Thursday, December 13, 2007

Genius at Montreux

Ray Charles Live at Montruex 1997
Eagle Eye Media

Ray Charles left the world many lasting images. He laid down the law for the Blues Brothers, worked with the Muppets, sang over the opening credits of In the Heat of the Night, hosted SNL, and was portrayed on film by Jamie Foxx. This is the genius of soul we’re talking about though, so more recordings and footage are always welcome, like the breezy concert performance now released as Live at Montreux 1997.

Charles was a total pro, but was not receptive to suggestions for deviations from his typical set, probably because that would imply other shows were less than special by comparison. So that night at the Montreux Jazz Festival, Charles hit with his band, like usual.

He opens up with a brassy, brisk workout in “I’ll Be Home (Sadie’s Tune),” but unfortunately the vocals are somewhat down in the audio mix. All is good though for the second tune, the bluesy “Busted.” The next song, “Georgia” needs no explanation, but it seems a little early in the set for such a crowd favorite. Despite performing the song hundreds of times a year, Charles still feels it, delivering the lyrics like nobody else could.

This was actually a pretty swinging Basie-like set, well suited to a jazz festival. Again, Charles keeps things in the brass bag for the Bix and Bing associated “Mississippi Mud.” He brings it down for the soulful “Just for a Thrill,” giving some solo space to David Hoffman’s tasteful flugelhorn. Although this band might not have the famous jazz improvisers of past outfits, like David “Fathead” Newman and Don Wilkerson, it is still a tight band, well drilled by musical director Al Jackson.

This is Ray Charles giving people what they want, like the funky, finger snapping “Scotia Blues” and, of course, the Raelettes. Since “Georgia” was earlier in the set, that means “What’d I Say” was the closer. Maybe Montreux 1997 was not the transcendent statement for the ages from Charles, but he did what he did. The man was cool.