Herb Alpert Is... Review
“Herb Alpert Is…” state a number of the musician’s close friends and family, completing the sentence by summarising how they feel about one of the biggest selling artists of the 20th century. But if you are not of a certain age you may be asking, “Sure, but who is Herb Alpert?” and John Scheinfeld’s easy-watch documentary fills in the blanks of the trumpeter's career from the early days of co-writing one of Sam Cooke’s biggest hits, Wonderful World, to outselling The Beatles with his Tijuana Band ensemble and his more recent years spent painting and sculpting.
During the height of his popularity during the mid-60s, Alpert also started A&M Records with Jeremy Moss. It was a move born out of frustration at the artistic limitations he experienced while recording his fist album (known then as Dore Albert) on Dot Records. Scheinfeld focusses more on the creative philosophy and early formation of the label than its successes, but before selling it to Polygram in 1989 it would become home to the likes of Janet Jackson, Burt Bacharach, The Police, Carole King, Sergio Mendes, The Carpenters and countless other big name artists.
Some of those appear as talking heads, with Sting, Richard Carpenter and Bacharach remembering the support offered by Alpert during their time recording at the old Charlie Chaplin Studio lot. Alpert also acts as part-guide, still going strong at 83-years-old performing on-stage and sculpting and painting at home. That sense of creativity forms the foundation of Scheinfeld’s narrative, intermittently returning to the present day to watch Alpert at work in his studio and using painterly graphics to move from one segment to the next.
Alpert's Tijuana Brass band were one of the leading proponents of the easy listening movement that proved so popular throughout the ‘50s and ‘60s. Questlove refers to Alpert’s sound as “the happiest music in existence” - it being his go-to pick-me-up remedy when he’s feeling down. Listen to his cover of Spanish Flea and it’s easy to see why so many felt the same way, especially during such a turbulent decade. All the more remarkable is the level of success achieved while primarily being an instrumentalist. He still had vocal hits with the likes of This Guy's in Love With You, but with only one other instrumental single reaching the top of the US charts since 1979’s Rise, there aren’t many other similar acts who have been able to do the same.
Profiling an artist like Herb Alpert doesn’t require the reinvention of the documentary wheel and Scheinfeld moves through his career in traditional form. From taking inspiration from Mexican mariachi bands and the famous teenage wet-dream cover of his 1965 Whipped Cream & Other Delights album, to introducing the genius of Sergio Mendes and his disillusionment with music at the start of the ‘70s, Scheinfeld ensures all the basics are covered.
What also shines through is how grounded and likeable Herb appears to be. Perhaps that’s one of the core reasons why he appealed to so many of his fans. Of course, what we see on camera always has to be taken with a pinch of salt, but most people can be read one way or the other, and Herb remains genuine and affable throughout. As is often the case in these types of documentary, barely a toe is dipped into darker waters, with regrets about his lack of time spent fathering his children given only a moment’s reflection.
The final third of Herb Alpert Is… spends a little too long celebrating Alpert’s second marriage to singer Lani Hall. While it’s nice to see a couple seemingly so in love after 47 years of marriage, it doesn’t warrant the amount of time it’s given. Still, it fits in with the breezy tone of a documentary that gives an often overlooked '60s icon a well-deserved spotlight. Miles Davis was once quoted as once saying “You hear three notes and you know it’s Herb Alpert.” A statement like that from the often cryptic Davis could be read either way, but it’s one Herb is happy to hold on to with pride.
Herb Alpert Is... will premiere on Facebook Live, YouTube and Twitter on October 1 at 8pm ET, before expanding onto other digital platforms from October 2.