Riffs: New DVD captures King’s majestic guitar tone, glorious voice

Wednesday, August 5, 2009 at 12:00am

Next month, B.B. King will celebrate his 84th birthday and this year marks the 60th anniversary of his very first recordings made in Nashville for the Bullet label.

Since that time his biting, majestic guitar tone and glorious voice have made him an international star and the most recognizable blues musician in history from the standpoint of popular influence and impact.

The new DVD Live at Montreux 1993 (Eagle Eye Media) captures him during one of his finest and most captivating sessions at that famed festival. It was an evening when King was in a nostalgic and good mood, and not only sang with vigor and fire, but also delivered a host of extensive, impressive solos.

Assisted by a wonderful eight-piece band, King paid homage to one of his influences many have overlooked: the rollicking swing and R&B saxophonist Louis Jordan. Both “Let the Good Times Roll’ and “Caledonia” are longtime King favorites, and these versions were exuberant, spirited and joyful.

He displays on the instrumentals “All Over Again” and “Why I Sing The Blues” the speed, control and dexterity that has made him such a beloved instrumentalist. Though his approach is deeply rooted in blues phrasing, King can occasionally inject some notes, lines and phrasing that reflect his love of players like Charlie Christian and Django Reinhardt, and there’s plenty of swing and edge in his work as well as the bent notes and other blues devices.

Other highlights include soaring renditions of “Why I Sing the Blues,” “Chains of Love,” and his biggest recent hit “The Thrill is Gone” that completes the session.

Coming off last year’s Grammy-winning classic One Kind Favor, Live at Montreux 1993 spotlights another prime period in B.B. King’s long and remarkable career.

More blues on DVD

It Ain't Over is a marvelous new anthology from the famed Chicago label Delmark honoring that company’s vast contributions to blues over the last 55 years.

Delmark assembled most of their roster for a grand celebration at Buddy Guy’s Legends club in Chicago March 7, 2008, and wisely the event was recorded and filmed for this engaging DVD.

From bawdy, edgy female vocalists like Zora Young and Shirley Johnson who belt out powerful tunes and sensual invitations to the sterling playing and singing of such veterans as guitarist Jimmy Johnson, saxophonist Eddie Shaw and the (sadly now deceased) harmonica wizard Little Arthur Duncan, these performers reaffirmed the vitality and continuing relevance of the blues in the 21st century.

Delmark continues outshining every “major” label in the world with its blues and both contemporary and vintage jazz releases. It Ain't Over is a company and musical highlight.

New jazz on DVD

Intelligence, beauty and originality were the things that made Anita O’Day a standout among jazz singers, and these qualities are evident in the outstanding film Anita O’Day: The Life of A Jazz Singer (AOD) that’s now available on DVD.

It traces her career over its seven-decade tenure, presenting peak performances from collaborations that include Gene Krupa, Louis Armstrong, Stan Kenton and Roy Eldridge. The disc also includes extremely candid interviews she did with Dick Cavett, Bryant Gumbel and David Frost where she acknowledged both triumphs and failures without making excuses or being bitter and vindictive.

O’Day loved the art of singing, knew her strengths and what songs worked best for her style, and could discuss with clarity and accuracy many subjects from music to politics or romance. Anita O’Day: The Life of A Jazz Singer explores not only the difficulties and problems inherent in doing music quite different from the norm, but the qualities (both good and bad) that made her such a magnetic and memorable personality.

Quincy Jones has bridged musical gaps in America throughout his life, being both an outstanding jazz arranger and bandleader and a top pop and R&B producer. He’s not only worked with Ray Charles and Frank Sinatra but Michael Jackson and Chaka Khan.

The 75th Birthday Celebration: Live at Montreux 2008 (Eagle Eye) captures over two discs what was an amazing gathering with performers from almost every genre appearing to praise, recognize and acknowledge the importance and greatness of Jones and his role in their lives and music.

The list ranges from jazz (Monty Alexander, Toots Thielemans, Joe Sample, Franco Ambrosetti, Herbie Hancock) to pop (Petula Clark), soul/R&B (Chaka Khan, Rahsaan Patterson) world music (Angelique Kidjo, Paulinho da Costa) and rock (Mick Hucknall, Curtis Stigers, Paolo Nutini).

The two CDs cover every phase of Jones’ work, from film soundtracks to swing and big band jazz, blues, funk, and chart hits. It was among the most diverse and amazing concerts ever done in the lengthy history of the Montreaux Festival, and this set captures all the key moments, plus even provides a bonus feature that chronicles the creation of the event and plenty of behind-the-scenes information and anecdotes.