Two music documentaries
The BBC have recently broadcast two interesting music documentaries. The series Imagine profiled Jimi Hendrix with quite a bit of footage I hadn’t seen before, and with a more thoughtful and less sensationalistic script than is usually the case when TV does Hendrix (note to TV execs: no – Jimi was not an era-defining guitarist because he twice set his Strat on fire or because he played it with his teeth). This prompted me to have another look at DVDs of Jimi at Monterey and at Berkeley in 1967 and 1970 respectively. 5.1 sound makes a huge difference to the immediacy of watching these films even on a small screen. In 1967 Hendrix looks happy and full of life; by May 1970 he looks world-weary – it is quite a contrast. When I return to Hendrix’s studio albums after watching the live stuff I’m always delighted to find his music richer, touching and more multi-dimensional than in concert where the limitations of working in a power trio are all too evident. He needed more colours to frame his music.
The other documentary was a profile of Elvis Costello. This was also interesting, though Costello is in a way quite a guarded person, and an hour wasn’t long enough to cover such a long and varied career. For me, his best work was done on his first five or six albums, and they remain hugely entertaining and full of memorable songs, with great wordplay and high calibre arrangements by the Attractions. Since then he has stretched himself as a songwriter and singer. Unfortunately, I do not think his voice is up to the demands of the more sophisticated material he does – as becomes evident when he pushes into his upper range. That said, I cannot think of many other contemporary songwriters who exhibit as much sensitivity and awareness toward melody.