DVD & Blu-ray Reviews
DVD-Video Reviews, Part 1 of 3
Published on October 1, 2004
RICHARD WAGNER: Die Walkure (2002-2003)
Performed by: Staatsorchester Stuttgart/Lotar Zagrosek. Robert Gambill, Starring: Attila Jun, Janendrik Rootering, Angela Denoke, Renate Behle, Tichina Vaughn
Studio: Naxos/TDK DVD 20 5207 9 DVUS-OPRDNW.
Video: 16:9 color Enhanced for widescreen TV
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1
Length: 229 minutes.
The second in the TDK series produced of Wagner’s immortal teratology, this Die Walküre is inventive, intense, well-acted, and superbly sung. Unlike Das Rheingold, it doesn’t have a strong unifying metaphor (Rheingold’s was of gods as gangster capitalists), but it is set in the twentieth century like the others in the series (although a naturalistic, rural European, early twentieth century setting). Hunding still has a hut, but its walls and lighting are sprinkled with expressionist dust. In Scene 3, in which Sieglinde (Angela Denoke) first sings to Siegmund (Robert Gambill) of the sword–”Eine Waffe lass mich dir weisen”–a light image of the sword shines on her nightgown between her breasts. The chemistry between Denoke and Gambill is superb throughout, but particularly notable in Act 2, Scene 3, in which they are fleeing through the forest. Denoke really seems like she is coming unglued as she warns Siegmund away from her with the cry: “Hinweg! Hinweg! Flieh’ die Entweihte!” As Brünnhilde, Renate Behle is all sinew and angles, her wrinkles congeries of conflicting moods. Her singing is not as full-throated as Tichina Vaughn’s Fricka, who manages to convey threat through well-shaped portamentos. Yet Behle is a riveting presence, particularly when she first confronts Siegmund in one of Wagner’s spookiest scenes.
There is humor too, notably in Wotan’s first scene in which he plays with clay human figures, but particularly in the famous Ride of the Walküre. The ladies come out in miniskirts and black paper wings and prance across the stage as rigidly prone warriors resembling Pompeii volcano victims lurch by them with machine-like precision. Wotan is portrayed as the complex character that he is, willful yet ultimately intimidated by his jealous wife. His final scene with Brünnhilde is terrifying and heart rending. This DVD is worth owning and playing to other Wagner aficionados, but not without a full bowl of potato chips and bottles of Rhine seltzer.
- Peter Bates
Playing Elizabeth’s Tune – The Tallis Scholars Sing William Byrd (2004)
The Tallis Scholars – Peter Phillips, Director
Video: 16:9 Widescreen Enhanced
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.0, English; PCM Stereo
Extras: Documentary on the life and music of William Byrd hosted by Charles Hazelwood, 51 minutes additional audio-only bonus featuring the Tallis Scholars
Length: Performance, 72 minutes; Documentary, 69 minutes
This entertaining DVD from Gimell/BBC has a lot to offer, and is essentially a “triple-threat” – along with a mood-invoking, candlelit performance of the Tallis Scholars singing definitive versions of the works of William Byrd in Tewkesbury Abbey, you also get an exceptionally well-done documentary on the life and music of William Byrd, and the package is rounded out with a generous audio-only performance by the Tallis Scholars singing works by Byrd, Thomas Tallis and Palestrina.
The performance portion of the video content is a really good watch, and includes many pans around the members of the Tallis Scholars, which is a great help to those keen on observing the techniques employed by the individual singers and Peter Phillips, their conductor. You also get many pans around the Tewkesbury Abbey, which is a massive, awe-inspiring space, and gives you a real sense of the recorded acoustic. The documentary, hosted by Charles Hazelwood, is also quite entertaining and informative, and will offer much appeal to those interested in the historical side of William Byrd. Clips from the performance segment are seamlessly interspersed throughout. Hazelwood’s appearance might seem a little off-putting at first, but don’t let his punk-rockish aura fool you – he’s an exceptionally entertaining and knowledgeable host.
