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Steppin' Into The Screen | Dom Salvador & The Abolition

Dom Salvador has contributed to Brazilian music in an unfathomable way and this documentary has presented this in an all encompassing manner, giving us a magically manic yet incredibly peaceful insight into this man's life.

We'll be screening 'Dom Salvador & The Abolition' on November 16th at Melkweg, Amsterdam. Tickets are for sale here!

Recently I have covered many films dealing with race, civil rights and social hardships within the music industry and Dom Salvador & The Abolition is certainly no exception to the rule. With this review I wanted to let you, the viewer, experience these themes whilst watching, instead of me spoiling. So this review will focus on the visual perspective, honing in on the artistic choices, techniques and portrayal of Dom Salvador.

Arthur Ratton (co-director, producer and director of photography) and Lilka Hara (co-director) have weaved a cohesive documentary, dancing between light and dark. Opening shots of New York City breathe pure filmic nostalgia of iconic establishing tableaus that we all know and particularly love. We see our protagonist, Dom Salvador, meander through the subway, passing through time at Grand Central Station, owning the East Village pavements and treading towards his past. Dusty fingers hold up iconic relics never before seen by Dom’s eyes, although he's been through it all.

Mike Davis (Academy Records Owner) keeps guard over Harry Belafonte’s record collection and within this golden goose egg there is unreleased magic from Dom Salvador & The Abolition. The hand-held camera teleports us right into the room with him, and Dom's arrangement made for Belafonte brings us all the way back to 1973. Yet Ratton and Hara do not let you stay comfortable within the nostalgia. As the unreleased tape slides into the player, a sudden jump-cut throws you on to the flames at the River Cafe in New York.

This very clear choice to use such haphazard segues between Dom’s story gives such resemblance to the polyrhythmic, beautiful chaos that is jazz. Salvador has played the piano at River Cafe for the last 41 years, it’s as though he is part of the tapestry, as integral as a piece of furniture in this iconic establishment. Undisputed talent as a jazz pianist, with fingers that dance across keys with such ease, this beautiful man is someone to be honoured.

His River Cafe colleague Dick Oatts divulges:

“I would say Dom Salvador is a revolutionary in music, in life and coming to this country…I can’t imagine what he would have experienced but you’d never know that. When I worked with him, this cat was all about the music and all about the love”.

A found tape from the Abolition’s first rehearsal swoons the montage of his family, like turning pages from an old photo album. He was the youngest of 11, coming from an impoverished yet musically driven family. Salvador was encouraged early on to tap into his musical roots and the whole family pitched in to buy him his first piano. Starting with the sounds of samba rock as the pianist for the Oliveira e Seus Black Boys in 1962, it was only a baby step for the leaps and bounds Dom was about to achieve in his musical career. Playing with an innumerable amount of bands like the Copa Trio at the Brazilian club Becos das Garrafas (a hotbed for Afro-Brazilian talent), Rio 65 Trio and also playing for Pixinguinha on his final album, an artist “considered to be the Louie Armstrong of Brazil”.

Between 1966 to ‘72 Dom straddled amongst the arranger and composer roles in a lot of influential Brazilian sounds, records flash across our eyes, it’s barely manageable to keep up but as a pianist he truly found his sound with Abolition in ‘72. This fruit salad of sounds: bossa nova, samba, soul and funk became so sought after.

“This is what makes Brazilian music so rich. That’s why till today people are still looking for these albums, and the re-issues of these fantastic recordings.” - Marcos Valle.

Throughout the film we see red lights shimmering across the harbour of New York, this imagery is purely a presentation of the River Cafe, but as the documentary progresses it melds into a motif. We learn about the Military Dictatorship rule, the repressive AIS laws, slavery and torture within Brazil in 1968 and this vision now speaks volumes.

"Dom Salvador and the Abolition were the people among the frontlines feeling the sting of the racial paranoia of living under a military dictatorship in Brazil in the early 70’s” - DJ, Greg Gaz

The bright red light against the water now foreshadows the bloodshed, a tumultuous political movement and a depth within sound that proved more powerful than violence.

Finding music wherever he goes, Dom stands over the frying pan in his humble New York apartment. It is a delight to watch this man in his daily life, a clink of cutlery, the sizzling song of oil, the sounds breathing life back into him. “I let things happen naturally. I believe the ‘Holy Spirit’ helps me, to make something that’s already inside me”.

Dom Salvador has contributed to Brazilian music in an unfathomable way and this documentary has presented this in an all encompassing manner, giving us a magically manic yet incredibly peaceful insight into this man's life.

I give this film a NM (check the Film Condition Board below), Near Mint. Ratton and Hara present us with the story of a powerhouse pianist, Brazilian icon and the samba/soul fusion conjurer known as Dom Salvador in the most beautiful and stylistic way.

See you on the 16th of November at the screening!


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James Brown
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