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December 24, 2004
RAY CHARLES // O-Genio // Rating: 9/10

Since his passing, Ray Charles has generated a buzz unlike that of many artists remembered posthumously - there are at least a handful of compilations and live albums and one major motion picture film that have been or will be released sometime in the 2004-2005 timeframe. O-Genio is a continuation of the running corporate memoriam.

The DVD release from Rhino Records (the label that has put out several of Charles' more recent works) is filled with unreleased footage of a televised studio concert that Charles performed in Sao Paulo, Brazil in 1963. O-Genio is a lasting document of how Charles will be remembered by those who saw or are yet to see the magic of his performances.

Included within the release are two concerts, rehearsal takes of select numbers and the original Brazilian commercials that ran during the televised programming. Altogether, there are 30 chapters on the disc, some of which are alternate takes of the same song between the two shows (ex. "Don't Set Me Free", "My Bonnie", "Take These Chains from my Heart", etc.).

O-Genio does not run like a televised program, but more as if it were a filmed ballroom concert experience. The overall atmosphere is professional and straight to business (on one occasion between songs, Charles shushes an orchestra member). There is very little idle chatter between Charles and the studio audience (which was most likely edited out). The mood is perhaps further dictated by the nature of the performing group - a large orchestral arrangement complete with horn section, upright bass, drum kit, guitar and female backup vocalists (the Raylettes). From the moment the camera begins to capture the image of the head-rocking pianist, all these intangible effects become distant to Charles's awesome presence and his overwhelming musicality.

The first chapter opens with Charles, clad in his signature black sunglasses, rocking his head and upper body to an internal metronome while he plays the opening piano lick for original composition, "What'd I Say." To his forefront is positioned three-tiered orchestral risers sitting a level of saxophones, trombones and trumpeters bottom to top. For this opener, the entire orchestral horn section has become a percussion section, eagerly shaking tambourines, maracas and snapping fingers to lay down a heavy rhythm & blues backbeat. The entire scene, although contained by the professionalism of stage props (tier shields) and the audience's and group's attire (suits and dresses), becomes flooded with an innate freewheeling musical spirit of the performing individuals.

In O-Genio one sees a blending of musical styles that Charles was catalyst in furthering along during his career. His piano playing pushes a kinetic energy straight through much of the concert play list in the style of soul/gospel/rhythm & blues songs such as, "Hallelujah I Love Her So." The performance stays fresh throughout the nearly 20-song play list as Charles frequently changes styles, emotion and tempo. At times, Charles pulls it back some with gentler love ballads as he does with "No One", a true mirror ball inducer. In other moments the orchestra takes over and culls Charles' finest brand of jazz piano. Songs such as "Just a Little Lovin'" and "Birth of a Band" are unmistakable big band compositions that could fit in amongst those of Gene Krupa's group. Charles even performs on the saxophone during an untitled jazz piece with the band during the first show.

Between the first and second show of O-Genio one sees two different sides of Ray Charles. The first show is greatly edited and cut between performance tracks. Both the audio and visual elements have been restored to levels of high quality for a recording taken from the 1960s. Several cameras show the arrangement from all angles, most interesting is that angle facing Charles and the exposed innards of his piano.

During the second show, the quality of the recording is less doctored and interrupted by bits of fuzz and jumpiness at random moments. The second show does have the more positive aspect of showing Charles as he is between songs, talking with the crowd and providing introductions into the next tune. At the end of the second performance, there is also footage of Charles extending his appreciation to the audience with bows and self-hugs, as well as the musically impermeable giant being humbly led from the stage by an assistant.

It is truly unfortunate that items such as this DVD did not come out before his passing, so that more individuals could have appreciated Ray Charles during the course of his lifetime. For those that missed the boat, O-Genio is a musically historical document that is the next best thing.

--
Josh Zanger
Joshua Ian Zanger, a native of rural Chicago, rocks many a world with his writing, style, and generally sweet aroma.

See other articles by Josh Zanger.

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