The video and audio quality are first rate, but I have a couple of minor quibbles. First, the disc lacks a DTS track, which have become almost standard equipment with most classically-oriented DVDs. The included Dolby 5.0 is fine for the performance and music tracks, but during the playback of the documentary portion of the disc, I noticed something rather peculiar – when music is playing or the Tallis Scholars are singing, the sound is 5.0. When any other portion of the documentary is running, the sound is 4.0, with no center channel. This isn’t extremely bothersome, but the voice content, which otherwise would be anchored by the center channel, now seems disembodied, floating between left and right – which is OK, if you’re dead center in the sweet spot. Otherwise, the speaking voice seems to come from either the left or right, and just feels rather curious. Aside from that, this set is very well done, and an exceptional value, especially considering the generous content of the package.
- Tom Gibbs
RIMSKY-KORSAKOV: Le Coq d’Or (The Golden Cockerel) (2003)
Theatre Musical de Paris-Chatelet – Paris Orchestra / Kent Nagano, Conductor, with the chorus of the Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg – Stage Production by Ennosuke Ichikawa
Video: 16:9 Widescreen enhanced
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1; DTS 5.1; PCM Stereo
Extras: Trailers for other TDK Opera releases
Length: 108 minutes
Rimsky-Korsakov’s retelling of Pushkin’s “The House of the Weathercock” was quite controversial upon completion, and was never staged during his lifetime; only after substantial changes to the libretto was the work finally premiered in 1909. Although presented as a “fable with a moral,” the tale of a power-hungry king’s military defeat and subsequent failure to make good on all his promises drew too-close parallels with the Russian army’s humiliating defeat by the Japanese at Port Arthur in 1906, and its allegory was taken to be much too critical of the Czar’s leadership (or lack of).
The unusual production staged here is a revival of the 1984 Japanese Kabuki production put on by the San Francisco Opera. Most of the characters are in traditional Japanese whiteface, and the costuming and sets all have a very oriental flavor. This seems more than just a little bit ironic, but it makes for a visually stunning and entertaining watch. The beginning of Act II is especially beautiful to watch; on the dimly-lit set, which is bathed in shades of deep blue, a gigantic, cloud-enshrouded crescent moon floats among cherry trees as King Dodon discovers that both his sons have died on the battlefield. Shortly after, a brilliant crimson sun rises and the Queen emerges. The intense color saturation made the visual images absolutely eye-popping!
None of the singers here were recognizable to me, but they all acquitted themselves admirably throughout, and Kent Nagano’s conducting of the superb Paris Orchestra was faultless, as well. The DTS surround content was seamless in its presentation. The only extras to speak of are trailers for other TDK opera DVDs, but the supplied booklet was very useful and informative, with plenty of information on the background and story line. At only 108 minutes, this makes for a very good introduction to opera for those who may be a bit opera-squeamish. Very highly recommended!
- Tom Gibbs
HAYDN: The Seven Last Words of Our Savior on the Cross
Riccardo Muti conducts Filharmonia della Scala
Studio: EMI DVD 5 99401 9
Video: Enhanced for 16:9
Audio: Dolby Stereo 5.1, PCM 2.0
Subtitles: English, Italian
Extras: The Legend of the True Cross featurette
Length: 73 minutes
Filmed November 20, 2000 in the Church of San Francesco in Arezzo, this
vividly shot (courtesy of Aldo di Marcantonio) version of Haydn’s 1787 set
of adagios, The Seven Last Words, features the restored luminosity of the
frescoes by Piero della Francesca devoted particularly to the Stations of
the Cross. An acolyte of Giotto, Francesca’s style occasionally has the
stark shadow and line that suggests the later Chirico. An integral piece
of conductor Muti’s extensive project Music and Masterpieces, this
synthesis of music and fine artwork comes off brilliantly well, with the
Filharmonia della Scala’s intimate and burnished playing matched point for
point by the somber, sometimes mystified, painted onlookers – human and
animal – beholding the tragedy unfolded before them.
