Monday, June 13, 2011

Cine Fest Brasil NY ’11: Hey, Hendrix

The impact of American jazz on Brazilian musicians like Antonio Carlos Jobim is well documented. However, the inspiration provided by American rockers is far less documented. Of course, it is nearly impossible to shoulder a guitar in rock band anywhere in the world without acknowledging a debt to Jimi Hendrix. Fans first and filmmakers secondarily, co-director-producers Pedro Paulo Carneiro and Roberto Lamounier present a detailed account of Hendrix’s London years while also interviewing some of Brazil’s best known rockers and MPB artists about their Hendrix experiences in Hey, Hendrix (trailer here), which screens during Inffinito’s 2011 Cine Fest Brasil in New York.

Everyone in New York knew Hendrix could play like a monster, but the studio musician had a rep for being a little different. Former Animals bassist Chas Chandler shrewdly calculated he could more easily break Hendrix out in the smaller UK market and then capitalize on his British cachet in the USA. That part pretty much went according to plan. As a result, aside from a Monterey Pop here and there, all the best parts of the Hendrix story happened in London.

While we certainly hear some of Hendrix’s classic recordings, most of the film’s musical load is carried eerie dead-ringer John Campbell’s Are You Experienced tribute band, who shred through the Hendrix songbook with love and respect. Yet, for amateur musicologists, the film’s most intriguing sequences involve the Brazilian rockers discussing Hendrix’s enduring influence on their music. Novos Baianos guitarist Pepeu Gomes is particularly eloquent (and cinematic in a hard rocking kind of way) discussing the almost ecstatic aspects of Hendrix’s music.

British music journalist Keith Altham (in a decidedly uncinematic skype interview) likens Hendrix to Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and Louis Armstrong for the revolutionary changes he wrought on his field of music. It is a particularly apt comparison, in that Hendrix’s popularity continues to cut across genres, much like that of Davis and Armstrong. Hendrix might have been a pioneer of psychedelic hard rock, but he was remained well attuned to the music’s blues roots. This also comes through loud and clear in Campbell’s channeling of the Hendrix spirit.

Watching a group of MPB artists on the London Rock Tour (one of Hey’s official sponsors) is rather fannish stuff largely lost on American audiences. Still, there is plenty of solid material on Hendrix’s life and legacy (especially with respect to Brazilian music). An interesting film for casual Hendrix admirers (hardcores will have to judge for themselves), Hey screens again this Wednesday (6/15) as Inffinito’s 2011 New York festival continues at the Tribeca Cinemas.