One of my favorite memories growing up was seeing comedienne Kaye Ballard on The Tonight Show, elegantly clad in an evening gown and pearls, discussing the brilliance of Oscar-winning Best Songs. She then said she wanted to demonstrate the genius of Academy Award winning lyricists, stepped to the grand piano, and recited the "lyric" to Isaac Hayes' Theme from Shaft, with its immortal line "who's a sex machine to all the chicks?". Hayes, who brought a little street-cred to score writing with his soul and jazz-lite inflected work on Shaft, may however be more remembered in the long run, a propos Ballard's rendition of his music, as the butt of jokes as Chef on South Park, especially after Hayes' Scientology-fueled tantrum and subsequent walkout from the series. Which is all to say, you'd better have a good sense of humor to make it through this DVD, which, while really well-shot and recorded, features a sub-prime Hayes seemingly sleep-walking through his music vocally while barely playing the piano.
Never a great vocalist, Hayes nonetheless displayed a Barry White-esque sexiness with his mellifluous bass in several of his popular recordings. Here, however, his lower range is a rasp, while his "upper" range (a very relative term) is badly out of tune and frequently croaked. Add to that an almost comically interminable monologue about infidelity ("he came home to find another bull grazing in his pasture," an actual quote, I kid you not) as an introduction to, again not kidding, "By the Time I Get to Phoenix," (if the subtext of that song is infidelity--at least on the woman's part--it always escaped me, and Jimmy Webb, too, I think) and you get some idea of what you're in for on this set recorded live at the Montreux Jazz Festival.
On the plus side, Hayes' band is in crackling good form (but why aren't they credited anywhere?--you got to give your people some props, Isaac), especially the guitarist, who looks like he's having a ball with his retro-70s wah-wah effects. The three backup singers are excellent and the drummer and auxiliary keyboard players are all fine. If only Hayes were better.