Haydn had asked the original publishers to place the seven phrases in
clear letters under the notes of the first violin, creating a kind of
syllabic fit with the notes and melody line, a tradition of augen-musik
(eye-music) that has its roots in Renaissance music practice. So, too, are
our ears and eyes captivated by the solemn drama of the music, under
Muti’s meticulous hand, while the camera lingers on the procession of
frescoes, the floor of the restored basilica, the inlaid panels, the
ceiling; each contributing to the spiritual magnificence of the occasion
as well as to the spatial proportions and unity thus preserved. The
extended adagios manage their variety through intricacies of rhythm,
timbre, harmony and dynamics, even while a serene unity of mood embraces
the whole. Only the violence of the last movement, Il terremoto (the
earthquake) shatters the meditative atmosphere with the awful calamity of
The bonus track, The Legend of the True Cross, by Mario Vacchetti, traces
Francesca’s paintings and frescoes as a series of three tableaux,
beginning with Adam and Seth, the latter of whom takes oil from the Tree
of Knowledge. The plant taken from Adam’s tomb becomes so large that King
Solomon uses it to form a bridge to Jerusalem. The Queen of Sheba bows to
the wood of the bridge that will provide the cross for the crucifixion.
The wood of the bridge is sunk in a lake; the wood becomes a kind of
protagonist in the drama, moving ever closer to its destiny. We do not see
the actual Passion. The action jumps three centuries to Constantine’s
battle with a pagan foe. The Eastern and Western Churches are combined.
The search for the True Cross is revealed by one Judas, and Helena
resurrects the holy object. Later, a Persian king steals the relic and
another battle ensues to restore it to the Holy City, which an angel
permits. So Adam’s tree has made its full circle.
Piotr Anderszewski plays the Diabelli Variations
Documentary on Piotr Anderszewski, piano
Studio: Virgin Classics DVD 7243 5 99467 9 5
Video: Color 4:3 enhanced for 16:9
Audio: Dolby 5.1, DTS 5.1, PCM Stereo
A film by Bruno Montsaingeon made in 2000, this disc may well satisfy those who know that Anderszewski performed the Diabelli Variations at the Leeds International Piano Competition in 1990 without inscribing the piece at the time. The video begins with Anderszewski playing Schubert’s contribution to the 1819 music publisher Diabelli’s request for a host of composer’s to supply a variant to his little waltz, a piece so destitute of charm to warrant Beethoven’s calling it a cobbler’s-patchwork. Anderszewski muses, rather informally, at the keyboard, providing the historical context of Beethoven’s amazing turnaround, inventing 33 magnificent variations on the lackluster tune that transcend piano technique and articulate the colossal imagination of a genius.
With the able technique of Martial Barrault, director of photography, the video uses a number of visual applications to capture the psychology as well the digital prowess of performer Anderszewski. In a long note inserted in the accompanying booklet, Bruno Monsaingeon describes the elaborate means employed to record both a CD and a DVD version of this realization: Two run-throughs of the complete work, two shooting scripts, varying angles and camera placements. Then one complete performance by Anderszewski by his own lights; then a bar-by-bar camera shooting script, adjusting Anderszewski’s every movement and facial gesture to fit the movement in the score. Perhaps not since Glenn Gould’s Goldberg Variations (from which Anderszewski plays a bit of the Aria) has there been such a palpable union of musical artist and artwork. We see and hear “the illusion of a continuous performance.” Whether any of this imagistic or icon-creating technique affects our hearing of this fine interpretation is a matter for aestheticians. You decide. Vivid playing, whether or not you watch the grimaces. [If it’s just the grimaces and not the caterwauling of Gould or Jarrett we’re OK with that...Ed.]
- Gary Lemco
PERGOLESI: Stabat Mater for Soprano, Alto, Strings and Continuo
Barbara Frittoli, soprano/Anna Caterina Antonacci, alto
Riccardo Muti conducts Filarmonica della Scala
Studio: EMI DVD 5 99404 9
Video: Color; 16:9 widescreen enhanced
Audio: Linear PCM Stereo; Dolby Stereo & 5.1 surround
Subtitles: Italian, English
Extras: Interview with Muti, Scores, Featurette documentary
Length: 65 mins.
“I wanted to explore the Neapolitan attitude in music, an investigation not merely philological but spiritual,” states Riccardo Muti in his ten-minute interview segment following his elegant reading of Pergolesi’s “poem of pain,” his Stabat Mater of 1734.
