Ray Charles – Live In France 1961 (2011)

by | Nov 12, 2011 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews

Ray Charles – Live In France 1961 (2011)
Featuring: Ray Charles – piano, vocals, arrangements; Philip Guilbeau – trumpet; John Hunt – trumpet; Hank Crawford – alto saxophone; David “Fathead” Newman – tenor saxophone, flute; Leroy Cooper – baritone saxophone; Edgar Willis – bass; Bruno Carr – drums; featuring The Raeletts (Gwen Berry – vocals; Margie Hendrix – vocals; Pat Lyles – vocals; Darlene McCrea – vocals)
Studio: Reeling In The Years Productions/ Eagle Rock Entertainment [10/24/11]
Video: Black&White 4:3
Audio: Englsh PCM Mono
Length: 111 minutes
Rating: Video ***     Audio ***

By 1961, Ray Charles was transforming music. Like Louis Armstrong and Chuck Berry before him, he shaped a musical genre. His version of rhythm and blues combined with gospel to create a new sound that would crossover to popular music. As a recording artist, he maintained control over the sessions and retained ownership of the master tapes.  His career progressed,  and he became an icon in American music.
Ray Charles Live In France 1961 is an opportunity to witness a legend at the pinnacle. Headlining the second year of the Antibes Jazz Festival (“other” acts included Count Basie, Les McCann and Hendricks, Lambert & Ross), two sets of his greatest hits are performed. Fronting a pared-down (for Charles anyway) eight piece ensemble and Raelett vocal quartet, the group rips through classics with high level professionalism. The version of “One Mint Julep” on the July 18th set is tightly arranged and showcases the innate talent of this man. Equally impressive is the version of “Let The Good Times Roll”. He is simply one of the greatest singers of all time. A fresh take on “Georgia On My Mind” features “Fathead” Newman on flute. There are no letdowns… this is Ray in his prime. “What”d I Say” captures the trademark call and response with The Raeletts.
The second set includes songs from the July 22nd set. There’s crisp arrangement of “Hornful Soul”, and his brilliant take on “My Bonnie”. Margie Hendrix brings her throaty howling to “Tell The Truth”. There are a significant number of repeated numbers in this set. Bonus tracks include excerpts from the July 19th set and one piece from July 21st.
Shot in black and white, the camera work is steady though unspectacular. Musicians walk out of shots, and the widescreen cuts off parts of the band. However, the close-ups of Ray on piano are fascinating. The viewer gets to see his fingering and overall instrument mastery. There are some humorous shots of sunglass-clad audience members snapping their fingers. The audio quality is inconsistent (with some distortion at higher volumes), but the music is listenable. More importantly, this is a historical document. The accompanying liner notes are incisive and contain a lot of pertinent information. There is a vintage photograph of Charles and Basie that will bring a smile to any jazz lover’s face.
TrackList: The Story; Doodlin’; One Mint Julep; Let The Good Times Roll; Georgia On My Mind; Sticks And Stones; Hallelujah, I Love Her So; What’d I Say; Hornful Soul; My Bonnie; With You On My Mind; Ruby; Tell The Truth; I Wonder; I Believe To My Soul; Bonus Tracks: The Story; Sticks And Stones; Yes Indeed; I Believe To My Soul What I’d Say; I Wonder
—Robbie Gerson

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