Ahmet Ertegun, Los Zafiros, and the Supremes
Reviewed by Raoul Hernandez, Fri., July 20, 2007
"In my mind there's really [only] black American music and the white imitation thereof." That mind, Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun's, should reside in a Coptic jar at the Smithsonian, D.C. welcoming the second son of the Turkish ambassador during the jazz age. Atlantic Records: The House That Ahmet Built (Atlantic), a two-hour PBS documentary prepared in the wake of Ertegun's death last December, follows the eternally dapper hepcat Otis Redding called "Omelet" as he retraces the history of recordom's most important indie label. Disgracefully, iconic archival footage of Ruth Brown, Big Joe Turner, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Cream, Led Zeppelin, and Buffalo Springfield soon devolves into returned favors to narrator Bette Midler and guest interviewers Phil Collins and Kid Rock. Considering the headliner's opening anecdote his first Harlem rent party at age 13 (starring James P. Johnson no less), absent without leave from a midtown field trip Foreigner's face time isn't quite so "Urgent." Los Zafiros: Music From the Edge of Time (Shout! Factory) won't pass for Wim Wenders' Buena Vista Social Club, but once viewed, a mad rush to either Waterloo or iTunes will be in order. (Nonesuch's 1999 Zafiros collection Bossa Cubana makes the BVSC sound positively mortal.) Tragically, three of Havana's five native Platters are now dead, but the surviving pair traces the tracks of their tears through their hometown to a soundtrack of the group's otherworldly calypso doo-wop, Sixties Motown from a parallel plane. The Supremes, Reflections: The Definitive Performances 1964-1969 (Motown) fills just such a designation, ear-opening for the number of clips among the 20 offered that feature live vocals. Elaborate set-pieces on the order of "Stop! In the Name of Love" and "Reflections" fade away in the narrow face of Diana Ross exuding genuine warmth and personality during "Come See About Me" in 1965. She's irresistibly girlish for "Back in My Arms Again," exuberantly in color in "You Can't Hurry Love," and totally happening on "The Happening," live in Stockholm, 1968. Diana Ross, human? That's worth reflection.