“This marvelous piece was admired by Bellini and Rossini,” echoes the short feature, Pergolesi and His Double, “and Rossini set out to compose his own Stabat Mater after having been moved by it.” The documentary explores the brief life of Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (71-1736), whose early death gave rise to any number of myths and spurious additions to his basic catalogue of some forty works. This EMI DVD does much to celebrate the marvelous and balanced piece we know as his: its application of delicate scoring and lean, contrapuntal textures, here set in the splendid Santurario della Beata Vergine dei Miracoli in Saronno, extends conductor Muti’s Music and Masterpieces project, his filming of live concerts in places housing magnificent works of art. Shot in stunning color by Enzo Ghinassi in 1997, the visuals capture the marvelous decorations of the church’s cupola as executed by Gaudenzio Ferrari.
To those familiar with Pergolesi’s twelve-part Stabat Mater, its virtues need few new embellishments. Unlike the later effort in the form by Dvorak, the piece is not wholly a set of interlocked adagio movements. Indeed, there are precious moments of lamenation, such as the Quis est homo, where the large fresco of Jesus being scourged makes its own counterpoint to the music. Both soloists are in fine form, with perhaps alto Anna Caterina Antonacci’s taking the palms. The section Fac ut ardeat cor meum has suave movement as well as restraint, once again juxtaposed against the vibrant paintings of musicians’ piping on the rafters. And behind the entire production, the cool, pliant and attentive ministrations of conductor Muti, shaping the La Scala strings with grace and love, engaged in a mission to reveal the plastic art of one of Italy’s pre-Classical masters.
Plisetskaya Dances: A Documentary by Vassili Katanyan
Studio: Corinth Films/VAI DVD 4264
Video: 4:3 Black & White
Audio: PCM mono
Length: 70 Minutes
Produced in 1964, this documentary, which includes rare home footage of prima ballerina Maya Plisetskaya (b. 1925) as a teenager, brings us a world-class artist in eleven of her greatest roles, with several excerpts from Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, and the Little Humpbacked Horse, the last conceived for her by husband Rodion Shchedrin. Extremely athletic and lithe, Plisetskaya became the natural successor to Galina Ulanova at the Bolshoi, eventually receiving the Lenin Prize, of which we see her acceptance speech. Always the conscientious perfectionist, Plisetskaya prepared for five years to portray Prokofiev’s Juliet, only to suffer a torn knee and to be forced to postpone her debut in the role another two years. Her eventual performance, a model of strict classical academism and poignant expressivity, proved the Soviet parallel to what Dame Margot Fonteyn achieved at the Royal Ballet in Britain. We see Plisetskaya at the barre, at home with her husband, in an interview discussing her hands and arms and points of national character, and at soccer matches, cheering her favorite team. We see her with astronaut Yuri Gregarin, a natural meeting of stellar talents.
The entire film has a voice-over narration, in English, that provides a formal, strictly apolitical commentary on the artist’s career. The focus of the documentary is purely aesthetic. Plisteskaya’s true forte is classical ballet, and her mastery and command as Odile in Swan Lake, her rigorous passion as Phrygia in Khachaturian’s Spartacus, are legend. We have a momentary glimpse of Khachaturian at the Lenin Prize ceremony. The swiftness of Plisetskaya’s pirouettes, her winged flotation in her lifts, her arm movements–wings if you will–the lightning acceleration of her turns and jetes, are each astonishing. Sometimes the audience claps through everything she does, as in the Minkus Don Quixote. When she demonstrates her arm and hand movements, the camera cuts to a scene from Moussorgsky’s Khovantschina, the Dance of the Persian Slave, in which the posture of her hands totally evokes sensuality of her character. The same balletic mesmerism informs her Dying Swan by Saint-Saens. Though Plisetskaya no longer danced Raymonda in 1964, we see her and her husband watch a video of an earlier performance. Thoroughly familiar with the scores of each composer she dances, she claims “my feet keep the classical rhythm while my arms and hands carry the melody.” Her male counterparts in the ballet sequences include Vasiliev, Liepa, Zhdarov, and Tikhonov. Photography by Abram Khavchin is loving, always centered on Plisetskaya’s forward movement. Even in the most static postures of Romeo and Juliet, this artist dominates the stage. What did Hepburn say? “Whatever star-quality is, I have it.” Amen, Plisetskaya. Show this video to your young daughter, and she’ll be taking ballet lessons the same day.
