Published Apr 22, 2016The strange and seductive power of the saxophone is on full display in award-winning Canadian filmmaker Larry Weinstein's latest documentary, The Devil's Horn.
Based in part on Michael Segell's 2006 book of the same name, the premise is essentially the same, but the players are all different. Starting the film with a brief introduction to the instrument's inventor — Antoine-Joseph "Adolphe" Sax, a Belgian musician who would be equally lauded and vilified at different times throughout his life — Weinstein's lens then slithers its way through the woodwind's sordid history, particularly through in-depth conversations with musicians decades and countries removed from one another, to discover the impact, both good and bad, that it's had on its users over the years.
Jimmy Heath and Giuseppi Logan both make appearances, with Weinstein focusing on the use by jazz musicians of hard drugs like heroin, but things really start cooking when the director tackles lesser-tread subject matter, like the stigmatization associated with the instrument (and the music it creates) in Socialist Bulgaria (told from the perspective of Yuri Yunakov, the man who helped introduce Bulgarian wedding music to the United States after leaving his homeland), as well as the new school of performers who are testing the limits of the 170-year-old instrument (Colin Stetson, who steals the show here with his forward-thinking approach to performance).
Fans of more linear documentaries may not love the structure of Weinstein's latest film — which often feels like the cinematic equivalent of a freeform composition, darting and weaving in and out of time and space, with little regard for what's come before it — but that's what helps make The Devil's Horn all the more entrancing. And really, what better way to do the siren's call of the saxophone justice?