One Note at a Time

 

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 Music in New Orleans, post-Katrina.

 

One Note at a Time 

Wardell Quezergue

 

This is a film that lacks distinction but which gets by - and that may be enough for some viewers given that the subject matter of this documentary is sympathetic. Renée Edwards's film is in effect a work that combines three aims: it's a celebration of the central role that music plays in New Orleans, it's a portrait of a number of musicians who work there and of the assistance they have received from the city's Musicians' Clinic & Assistance Foundation and it's a view of the challenges consequent on the devastation to the city caused in 2005 by the hurricane Katrina.

 

There is little sense of this film being structured save for the fact that, having been shot over a period of years, it presents in chronological order material obtained between 2009 and 2011. By starting with a pre-title sequence in which musicians and others recall their experience of Katrina, the film at once touches on the third of those three aims. However, what follows, despite talk of hardships and mention of the extent to which many of the musicians featured rely on the tourist trade, merely leads eventually to an indication that by 2011 their experiences had led to better music, the arrival of new artists and a sense of people strengthened by what had happened. But all of this is vague rather than detailed.

 

A handful of musicians - the best known of them being Mac 'Dr John' Rebennack - make regular appearances here but at haphazard intervals, which rather reduces the impact of their stories. Also featured are Johann and Bethany Bultman the co-founders of the  Musicians' Clinic but, while it is a charity that is obviously doing  good work, One Note at a Time sometimes feels like a promo for it without ever making the endeavour feel inspirational. As for the music itself, scenes such as funerals marked by accompanying performances support the view that in New Orleans music is a key part of life, but what we hear played elsewhere, amiable though it is, is as a whole decidedly less impactful than one would hope. The film is a worthy effort and stands as a memorial to no less than three of the musicians seen who died in the course of its production. But, even so, it is a work curiously lacking in any sense of urgency and presented in a style that makes it perfectly well suited to home viewing rather than offering a cinematic impact. Its effectiveness relies much more on what you bring to it than on what it brings to you.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Featuring  Mac 'Dr John' Rebennack, Barry Martyn, Wardell Quezergue, Paul Pattan, Bethany Bultman, Johann Bultman, Ellis Marsalis, Ben Joffe, Brian Quezergue, Cliff Hines, Irma Thomas, Kermit Ruffins.

 

Dir Renée Edwards, Pro Renée Edwards, Ph Chad Owen and Andy Schonfelder, Ed Renée Edwards, Music Ray Russell.

 

One Note at a Time Limited-Munro Film Services.
95 mins. UK. 2016. Rel: 24 August 2018. Cert. PG.