Toscanini: The Maestro
Studio: RCA DVD Legendary Visions 82876-57908-9
Video: 4:3 color & B&W
Audio: Dolby Digital stereo
Includes CD Audio Disc 48:09
Hosted by conductor James Levine and narrated by Alexander Scourby, this 1988 documentary on Arturo Toscanini (1867-1957) captures the monumental contributions made by the great Italian conductor in the fields of both opera and symphonic music. With historic footage and some rare and exciting home footage, we see the Maestro’s evolution as the hero of La Scala and the world of Italian opera, through his work at Bayreuth and Salzburg, on to the New York Philharmonic and the NBC Symphony Orchestra. Interviews with NBC Symphony members, like Milton Katims and Alan Shulman, and with opera singers Robert Merrill, Jarmila Novotna and Herva Nelli, each confirm the incredible energies and dedication of this extraordinary musical phenomenon, of whom colleague Otto Klemperer declared, “His performances are inevitably right!
The written documentation and commentary on Toscanini are refreshingly candid and frank, with no euphemism surrounding, for instance, his affair with opera diva Geraldine Frasier, which grandson Walfredo candidly admits almost broke up the Toscanini family. “He was a tough one, comments one NBC member, “and his antics wouldn’t be tolerated by players today. But we forgave him because of his fierce devotion; besides, there was something hypnotic in that baton stick of his – we had to follow his commands.”
Toscanini’s toughness was in his attitude, his adamantine moral character, which consistently refused to work in the service of tyrannies, like those of Mussolini (whom he originally supported) and Hitler. The historic footage of Toscanini’s return to postwar, burned-out La Scala is particularly touching; and the scenes of Toscanini’s mounting the podium and greeted by stirred, crying Italians is worthy of a scene from El Cid.
Perhaps the most enlightening aspects of this documentary come from the home footage, which include touching moments of the Toscanini family on their bit of island in Italy, and at their Riverdale mansion, which features a visit from the family of younger colleague Guido Cantelli and his wife. This color sequence, capturing Cantelli in his tee shirt, with Toscanini semi-ogling Cantelli’s wife, is quite amusing and piquant, given the fact Walfredo had to keep the news of Guido’s fatal plane crash a secret. “It was near Christmas, and such news would only bring unwanted burdens, Walfredo confesses.
The purely musical sequences, as of Toscanini’s leading portions of La forza del destino Overture, the Ride of the Valkyries, Verdi’s Aida finale (with Nelli and Richard Tucker), and the Beethoven Fifth Symphony, reveal that flexible, dramatic continuity that Toscanini could impose upon a score, never forgetting the long, singing line upon which he always insisted. “He always loved singing, and made us sing even beyond ourselves, quips Licia Albanese. “He made us play better than we thought we could” is the constant refrain of the NBC veterans. The 1943 Hymn of the Nations, with which the video concludes, manipulates the camera so that Toscanini seems to sing through his soloist Jan Peerce, while the huge chorus intones the Allied national anthems in this admittedly jingoistic propaganda piece. But the visceral sincerity of the conductor, the man, Toscanini, is not to be denied or diminished. The footage of Toscanini’s funeral procession, with several choruses collaborating in “Va, pensiero” from Nabucco, with every face in the crowd streaming with tears, is a passionate testament to the both national and universal power of this musician, who set the standard for interpretation for the entire first half of the 20th century.
Joni Mitchell – Painting With Words And Music (1998)
Studio: Eagle Eye Media
Video: 1.33: full frame (although box claims otherwise)
Audio: DTS 5.1, DD 5.1, DD 2.0
Extras: Filmography, Discography
Length: 98 minutes
This production was three years in the making and had a lot of input from Mitchell herself as to the final outcome. There is a nice introduction by Rosanna Arquette before the start while Mitchell seems engrossed in touching up one of her paintings—many of which hang all around the circular stage at Warner’s lot in Los Angeles. The set is circular as well, and as Mitchell explains is shaped like a medicine wheel with north, south, east, and west directions. North represents the body and the “know,” while south represents “feel” and soul, east is “see” and mind, and west is “sense” and spirit. Mitchell has won 6 Grammy Awards over her long career and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997. The material on this DVD spans four decades of her music. The performance opens with a couple songs performed strictly by Mitchell singing and playing her electric guitar. Later, she is joined by an all-star band consisting of Brian Blade on drums, Mark Isham on trumpet, Larry Klein on bass, and Greg Leisz on guitar.
