what Sviatoslav Richter is to classical piano - an elemental force. His virtuosity defies analysis - there is musicianship imprinted into every element of his fibre.
The duet with his father Bebo, who must have been around 80 when this was filmed, is sheer delight. His father is no slouch either - and in a touching display of filial affection, Chucho is content to provide the rhythmic backing while his dad produces pyrotechnical riffing and improvisations. Chucho just smiles while his dad struts his stuff - and Chucho's quiet, fond smile says it all.
Get Calle 54 for Chucho and Bebo - the rest simply cannot measure up to this measure of genius.
We're given the choice of a Dolby Digital 5.1 or DD two-channel stereo presentation.
The 5.1 channels give an extra-wide aural perspective, but the two-channel mode gives a pleasing crisp punch to the music. I've listened at length in both modes and wouldn't judge one above the other.
This is not, as claimed, one of the very best motion pictures ever made about music. But for its generous serving of Chucho Valdes in action, it has a special value all its own - he makes this an indispensable disc.