STANDING IN THE SHADOWS OF MOTOWN DVD REVIEWED (2003)

 |   |  1 min read

STANDING IN THE SHADOWS OF MOTOWN DVD REVIEWED (2003)

When music magazines make up lists of great players - best drummer, top guitarist or whatever - one name invariably appears in the best bassist countdown: James Jamerson. At which point most people might fairly ask, "James who?"

Which is exactly the problem this exciting, moving, good-natured soul-funk documentary seeks to redress.

The late Jamerson - difficult, moody and volatile, but a genius on his instrument - was one of the wonderful but often forgotten musicians who laid down the sound on dozens of Motown hits, and hundreds of other songs, in a tiny studio in Detroit during the 60s.

Known as the Funk Brothers, this small, revolving roster of former jazz and club musicians was there creating the memorable rhythms behind Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, the Supremes, Four Tops, Stevie Wonder and many more. Theirs was the aural fingerprint of the Motown sound which resonates to this day.

The Funk Brothers played on more hits than the Beatles and the Stones combined, and if their reminiscences in this joyous doco are to be believed, they did it with great humour, not as much money as you might expect for the long hours involved, and in a sweatbox studio so small six of them could barely fit. One of the most moving sequences is when some go back to that room and reminisce, not the least about turning up one day and finding a sign on the door which said the record company had shifted to Los Angeles and their services would no longer be required.

Label boss Berry Gordy and the Motown artists of the time don't appear, of course. Their presence would be an intrusion. This is the Funk Brothers' opportunity to be stars, and shine.

Through archival footage, re-enactments, still photos and casual conversation, the story of these marvellous old men is told, then given added lustre when they get behind their instruments again in concert with Joan Osborne, Chaka Khan, Ben Harper and others to recreate some of those classic songs. The spirit of Motown is conjured up for their own delight as much as for that of the cinema audience.

These surviving musicians and the enduring music they made do the talking. Everyone else is simply along for the memories, the soulful sounds and a contagiously uplifting ride which also doesn't shy from some hard truths about the music business, and the characters -- like Jamerson -- who make it what it is.

Share It

Your Comments

post a comment

More from this section   Film at Elsewhere articles index

NARCOS, Seasons One and Two (Madman DVD/BluRay)

NARCOS, Seasons One and Two (Madman DVD/BluRay)

Just how good is Narcos, this television series about the life and times and murderous regime of the Columbian drug lord Pablo Escobar? Consider this: Recently we were in Stockholm in an air... > Read more

MILES DAVIS: BIRTH OF THE COOL, a doco by STANLEY NELSON (Netflix): Running the Voodoo Down again

MILES DAVIS: BIRTH OF THE COOL, a doco by STANLEY NELSON (Netflix): Running the Voodoo Down again

When I interviewed Miles Davis in 1988 in advance of his Auckland concert, I punched in an improbably long line of digits to a New York number and after confirming it was him on the other end... > Read more

Elsewhere at Elsewhere

Stefano Bollani: Stone in the Water (ECM/Ode)

Stefano Bollani: Stone in the Water (ECM/Ode)

After the superb duet album The Third Man with trumpeter Enrico Rava, this one by pianist Bollani (with bassist Jesper Bodilsen and drummer Morten Lund) was always going to attract the attention of... > Read more

Alan Brown: Composure (alanbrown.co.nz)

Alan Brown: Composure (alanbrown.co.nz)

This very welcome release is another installment from improvised ambient sessions recorded on a Steinway by pianist Brown in the concert chamber of the Auckland Town Hall in August 2014. The... > Read more