On some of the tunes Joni gives the audience a little introduction and explains what the song is about. The set is extremely colorful and the artists are awash with a glow. The camera circles around and focuses most often on Mitchell and then shifts back and the viewer has a full view of the band and some of the audience. The performance is cool and mellow—just check out Joni’s version of Marvin Gaye’s “Trouble Man” and “Nothing Can Be Done.” The material is diverse and although many “hit” songs are absent, it does not mar the show by any means. Songs included are: Big Yellow Taxi; Just Like This Train; Night Ride Home; Crazy Cries of Love; Harry’s House; Black Crow; Amelia; Hejira; Sex Kills; The Magdelene Laundries; Moon At The Window; Facelift; Why Do Fools Fall In Love?; Trouble Man; Nothing Can Be Done; Song For Sharon; Woodstock; Dream Land.
NRBQ – One in A Million (1989)
Studio: Creem Magazine/ MVD (Music Video Distributors)
Video: 1.33:1 Full Frame, color
Audio: DD 5.1
Extras: Photo Slide Show, “Dummy” Video
Length: 38 minutes
NRBQ stands for New Rhythm & Blues Quartet or maybe New Rockabilly Quartet—depends on who you ask. The band has been around since the late 1960s and may not be a household name, but is thought by some to be ahead of its time. They were doing jazz rock mixed with R&B before that was popular. This concert was recorded live in Montreal in 1989 and for some reason starts with the musicians already doing their thing. At this point, the band consists of Terry Adams on keyboards, Joey Spampinato on bass, “Big Al” Anderson on guitar, and Tom Ardolino on drums. NRBQ is a bar band, so that should give you a good idea of the type of music they play—more specifically, a blend of honky-tonk, rock ’n’ roll, blues, with some R&B and jazz mixed in. The performance is high energy and the band obviously has a lot of fun playing together.
The video is shot up close and gives equal time on most of the members of the band. The cuts are gradual and won’t make you dizzy like some of the MTV-style editing that is common for concerts these days. Track 5 was like a cross between Joe Cocker, Boz Scaggs, and Van Morrison, and is one of the better tunes on the disc. Track 9 has a nice saxophone accompaniment that added to the song in a nice way. The video on the disc is, in many ways, the most interesting part of the DVD. The song is one of the better ones on the disc, and incorporates a bunch of dummys of the band members singing. The song is a jazzy pop tune ala Randy Newman. And tell me that the keyboard player doesn’t remind you of Niles from This Is Spinal Tap! Songs included are: I Got A Rocket In my Pocket; Girl Scout cookies; It’s A Wild Weekend; Little Floater; You’re So Beautiful; 12 Bar Blues; Crazy Like A Fox; Here Comes Terry; Shake, Rattle & Roll.
The Rosemary Clooney Show – Songs from the Classic Television Series (2004)
Director: David Leaf and John Scheinfeld
Studio: Concord Records/LSL Productions
Video: 4:3 Pan and Scan, color & B&W kinescopes
Audio: PCM Stereo and Mono
Extras: Bonus performance of “Chicago”; Commentary by Michael Feinstein; Additional Interviews; “Time Flies” – a Tribute to Rosemary Clooney featuring Jimmy Webb; Concord Records album montage
Length: 117 minutes
This DVD is a celebration of the singing of Rosemary Clooney, and focuses on performances from a series of television shows she taped in the mid-fifties. There are numerous reminisces throughout from family members, including her five children, and singer Michael Feinstein, who also contributes a commentary track. The video footage is quite entertaining, and harkens us back to an era when television networks were much more interested in quality programming.
