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07/25/11

Ray Charles Live in Concert

It is generally accepted among Ray Charles aficionados that the Atlantic years were his most dynamically creative and his more mainstream ABC-Paramount years his most commercially lucrative. This 1964 concert was captured at the apex of his hit-making ABC period, yet it leans stylistically toward the grittier, bluesier Atlantic era. About two-thirds of these 19 tracks were released in 1965. With the re-assemblage of the entire recording, it is puzzling to discover what was originally omitted.

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While early (non-ABC) classics like “What’d I Say” and “I Got a Woman” survived, several of Charles’ then-recent successes—“One Mint Julep,” “Busted,” “That Lucky Old Sun” and a prowling, flute-kissed “Georgia On My Mind” that makes the chart-topping studio version pale in comparison—were cut, as were rollicking, crowd-pleasing renditions of “In the Evening (When the Sun Goes Down)” and “Two Ton Tessie.” The skillfully choreographed evening now intact, it fully demonstrates the breadth of Charles’ blistering showmanship. Never has he sounded better, or looser, or more interpretively imaginative.

But this 75-minute jamboree is equally fine testament to the dazzle of Charles’ orchestra, first assembled in 1961 and featuring among its dozen horns such sax giants as Hank Crawford, Leroy Cooper and, on two tracks (including the seismic “Georgia”), David “Fathead” Newman.

Originally published in July/August 2011
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