The Season for Viewing
It is the season for giving and also the season for viewing as many of us look forward to finding a day or two to decompress, sit back and watch a movie or two as we wind up another year.
The advent of the DVD, which was only a dozen or so years ago, brought about a surge in the release of movies and documentaries of all descriptions and music fans were not shortchanged. The fact is, there are hundreds of exceptional films that captured concerts all over the globe, and there are just as many documentaries that have put some of your favorite artists of the last century under the microscope.
These days, however, we’re hard pressed to find retail outlets that stock a wide selection of DVDs that cover any substantial ground in terms of genre or eras.
Reviews of concert films and music documentaries, as far as volume is concerned, are just as hard to come by from conventional media outlets, although online sources such as new-classics.co.uk/ and magazines like Paste and Mojo keep a keen watch on new releases as well as works that are resurfacing after years of languishing in the vaults.
Not surprisingly I have my list of personal favorites and at this time of year maybe this short list might offer a little help in ordering up a gift for someone else who has the music bug.
So here goes - here are ten DVD concert movies and documentaries that I believe I will be screening with regularity for years to come.1. PHISH: LIVE IN BROOKLYN
Where to begin? Is it with the dynamite sound mix or the impressive ensemble playing or the wonderful pacing? It all drives what is the perfect experience for those of us who have never desired to stand in the midst of 75,000 rabid Phish fans, no matter how nice and well behaved they are.
This is a big budget affair, but one that doesn’t get swamped by rapid-fire editing or too many bells and whistles. Live In Brooklyn
is all about an incredibly tight band, high musical standards, and the dispensing of great vibes via a repertoire that comes at the listener, incorporating a wide range of influences.2. CLARK TERRY SEXTET ’77: LIVE IN MONTREUX
This isn’t an all-star band but a dream band that finds the legendary trumpet player leading an ensemble that includes Oscar Peterson, Milt Jackson, Joe Pass, and Neils Pedersen. Tight unobstructed camera shots, telepathic exchanges, and brilliant solos add up to a set of classics that instantly demand one hits the repeat button. It’s a fact that we will never have the opportunity to catch this band on any stage again, which makes this cherished history.3. JEFF BECK: PERFORMING THIS WEEK/ LIVE AT RONNIE SCOTT’S
This masterful performance in an intimate showcase room presents Beck’s incredible technical prowess in the perfect setting. Working from a set list that covers the bases, the guitar god pulls in the reins in terms of volume. At Ronnie Scott’s, Beck was all about dynamics, where muscular lead lines are dispensed with a tasteful restraint.
He also shows himself to be a most generous bandleader; outstanding ensemble playing with drummer Vinnie Colaluta and the petite and pretty, powerhouse bassist Tal Wikenfeld are the icing on the cake. Well, maybe the icing is the guest appearances from Joss Stone and Eric Clapton. 4. ANITA O’DAY: LIFE OF A JAZZ SINGER
As complete a piece of work as one can expect in the realm of music documentaries. Little is left to the imagination as detective-like work from the team of Robbie Cavolina and Ian McCrudden delivers a story of tragic proportions that is balanced with great artistic triumphs.5. BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN AND THE E STREET BAND: LONDON CALLING LIVE IN HYDE PARK
This 2009 performance is the cinematic equivalent of being caught in the eye of a hurricane. Springsteen and company hit the stage in broad daylight and in a blink own the crowd with a blistering version of the Clash’s London Calling. The intensity and inspired performances, from a stage that is the size of a small concert hall, all translate into a show that is both electrifying and draining. 6. THE BAND: CLASSIC ALBUMS
One of the highlights from a series of fine pieces focusing on great albums of our time, this may be my desert island documentry.
This 75-minute piece examines the first two recordings from The Band, Music From Big Pink and the self-titled gem, from all angles and with insights from Levon Helm, Robbie Robertson, and producer John Simon. Simon really was the unofficial sixth member of this ridiculously talented group of musicians who created a sound like no other.7. RICHARD THOMPSON: 1000 YEARS OF POPULAR MUSIC
Count on the British master to cover a millennium in 22 songs, with his voice and guitar and the assistance of singers Judith Owen and Debra Dobkin. A slice of the material is a reminder that Thompson is a fountain of knowledge when it comes to traditional music and from there he draws on British pub tunes, the blues, a country classic in A-11, before rolling towards tunes from contemporaries, up to and including Tempted from the Squeeze songbook. Great audio and superb camera locations in an intimate venue will make you feel that Thompson has accepted an invitation to play your own house concert.8. VARIOUS ARTISTS: LIVE 8 AT EDEN/AFRICA CALLING
World music magic, on this two-dvd concert that was a continents’ cultural SOS to the rest of the world.
The music breathes deeply, and the visuals dance amidst mesmerizing aerial shots of an idyllic and beautifully landscaped site where tens of thousands of citizens gathered to hear stunning performances from the likes of Thomas Mapfuno, Youssou N’Dour, Tinariwen, Mariza and others.9. LATER…..WITH JOOLS HOLLAND/VARIOUS ARTISTS: MELLOW
There are no North American music shows that compare with what has been served up on this show hosted by Jools Holland in Britain.
This set is dubbed “Mellow”, because the producers culled a collection of slow burning, sensual numbers from a cast that cuts a swath across contemporary musical genres. The common denominators are heavyweight talents and superb production values. From Groove Armada with Richie Havens to Bryan Ferry, or Dido to David Sanborn working with Jools Holland, every performance in this 30-song set is memorable and the audio is spectacular.10. VARIOUS ARTISTS: SOUL COMES HOME/ A CELEBRATION OF STAX RECORDS AND MEMPHIS SOUL MUSIC
If you can manage to stay seated on your couch for the duration of this concert film, you are clinically dead. Soul and R&B greats like Eddie Floyd, Carla Thomas, the recently departed Solomon Burke, Mavis Staples, and Al Green deliver the goods and fine production work captured it all in its glory.
Okay, here’s a short list of five more terrific music DVDs that you will love... really: A Film About Jimi Hendrix: Deluxe Edition
(documentary) The Last Great Traffic Jam
(concert and documentary footage) The Holy Modal Rounders: Bound To Lose
(documentary) Escarpment Blues: Sarah Harmer
(documentary) The Legend Lives On: A Tribute to Bill Monroe