Though he’s collaborated with James Brown and Tina Turner, Italian saxophonist Enzo Avitabile isn’t all that well-known on U.S. shores—something this reverential documentary aims to remedy. The man himself is a great subject: ingratiating, enthusiastic, full of the kind of joie de vivre that seems a natural attraction for director Jonathan Demme, who’s made a second career out of eclectic nonfiction portraits. Sadly, this slightly slapdash effort is more in the lower-tier, make-it-up-as-we-go-along range of the hagiographic Jimmy Carter Man from Plains (2007).
There is the expected choice footage of jam sessions with musicians from all over the world, each playing a rare instrument that Avitabile wants to record for posterity, and recalling the soul-stirring dynamism of the director’s Neil Young trilogy. (Demme is one of the select few who could lay claim to the title “king of the concert movie.”) The scenes of the film’s exuberant, frizzy-haired protagonist wandering Naples and revisiting old haunts, however, seem much more unfocused—a ramshackle search for insights into the man’s art and life that rarely come. The instruments are in tune, but the rhythm is off.
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