Although Judge Joel Pearce didn't care for this documentary about Toronto's Latin music scene, he was thankful that it's gloriously free of Ricky Martin.
Featuring Tito Puente, Memo Acevedo, Cocada & others…
Touted as a detailed look at the Latin Jazz scene in Toronto, Latin Nights fails to deliver the goods on any level.
The real problem with the film is its complete lack of context. The performances and interviews are intercut with a local Toronto radio show, but it gets no explanation whatsoever. The performances are accompanied by a brief subtitle identifying the band, but the overall purpose of the film is never explained. I couldn't find the copyright information about the film itself anywhere, though from the recording quality and hairstyles, it must be at least fifteen years old.
The most interesting aspect of Latin Nights is the peek it gives at the lives of latin jazz artists living in Toronto. Between the footage of them as world class performers, they are shown in their daily jobs as restaurant cooks and the performers of other menial tasks. The visual transformation alone is fascinating, but it also shows how little respect regular musicians get. These are top notch performers, and most of them can't even make enough money performing to cover their living costs. It's a sad reality, and one that is worth drawing attention to.
And they truly are good performers. If nothing else, Latin Nights does a fine job of showcasing the wide variety of Latin music styles. Everything from strange performance art to wild big-band jazz is here, and most of it is quite good. Although the cover promises 11 full-length performances, many of them have some obvious cuts, leading to an overall running time of 78 minutes. The use of Tito Puente's name on the cover is terrible as well, since he is only featured for a short amount of time, and not in one of his best all-time performances. Much of the interview footage is more valuable though, as all of the performers clearly know what they are talking about, and speak passionately about their situations and music.
The DVD cover proclaims that this is the deluxe edition of Latin Nights. I'm not exactly sure what that means, but it certainly isn't an indication of what to expect in the audio/video department. The video quality is as attractive as can be expected from aging television stock, but it's not a pleasure to watch. It's fuzzy, with garish color and no shadow detail to speak of. The audio is equally unimpressive. It is linear PCM, although it's a mono transfer and is hard to listen to. There are skips and jumps, which distract from the complete absence of bass and harsh trebles. Deluxe also doesn't refer to the extra features, which consist of a brief overview of the various Latin styles of music and a biography of the director.
I'm not sure who the target demographic for this DVD is supposed to be. Audiophiles will be repelled by the dreadful sound quality (does digital remastering actually mean anything?), and fans of the music can find more impressive recordings elsewhere. Because the documentary is so old, it no longer offers a good overview of the Latin music scene as it would have at the time it was made. It does work as a look at what happens to talented musicians in lousy circumstances, but there are hundreds of starving musicians in every major city on earth.
Overall, I would recommend that you stay as far away from this disc as possible. If you really have a hankering for some good Latin music, go listen to some live, or channel your money into some good CDs. If you buy this, all you'll get is a colorful case of empty promises.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Arkadia DVD
• Biography of Director
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