Judge Clark Douglas doesn't believe the thrill has gone anywhere.
"You may know this song, but you probably haven't heard it like I'm about to give it to ya. We blues-ed it up real good."
If you don't at least like "The King of Blues," odds are reasonably high that you have no soul. I confess that I'm not a huge blues junkie, but the music of B.B. King never fails to be thoroughly engaging. So, getting the opportunity to review this Blu-ray disc was a pleasant surprise. The disc will serve as a nice companion piece to the recently released B.B. King: Live Blu-ray disc, which spotlighted one of Mr. King's 2008 performances. This one was recorded in 1993 at the Montreux Jazz Festival, where B.B. King has performed no less than 19 (!) times over the course of his career. It's a stellar 99 minute set of music that focuses on well-known hits from the earlier portion of King's career.
Things kick off with an opening series of selections from the eight-piece B.B King orchestra, warming up the crowd with a handful of coolly crisp instrumental that serves as a very pleasant lead-in for B.B. King's grand entrance tune, Louis Jordan's "Let the Good Times Roll." One of the ways this disc contrasts nicely with the 2008 performance is that we actually get to see King up and around rather than confined to his chair (as he has been for the past few years). Here King is feisty and energetic, dancing and shaking enthusiastically despite his considerable size. Jordan's "Caldonia" is also covered, demonstrating just what a considerable affection King has for the man's music.
King's singing voice is in merely average shape here, getting through the tunes effectively enough without ever being genuinely exceptional. Even so, the spotlight should not be placed on King's singing but on his magnificent guitar-playing skills, which are in superb form here. Fortunately almost every number includes a rather extended instrumental bridge, allowing King to riff in that unmistakable manner that has influenced oh-so-many guitar players over the past 50 years or so. Just take a listen to his feverish licks in the middle of "When It All Comes Down (I'll Still Be Around)." Great stuff. In fact, there are a couple of instrumental-only numbers thrown into the mix here ("All Over Again" and ironically, "Why I Sing the Blues"), and it is no surprise that they stand as some of the highlights of the set.
King brings the show to a close with a knockout trio of three of his most well-known tunes. He begins with a smooth and steady take on "Rock Me Baby," dedicates a particularly brief yet delightful version of "Please Accept My Love," to his audience and finally closes with his signature tune, "The Thrill is Gone." He spends a full 13 minutes essaying this final number, the last five minutes of which serve as an instrumental back-up to an introduction to/speech of appreciation for the band.
The complete set list is as follows:
• Fanfare (band instrumental)
Eagle Rock (which has released loads of these Montreux Jazz Festival DVDs and Blu-ray discs) has once again done a stellar job with the 1080i transfer, capturing the muted red-and-blue hues of the stage performance with depth and accuracy. Facial detail is particularly superb throughout, and the cinematography manages to be reasonably dynamic and inventive. Blacks are nice and deep, though occasionally the shading could use a little more definition during darker moments. There are occasional shots that seem a little too soft, but these are definitely the exception rather than the rule. The audio is fairly dynamic here, providing a steady series of minor punches that will definitely satisfy most viewers even if it won't bowl them over. King's guitar work soars here, even if his vocals are occasionally a tad muffled. The only extras are three King performances from 2006: "Why I Sing the Blues," "When Love Comes to Town," and "Guess Who."
In closing, B.B. King: Live at Montreux 1993 is an entertaining disc that should prove satisfactory to King fans and newcomers alike. Recommended.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Eagle Rock Entertainment
• Bonus Performances
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