Wednesday, September 25, 2019

AFMX ’19: Dave Grusin—Not Enough Time

Dave Grusin is one of the few crossover jazz musicians who truly crosses over. He can play any style, whether it be fusion, Brazilian, big band swing, and even Third Streamy kind of collaborations. He can also compose a film theme to fit any mood. The Oscar and multi-Grammy award winner takes stock of his career in Barbara Bentree’s documentary Dave Grusin: Not Enough Time, which screens during the Albuquerque Film & Music Experience, with a live concert from the maestro to follow.

Bentree & Grusin do a nice job of covering his professional life in music, going back to his early days as Andy Williams’ musical director (quite a high-profile gig at the time). Grusin was fortunate enough to fall in with colleagues like Quincy Jones (heard throughout the doc) and Michel Legrand, but his most important association was surely with drummer-producer Larry Rosen, with whom he co-founded GRP Records.

Operated as an audiophile label, GRP sold a heck of a lot of CDs at the beginning of the digital music era (as anyone who has ever dug through used CD shelves can tell). Many session cats were able to develop careers as leaders thanks to them. Yet, Grusin’s most recognizable recordings are almost certainly his soundtracks, including those for The Firm, The Fabulous Baker Boys, Tootsie, and On Golden Pond, arguably the four best soundtracks since Ellington’s Anatomy of a Murder.

Bentree fully surveys Grusin’s work, making it impossible to pigeonhole him as a “smooth” artist. Honestly, even the most judgmental jazz snob will probably have to admit “Mountain Dance” is a terrific tune. It is also a perfect example of the vitality and bright tonal colors you can hear in Grusin’s compositions.

You can’t really accuse Not Enough Time of being a PR piece, thanks to Grusin himself, who is always his own toughest critic. Of course, he is pretty much the only critical voice, since interview subjects like Jones, Dave Benoit, Ernie Watts, Marcus Miller, Lee Ritenour, Dori Caymmi, Eddie Daniels, and Tom Brokaw are always full of praise. Unfortunately, Rosen is no longer with us, but Grusin dedicates the film in his honor (a classy touch).

There is almost no way viewers haven’t heard Grusin’s work before (the theme to St. Elsewhere is his too, so end of discussion), but Bentree puts it all in context and definitely helps foster an appreciation for its breadth and longevity. Not Enough Time will make viewers watch to watch and listen to more Dave Grusin, which is always the key test for any music documentary. Very highly recommended, Dave Grusin: Not Enough Time screens this Saturday (9/28), as part of AFMX in New Mexico.