Spotlight: Two live recordings from the past.

I was sitting around listening to some tunes and contemplating my evening and I decided to put on a recording I haven’t listened to in a long time. As some may know, I am a big fan of live music, not only in its “in-person” form, but also recorded. The organic nature of live performance really resonates with me and there are many instances where I will choose a live recording over a studio album. Two recordings spring to mind immediately.  As you can tell by my choices, I was in a particular mood when it struck me to write this up. This music is timeless, and I was wanting to groove.

Marvin Gaye – Live at the Kennedy Center 1972

Included with the “Deluxe Edition” of Marvin’s seminal and certified stone-cold classic album, “What’s Going On”, this performance of the master finds him along with the great Funk Brothers going through a solid set going through all of Marvin’s hits up to that point. What’s stunning is how “off-the-cuff” and loose the performance sounds.  The musicians have an almost jazz-like swagger to the way the instruments are in-sync with each other and you can hear the energy pass down from them to Marvin.

The live disc opens with a 13 minute “Sixties Medley” which is literally what it says. A brilliantly arranged medley with the memorable sections of songs like “Pride And Joy” and such. Following this, the concert takes a more serious tone and “What’s Going On” (the album, not the track alone) is played virtually in full, but not in sequence. Astonishing is the performance of “Inner City Blues”, which is a bit clunky at the beginning. Rather than edit out miscues or restarts, Marvin stops the song after a few minutes of grooving and they “take it from the top”. Awesome moment.

This is the perfect compliment to arguably the most important rhythm and blues album ever recorded and a must-listen for anyone even remotely interested in the R&B/soul genres.

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Soul Brother Number One – Sex Machine – Mr. Dynamite – The Hardest Working Man in Show Business – The King of Funk – The Minister of The New New Super Heavy Funk – Mr. Please Please Please Please Her – The Boss – simply, The Godfather of Soul.

If you don’t know who I’m talking about right now, well I dunno what to say to you. Those of you in the know. I am talking about the one and only, the late great James Brown. I first became acquainted with James Brown’s music when I was 16 via a hits compilation. It’s one of the best purchases I ever made.  That music, in and of itself, allowed me to appreciate the nuances found in many forms of electronic music, rap/hip-hop, pop, you name it. The sounds that James Brown and the dozens of wonderful musicians who worked with him have stood the test of time.

James Brown – Love Power Peace 1971

The purest example of Mr. Brown’s music in live form that I have discovered is “Love, Power, Peace”, which was recorded in Paris at the renowned Olympia Theatre in 1971. The best part about this recording is not the setlist. Its not James. Its the band. Bootsy. Catfish. Jabo. Bobby Byrd. Fred Wesley and the JBs. They’re all here and as my friend Damon whilst playing this said, “these guys are on motherfucking fire!”

The show really picks up around the third number. You can almost hear the sweat dripping off of Catfish Collins’ (Bootsy’s bro on guitar) brow as he absolutely shreds “Aint It Funky Now” like nothing you’ve heard before and then, Fred Wesley goes off! You can get tired just listening to it. As only the James Brown can do, he follows this absolutely electrifying song up, with “Georgia On My Mind”, and unsurprisingly, it works as good as any transition you can think of.

In reading retrospectives of this show, this would be one of those shows high on my list to go back in time to catch. French ladies throwing their bras. People turning the theatre into a dance-hall. Love it.

One thing that struck me was the time of this show. It was recorded during the Vietnam War, but there is very little to give any idea of when this is being performed. I’m sure that the big reason for this is the fact it was in Paris.

The rest of the setlist is the perfect example of these amazing musicians at a prime point in their careers. Sex Machine, Super Bad, Soul Power, are all performed flawlessly and are quintessential versions.

In respect to the funk genre, I am a novice, but I know when I love something and this is unquestionably my favorite live recording of all-time.

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