The video images are good, considering the vintage; the sound, which is listed as stereo, is only that during the clips with various family members and the commentary track. The actual sound from the video clips is mono, and although the instrumental portions fare reasonably well, Ms. Clooney’s vocals are really compressed and congested throughout. Which is pretty puzzling – even though the set dates from the mid-fifties, a whole lot of really great mono sound was being recorded in just about every medium back then – maybe since it was television, it wasn’t given nearly the same care that audio tape or film sound of the era was given. Oh, well, if you’re mainly a fan of Ms. Clooney, or if the historical aspect appeals to you, then this package may be more than acceptable. There are numerous extras, but you may want to rent this one first and decide then whether it’s a keeper.
- Tom Gibbs
Ben Sidran in Concert (1995)
Video: 4:3 color
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, PCM stereo
Languages: English, German
Subtitles: Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese
Extras: Interview with the producer, Artist’s bio, Sound tuning
Length: 60 minutes
Sidran is a cool jazz vocalist who special style and piano self-accompaniment take presidence over a great voice. He often speaks the lyrics rather than actually singing, which should have been very familiar to his German audience in this video made for the Sudwest Radio in Stuttgart since “sprechtstimme” is a Germanic thing. Sidran was a partner of rocker Steve Miller and has hosted both a public radio series and TV specials. His approach is in the genre of people such as Mose Allison, Dave Frishberg and Bob Dorough, but I don’t feel he equals the attractions of those originals. I was surprised he didn’t do even one song in German. The often rather cynical songs are: Too Hot to Touch, I Don’t Worry About a Thing, Mitsubishi Boy, West Coast Blues, A Good Travel Agent, A Song for a Sucker Like You, You Talk Too Much, Let’s Make a Deal, Life’s a Lesson.
- John Henry
Jazz Legends: George Shearing (1981)
Studio: Quantum Leap/Music Video Distributors
Video: 4:3 color
Audio: PCM mono
Extras: Bio, Discography, Filmography
Length: not listed
This concert by the irrepressible British pianist and his longtime bassist Brian Torf was given at Pasadena’s Ambassador Auditorium in l981. The program is short but nice, and includes a vocal by Shearing on Have You Met Miss Jones. However, the piano distorts on all the peaks and the image is about as blurry as a poor VHS tape. Even on a small screen and speaker this would be hard to take, and on my big screen with good speakers it was torture. The other tunes: Love for Sale, On a Clear Day, Up a Lazy River, Reprise of Have You Met Miss Jones.
- John Henry
The Doors of the 21st Century – L.A. Woman LIVE (2003)
Studio: Image Entertainment
Video: 1.78:1 widescreen enhanced
Audio: DTS 5.1, DD 5.1, DD 2.0
Extras: Band commentary every few songs
Length: 102 minutes
As the concert opens Orff’s “Carmina Burana” plays in the background—it’s interesting to note that Manzarek released his own keyboard/electronic version some years ago. It’s a small concert venue with a projection screen behind the stage that is tuned to the music that is playing. During some songs there were strange shapes that expanded and contracted lending a very acid 60s feel to the experience, and at other times there were clouds (Riders of the Storm) or shots of Los Angeles (for L.A. Woman). Ian Astbury (formerly of The Cult) does his best at a Jim Morrison impression although look-wise I’m a bigger fan of Val Kilmer in the Oliver Stone flick, The Doors. The recent performance meant they could do a nice job with the sound and the DTS track did not disappoint. Most of the crowd looks like they weren’t even born at the time when the original members were making this music popular.
The history behind the concert goes back to the original release of the L.A. Woman album. A tour was planned after Morrison’s return from Europe, but unfortunately Jim’s death meant that concert was never to be. Besides Astbury, original band members Ray Manzarek and Robby Krieger are joined by Ty Dennis on percussion and Angelo Barbera on bass. In between every few songs there is commentary by the band about drugs, the spirit of the music, Jim’s death, and other related topics. Some may find the performance a travesty/ turn-off due to the lack of the main member of the band, especially since there are concerts aplenty that have the original members—some of which are legendary. Others will appreciate the better sound quality and the atmosphere that makes this seem more like a tribute concert than a cover band doing old Doors’ songs. Songs included are: Roadhouse Blues; Break On Through (To The Other Side); When The Music’s Over; Love Me Two Times; The Changeling; L’America; Lover Her Madly; Been Down So Long; Hyacinth House; Cars Hiss By My Window; The WASP (Texas Radio And The Big Beat); Riders On The Storm; L.A. Woman; Light My Fire.