RAY CHARLES / Ray Charles Live Mixtape
Nasty. That is the superlative that immediately comes to mind as Ray literally kicks off “The Night Time Is The Right Time”—his, or some other band member’s, foot stomping on the floor board and the band riding in on a saxophone riff complete with a full throated baritone gruffly lining out the modified boogie-woogie bass figure over a hard shuffle with a kick-ass backbeat augmented by Ray’s rolling New Orleans’ tinged latinesque piano figures. And don’t talk about when Marjorie Hendricks comes roaring in, flat-footed, pelvis thrust forward, head thrown back, bellowing (this is no subtle sound), for this woman is calling to her man in one of those intimate moments when nothing but the pureness of both pain and pleasure exists, the hurt so good, take it out deeper kind of pleasure. The kind of stuff people leave home behind. Nasty. This is music from the album Ray Charles At Newport that put the right reverend on the minds of music lovers nationwide—well, not everybody, but enough bodies so that anybody who was into black music became aware that a new king had ascended the throne and he did so by forcing the war tribes to merge into an unstoppable force. At the sonic core was blues. The background and foundation of the music in the early days was jazz (Ray even played alto saxophone as a solo instrument). The vocal work was replete with gospel references. No one prior to Ray had so expertly combined all these factors into one symbiotic whole. Over the years other elements were added, particularly mainstream pop and country & western. Additionally, the blues, jazz and gospel triad was modified. Much of the initial funkiness was washed off, perfumed and fitted out in a tuxedo; even so, it remained what it had always been. Nasty. Moreover, while the recordings sometimes ventured far afield from the core triad of blues/jazz/gospel, when Ray got down live he wasn't nothing nice, which all is why I'm favoring all these live recordings. And here is where talking about this stuff gets complicated. So let me just say I want to mention three things: 1. use of language, 2. jazz bona fides, and 3. an enduring interest in poly-rhythms. Of course there is far, far more that could be discussed; indeed, there are books on Ray Charles, but I’m simply trying to share a few notes that were prompted by the release of an expanded version of a live recording from the period just after Ray Charles left Atlantic Records. LANGUAGE. I have been reading with interest recent discoveries and speculations in the fields of anthropology and linguistics (for example here and here). The main thread is that the origin of modern language is in southern Africa and consists of sounds rather than words. Sounds, carrying emotion. Not words, carrying cognition. Ray Charles is a master at augmenting the lyrics with raw sounds, emotional utterances that are both entrancing and fulfilling. JAZZ BONA FIDES. Like his idol, Nat King Cole, Ray Charles was an excellent jazz piano player (he even cut four or five jazz instrumental albums) but more than that, throughout Charles’ long and storied career he kept a good jazz band/orchestra. They started out as a combo in the fifties and sixties, six or seven pieces plus back up singers. Afterwards they grew to big band and orchestra status. Can’t think of anybody else who kept a jazz band together for that long and who was not primarily a jazz musician. POLY-RHYTHMS. From the jump with the Newport album, Ray Charles was always doing more than a straight four/four and a heavy backbeat. Of course, he favored the three/four feel of gospel, triplet figures that were far, far away from waltzes in effect even though the same in rhythm notation. Which brings me to the last six selections on the Mixtape which are taken from the new expanded edition of Ray Charles Live in Concert. The is a recording that makes me both mad and glad at the same time; deeply mad and deeply glad. Mad because this great music was withheld from general circulation for so long. Glad because we now have more great Ray Charles music. In reviewing the six previous features on Ray Charles that we’ve done here on BoL, it became clear to me that there was no need for me to try and bring something new to the table (go here, here, here, here, here and here to read previous write-ups), but god damn it Ray Charles is a monster of modern music. I’ll end this introduction with three quick notes. Ray had this ability to make something substantial, or if not substantial at least enjoyable, out of trite throwaway numbers or vaudeville throwbacks. In some ways no music was beneath him because he could figure out ways to elevate anything. I submit “Two Ton Tessie.” There is nothing worth saving about this song as a piece of music but Ray’s charming performance wins us over. And as if to show us just how versatile he is, Ray slides from the cornpone of "Two Ton Tessie” to a serious, serious sublime blues outing on “My Baby.” This version of “My Baby” should be enshrined somewhere as an example of what we used to call a happy blues. You know how it is when you run up on something so good you just got to tell the whole world about it. Well, that’s what this song is about: a superior sonic celebration of eroticism. The concluding track is “Making Whoopee.” This is a definitive reading of that song, a performance that rivals any other I’ve heard. If you like Ray Charles, get to Ray Charles Live in Concert. I guarantee you’ll love it. He knows how to make nasty sound so nice. —Kalamu ya Salaam Ray Charles Live Mixtape Ray Charles Live (*contains two original album: Ray Charles At Newport and Ray Charles In Person) 01 “The Right Time” 02 “I Got A Woman” 03 “A Fool For You” 04 “Yes Indeed” 05 “Frenesi” 06 “Drown In My Own Tears” At The Olympia 07 “Song For You” 08 “Angelina” 09 “Hey Girl” Rock + Soul = Genius 10 “My Bonnie Is Over The Ocean” Ray Charles: Live In Japan 11 “Let the Good Times Roll” 12 “Till There Was You” 13 “Am I Blue” 14 “Take Me Home, Country Road” The Gold Collection 15 “Come Rain Or Come Shine” Live 1993 16 “How Long Has This Been Going On” Glasgow Clyde Auditorium 1999 17 “I Believe to My Soul / What'd I Say / outro" Ray Charles Live In Concert 18 “That Lucky Old Sun” 19 “In The Evening (When The Sun Goes Down)” 20 “Don't Set Me Free” 21 “Two Ton Tessie” 22 “My Baby” 23 “Making Whoopee”
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