Wednesday, March 13, 2024

An introduction to samba jazz

Every music scene has its history. In They Shot the Piano Player Spanish directors Javier Mariscal and Fernando Trueba build a story around Brazilian jazz and one its premier artists, pianist Francisco Tenorio Junior. Skillfully employing hand-drawn animation, the directors introduce us to Jeff Harris (Jeff Goldblum), a fictional American journalist who travels to Brazil to research a book on bossa nova.  While there, Harris becomes fascinated by Tenorio's story. A key figure in samba jazz, Tenorio traveled to Buenos Aires where he vanished in 1976, a disappearance that was considered odd because, in a time of brutal Argentine oppression, he wasn't a political figure. One of Harris's Brazilian pals (Tony Ramos) points him to a variety of Brazilian and Argentine musicians who become the subject of interviews presented as near monologues. Harris's inquiries guide us through the music, Tenorio's mysterious disappearance, and political conditions in Brazil and Argentina in the '60s and '70s. Centering the film on the inquiring Harris creates the feel of an animated documentary that's illustrating -- often beautifully -- a journalistic quest. But the interview structure also keeps the story from evolving dynamically. Consider They Shot the Piano Player an imperfect but worthy introduction to a musical chapter with which many will be unfamiliar. 

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