Afro Cuban Legends - V.A. Live At L'olympia
With no apparent let up in the fascination for all things musically Cuban, Afro-Cuban Legends is a rather uneven but ultimately fascinating examination of the phenomenon.
The first half, a 1998 South Bank Show documentary about the Afro-Cuban All Stars is wonderful, telling the story of young band leader Juan de Marcos Gonzáles and his efforts to reunite some of the stars of the golden age of Cuban music. The film works as much as travelogue as music documentary, painting a poignant portrait of a grand old city in decline--quite the opposite story of the musicians involved.
Ibrahim Ferrer, Rubén González and Pio Leyva are all elderly artists who, having assumed that their moment had past, are clearly enjoying a second time in the sun. The story of their revival is both moving and inspiring (one of the best moments comes as Ferrer and González drive round Havana in an open topped car, raging about the US and its bully-boy tactics) and achieves that rare feat--a documentary that holds the interest whether or not the viewer is an aficionado of the music. The second half, a live concert recording of Company Segundo, is not quite so vital. A rather shaky television recording, the music lacks the spark and vitality of the Afro-Cuban All Stars and is strictly second division Cuban material.
On the DVD: Chapter selection, a range of subtitles and a Web link are all that is on offer by the way of extras. Given that both programmes were made for television, the picture quality is not big budget standard. The South Bank Show is, however, beautifully shot and the DVD format makes the most of the impressive settings, both natural and architectural. The sound quality is crisp and clear, perfect for the series of musical performances. The Company Segundo segment suffers from the original's lack of production values, although the sound track is equally vibrant. --Phil Udell