Eagle Rock Entertainment // 2013 // 175 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Jim Thomas // September 14th, 2013
What lies beyond the smoke on the water.
Evaluating this release depends a lot on your perspective. If you consider the primary subject of the release to be the documentary chronicling the 2012 recording of Jon Lord's Concerto for Group and Orchestra, things might not turn out well -- structurally it's more than a little bit wobbly, it's technically inconsistent, and it assumes an audience already familiar with the subject matter.
But let me back up for a bit.
In 1968, heavy metal band Deep Purple had one of its first major successes: a concerto written by their keyboardist, Jon Lord. The piece combined the disparate forms of hard rock and classical music, and did so with a surprising dexterity; a critical and popular triumph, the piece was performed by the group for the next year or so, culminating in a performance at the Hollywood Bowl in 1970.
In 1994, Jon Lord was considering doing a new recording of the piece, as he had some new ideas that he wanted to incorporate. It was then that he made a horrifying discovery -- the score had been lost. No one knows what happened, but they think it got left at the Hollywood Bowl back in 1970. In one of the more amazing pieces of musical lore, a Dutch music student, Marco de Goeji, was studying the concerto. When he learned that the score had been lost he took it upon himself to recreate the score, transcribing it based on existing recordings. The reconstructed concerto debuted in 1999.
In 2012 began Lord began a studio recording of the piece -- despite the energy of a live recording, the wildly disparate instrumentation made proper mixing problematic at best. He hand picked soloists, fine-tuned the score...but the project took a blow when Lord was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer -- despite his increasingly frail health, he pushed through, recording his remaining solos, overseeing the final sessions, and listening to the final master recording just a few days before his death on July 16, 2012.
That's probably the bare minimum you need to know; otherwise, you will have some problems following the documentary. There's no clearly discerned structure, nor is there a clear focus -- it feels like a lot of footage hastily cobbled together. It's frustrating at times, because there are too many subjects that don't really get the attention they deserve -- the audio engineering alone could probably warrant its own documentary, as most of the rock elements were recorded individually, placing the soloists in the odd position of having to improvise to the already recorded orchestra. More of Lord talking about the piece in a more structured manner would also have been a strong addition. The viewer has to spend way too much time trying to piece information together.
The concerto, on the other hand, suffers from none of these issues. After repeated viewing, the piece is really starting to grow on me. This is no gimmick, nor is it a matter of adding a layer of strings to a song. Lord draws from his influences (you may hear echoes of Holst, Tchaikovsky, and Shostakovich, among others) and develops some sophisticated motifs, playing the orchestra and the band against each other, leading to a triumphant synthesis in the third movement. It's a wonderful piece -- though you may have a slight battle with cognitive dissonance as you try to reconcile this piece with the image of Deep Purple, once listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as "The World's Loudest Band." In fact, for this recording, Lord selected several soloists, such as Iron Maiden's Bruce Dickinson, who weren't associated with Deep Purple in order to distance the piece from the band; after all it is Jon Lord's Concerto, not Deep Purple's.
Technically, Eagle Rock's Jon Lord: Concerto for Group and Orchestra (Blu-ray) is a mixed bag. On the documentary side, the audio is clear, but video is wildly uneven, even if you only look at the recent material. Some looks like good digital video, some looks washed out, like someone grabbed an old Digital8 camera that had been buried in their truck for the past 15 years. The concert itself, on the other hand, is just magnificent (we expect nothing less from Eagle Rock). You get two versions of the piece -- a stereo version on CD, perfect for your mp3 player, and an audio-only DTS-HD 5.1 track. Both versions allow the soloists to shine, in particular Lord's blistering organ work and Steve Morse's ethereal guitar work in the 3rd movement. Both versions of the concerto are labeled as "extras," but all the other material, including the supposed main feature, is in service of the music, so go figure. The other extras that are actually extras include extended interviews with conductor Paul Mann and the aforementioned Marco de Goeji. In both cases, good information, but a lack of structure makes them hard to follow at times. There's also some footage of the recording sessions. Material from all three are used in the main feature.
As a documentary, it's a bit of a mess, but the concerto itself -- if you'll pardon the expression -- rocks. This is more of a testament to Lord's genius than any documentary could hope to be.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Eagle Rock Entertainment
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080i)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (Unknown, Music)
* DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (English)
Running Time: 175 Minutes
Release Year: 2013
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* CD Soundtrack