Judge Clark Douglas wrote this review just for a thrill.
Our reviews of O-Genio: Ray Charles Live In Brazil, 1963 (published January 3rd, 2005), Ray Charles Live: In Concert With The Edmonton Symphony (published January 14th, 2005), and Ray Charles: Live In France 1961 (published November 6th, 2011) are also available.
"Just an old sweet song…"
Blu-ray is an ideal format for concert films, which often succeed or fail based on their ability to immerse the viewer into the "live" experience. The 1080p picture and improved audio quality goes a long way towards achieving this. With that in mind, Eagle Vision is releasing a series of concert performances from the Montreux Jazz Festival in hi-def.
Ray Charles: Live at Montreux spotlights one of Genius' performances from 1997. By that point in time, Charles was well past his prime as a musician, but still quite capable of putting on an entertaining show. Despite showing signs of age here (particularly in the vocal department), Charles was nonetheless a consummate musician, and offers the audience a very enjoyable journey through a series of noteworthy hits from his past. Charles is backed by a 15-piece orchestra, as well as the ever-popular Raelettes.
The concert here is a bit briefer than average, running only 71 minutes. Despite this, Charles manages to pack a pretty good amount of musical material into the proceedings, rolling through 14 songs from his vast catalogue. Charles isn't particularly keen on chatting with the audience. He remains focused on the music, moving from song to song with joyful enthusiasm without a single break for conversational meandering. Swaying back and forth in his trademark manner, Charles delivers over an hour of very engaging tunes.
As for the songs themselves, Charles tends to move back and forth steadily between soulfully introspective tunes and exciting up-tempo numbers. In this particular circumstance, I far prefer the gentler tunes. The largely has to do with the way the audio is set up. During some of the bigger numbers, Charles' voice is occasionally swallowed by the sheer noise of his brass-heavy orchestra, and his keyboard work is pretty much impossible to hear. Just take a listen to the opening number, "I'll Be Home (Sadie's Tune)", for an example of what I mean. It's not too bad, and the songs are still entertaining, but it would have been nice if someone could have turned up Charles' microphone.
Another reason the quiet songs are better: the quiet songs are just plain fantastic songs. I've heard dozens of covers of "Georgia on my Mind" (my home state's official song), but there is no one there who can perform it like Charles. Every time he sings it, the song actually sounds like it really means something. His aching vocals are just spot on. The melancholic "Just for a Thrill" is fantastic, as is the deeply romantic "Song for You," though the latter does suffer from some very cheesy synthesizers thrown into the mix. That brings up my only other disappointment. Charles never uses a real piano at any point, relying instead on the versatile sounds of a Yamaha keyboard. Some people may that the difference is negligible, but it bothered me a little. Ray should have stuck with that baby grand he and Billy Joel used to like singing about. That being said, the keyboard is perfectly adequate in the way that any expensive keyboard should be, and Charles plays the heck out of it.
The hi-def transfer is reasonably sharp, but I was disheartened when I discovered that it was interlaced rather than progressive. Even so, this is one of the sharper interlaced transfers I've seen, with well-balanced colors, accurate flesh tones and deep blacks. Facial detail is solid, even if the occasional long shot lacks any sort of "wow" factor. The DTS HD audio is excellent, with any lack of balance coming from the way the concert was staged. It's a groovy track that will surely sweep the viewer into the experience quite quickly. In terms of supplements, we only get three bonus tracks performed by the Ray Charles orchestra: "Just Friends," "Beatrice," and "Passeone Blues."
This is perhaps not the ultimate Ray Charles concert experience, and there are minor complaints throughout the entire production. Nonetheless, Ray Charles: Live at Montreux is an entertaining show with music that is simply too good to be damaged by insignificant flaws.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Eagle Rock Entertainment
• Bonus musical tracks
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