Sunday, October 30, 2011


As technology improves, archivists are better able to salvage lost causes.  And as artists pass away, the search for unreleased material intensifies.  It's like looking for shipwrecks; rumours that a camera crew was at a live concert, or that somebody heard demos one time of a certain unissued song.  Even if its found, what shape will it be in?  And is it any good in the first place?

So it was great luck finding, and even better luck restoring to quality, this stellar footage of Ray Charles.  Plus, it's a momentous series of concerts:  His first trip to Europe, his best band, his peak period, his greatest hits.  A French TV crew was there to capture it for later broadcast, over four nights at the Antibes Jazz Festival.  Although the master tapes were chopped to pieces, enough was left to put together nearly two hours of the four nights, with sparkling black-and-white footage.  The angles are excellent; in fact, it would be considered well-shot and unique in this day-and-age.  Best of all, the producers today were able to seamlessly match it to the original radio recordings of the shows, for much better sound and to cover many incomplete song edits from the films.

And here was Brother Ray, at that important moment in his career.  He was on top of his game, having found a way to connect his rich soul music (which he mostly invented) to a mainstream audience, giving him huge hits with What'd I Say and Georgia On My Mind.  His smaller orchestra on these dates did the funky soul thing, but they were also prime jazz players, and Charles was still doing instrumentals featuring his horns, and going back to his starting days in the Nat King Cole vein.  The great Fathead Newman was with him on sax, and you can watch this disc just for the playing.

You can also watch it just for the singing.  Charles was a master at delivery, and to hear the passion come out as the soul intensified is a thing of beautty.  And to see the Raelettes, the original quartet, saunter out and belt such raw and rich accompaniment, well again we are blessed these tapes were located and lovingly restored.  Hats off to the Reelin' In The Years team, which consistently produces some of the best music DVD's available.

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