For any of those thrilled by the opening shot of Taylor Hackford's overrated, Oscar nominated Ray, be prepared for chills while watching O Genio: Ray Charles Live in Brazil.
Like Hackford's Ray, it opens with Ray Charles most famous song, "What'd I Say" only this time around you're watching the real Ray, 32 years young and live. Yes, underscore live five times and you'll understand how truly talented musicians used to roll with it. And Charles could roll with it, sublimely, raucously, heartbreakingly and with effortless cool.
Unearthed a few years before Charles' death (from Charles' own vault) O Genio, the 1963 Sao Paulo concert (and rehearsal) is a rare, somewhat astounding document that gives us "The Genius" (or, in Portuguese, O Genio) at one of his musical peaks, a year after he'd recorded Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, a time he was broadening the boundaries for the type of soul music he invented. Already an innovator of a new style of music, blending gospel and blues (to many Christian's disapproval), Ray was positioned at the top. He'd left Atlantic and signed with ABC-Paramount where he was the first artist to own his own masters. O Genio shows Ray right before his records become more scattershot, less tight.
Shot in black and white, the concerts are divided into two segments, the second filmed with a bit more grain. Taking on "What'd I Say," "Take These Chains from My Heart," and an absolutely swinging, gorgeous rendition of "You Are My Sunshine" during which Margie Hendrix lets loose that growling solo emblematic of Charles' version. You'll never think of that typically safe sounding song in the same way ever again. He continues with "Set Me Free," "Carry Me Back to Old Virginny," "My Bonnie," a knockout "In the Evening (When the Sun Goes Down)," "Just a Little Lovin'," "You Don't Know Me," "Margie," "Hit the Road Jack" (which was so hard to find on vinyl for some time), "Moanin'," "Birth of a Band," "Hallelujah I Love Her So" and an untitled jazz instrumental, Charles and band are, to put it simply, stellar.
The second show, a tougher transfer replays many of the same songs, only with an Erontex commercial, Ray Charles Entre Nos commercial and a closing announcement. Watching Ray, glasses, spiffy suit and sway (really, he doesn't sway or tick out as much as the impersonations show) and his faultless band including Elbert "Donny" Forriest, Wilbert Hogan and the impossibly cool (not discussed enough in the movie Ray) saxophonist David "Fathead" Newman and of course, The Raelettes (here the fantastic Hendrix, Gwen Barry, Darlene McCray and Patricia Richards) you'll wish more of his concerts were recorded for posterity. Though Hackford's Ray re-creates shows in beautiful, period detail and Jamie Foxx gives a brilliant performance, if you're at all moved by the film, you've got to watch O Genio—a real testament to a man who cannot be encapsulated in one film.
Warner Music and Rhino presents O Genio: Ray Charles Live in Brazil in full screen (1.33:1). The look is different between the two shows, but this has nothing to do with the transfer which has cleaned up the older shows as best as it can. The look is clear with differing grain, but not without charm.
The audio comes in Dolby Digital 2.0—which works fine with the material presented. You won't have a hard time hearing the smooth and the growl. A good mark for a transfer is locating the musician's sounds and you'll hear them perfectly. We'd always like better, but this presentation is perfectly fine for now.
Only a nice insert that gives information about finding the show by Producer James Austin and a wonderfully written bit by David Ritz, co-author of Ray's autobiography, Brother Ray. As he says: "You can taste the message. You can feel it. You can say it in three words: Soul is real."
Ray Charles in his prime. Margie Hendrix wailing her heart out. An impossibly cool time period. Perfect for a fan or those just initiating themselves with the music of Charles.
Read More Kim Morgan at her blog Sunset Gun