Eagle Rock Entertainment // 2005 // 107 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Steve Evans (Retired) // February 7th, 2006
Here's another beautifully recorded disc from the music lovers at Eagle Rock Entertainment.
Captured live during the 1997 Montreux Jazz Festival, the 15 tunes on this DVD cover some unusual territory for the titular legendary guest musicians. The principal selling point is rock legend Eric Clapton, though jazz cognoscenti will be equally intrigued by a dream band consisting of drummer Steve Gadd, bassist Marcus Miller, and especially jazz virtuosos Joe Sample on piano, and David Sanborn wailing on sax. Miller had established a street rep in '86 as producer of the ungodly wonderful Miles Davis album Tutu. Some 11 years later, he recruited Sample and Sandborn to come together as a short-lived band that would gig major European music festivals in 1997, according to the detailed liner notes that accompany this DVD. The lesser-known Gadd was a highly respected session man, having thumped skins for such varied musicians as Steely Dan, Paul Simon, and Chick Corea.
Meanwhile, Clapton had some free time in '97 and evidently felt like flying below the radar that monitors all musical superstars. He agreed to hook up with Miller's quartet and they all decided that improvisational music would be their focus. The result was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for five disparate musicians at the top of their games to jam together for the sheer thrill of making music, with no obligations, no record contracts to fulfill, and no dominant personalities to antagonize or splinter the band. Rhythm & blues and full-bore funk dominate the set, while Clapton disappears during the jazz numbers as Sandborn and Sample really shine. When Clapton's offstage having a smoke, the band lays into such classic jazz standards as Duke Ellington's "In a Sentimental Mood," and Jelly Roll Morton's "Shreveport Stomp."
Eagle Rock has yet to subject me to a bad DVD, and this fine disc from their Montreux Jazz collection is no exception. They don't throw any extras on these discs, but the programs are expertly recorded, and the liner notes that accompany every DVD in the Montreux series are written by music critics who know what they're talking about. That's refreshing.
Videography is clean and clear as a diamond, with no discernable edge enhancement. Rich blacks and vibrant colors hold steady across the concert footage, tricked out in Eagle Rock's standard set of audio options: DTS, Dolby 5.1, and PCM Stereo, which I really dig when I wanna tuck one of their discs in my briefcase with the notebook PC and a set of quality headphones for traveling. The tech specs on Eagle Rock DVDs are consistently above average, which frees our time to focus on the content. So let's get down to it:
Judging from the passionate response in this Montreux crowd, Clapton is the man the audience paid to see nine years ago. They got far more than their money's worth, given the wealth of talent onstage with him. And therein we find a certain irony.
Jazz purists could (and many probably would) make the case that a guitarist like George Benson is better suited for this material. Perhaps. Benson and Clapton can both produce stinging solos, though Benson has the edge when it comes to transforming waves of notes into octave strumming in classic jazz-guitar style. Clapton can play the blues and he rocks arguably better than anyone alive. So this concert affords a rare opportunity for Clapton fans to hear a genius guitarist jamming his heart out with a group of superb jazz musicians with whom -- beyond this show, at least -- he would not otherwise be associated.
Why criticize Dylan for going electric in 1965, or blast Miles Davis for experimenting beyond free jazz? Why rip into Paul Simon when he abandoned a talent for penning elliptical, inchoate love songs to pursue a passion for world music? The point, of course, is to free musicians (and ultimately our own minds) from the yoke of our expectations. Often enough, they push the boundaries of form and style in new directions. The fact that Clapton doesn't reinvent jazz guitar on this DVD isn't what matters. He is willing to try something different. And that's worth a listen.
When Clapton comes onstage near the end of this set to deliver an acoustic rendition of "Layla," slowed to 4/4 time, his performance obviously differs from the classic Derek and the Dominos track -- an adulterous ode to George Harrison's wife Patti Boyd and an anthem to heartsick lovers the world over. Clapton's acoustic performance on this disc does not erase, negate, or even diminish the power of the original, which exists forever. It's merely another interpretation of familiar material.
Look at it another way: Clapton isn't drawing a mustache on his own Mona Lisa; he's giving her an affectionate pat on the fanny. When it comes to praising Layla's low-aching charms, that ought to be the exclusive privilege of Slowhand himself.
* Full House
* Going Down Slow
* The Peeper
* In Case You Hadn't Noticed
* Third Degree
* First Song/Tango Blues
* Put It Where You Want It
* Shreveport Stomp
* In a Sentimental Mood/Layla
* Every Day I Have the Blues
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Eagle Rock Entertainment
* Full Frame
* DTS 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 107 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Not Rated