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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Song of Scheherezade
Song of Scheherezade
Naxos // Unrated // June 16, 2009
List Price: $19.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Jeffrey Kauffman | posted June 19, 2009 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Rent It
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P R I N T
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The Movie:
Sometimes the DVDTalk database is just a little off kilter (no fault of our own, I might add--distributors often send along incorrect information). Here I had my popcorn all made, had pulled up my favorite comfy chair, and was prepared to launch into one of the all-time kitsch-fests, 1947's unintentionally hilarious "biography" of Rimsky-Korsakov, Song of Scheherazade, featuring Yvonne DeCarlo in one of her most (for better or worse) unforgettable roles. Instead what ended up getting delivered to my doorstep was an interesting little compilation of two late 1970s live concert videos of the prog-rock group Renaissance, one of which featured their epic song cycle "Song of Scheherezade." Well, it may not be Rimsky-Korsakov (though Renaissance loved to quote classical pieces in their own works), and it certainly doesn't feature the future Lily Munster, but this DVD, despite one of the most atrocious image qualities I've seen recently, preserves this lesser known band (at least on this side of the pond) in two quite pleasing performances as they wend their way through some at times exceptionally brilliant music.

Those of you who pay attention to album and/or CD credits probably recognize the name Paul Samwell-Smith. I know I first personally recognized his producing credits on the work of Cat Stevens, but I later came to find out he was one of the original members of The Yardbirds, the group that gave us, among others, Jeff Beck. The first iteration of Renaissance featured other ex-Yardbirds, and was one of the first British groups, along with Yes and ELP, to exploit the fusion of rock, jazz and classical idioms. Renaissance, though, tended to give more of a, well, renaissance flair to their arrangements, which often then had vestiges of a Jethro Tull sound mixed in with the more florid moments that were more redolent of Jon Anderson or Gregg Palmer.

This particular pair of concert videos, one from 1976 and one from 1979, feature a later version of the band which included Annie Haslam on vocals (think Grace Slick singing Monteverde), John Tout on multi keyboards, Michael Dunford on guitar and vocals, Jon Camp on bass and vocals, and Terry Sullivan on drums and percussion. Tout is especially impressive as he throws in little moments from such classical repertoire as Chopin's "Revolutionary Etude." But the whole band sounds great as it traverses genres, sometimes within just a few bars of music.

Renaissance never had the chart impact that Yes and ELP did, though it did manage one fairly sizable hit in "Northern Lights," here done as part of the 1979 concert. What these two concerts prove quite admirably is the band was certainly as eclectic and musical as any early 1970s prog rock group, and with a decidedly unique bent on their material, to boot. If you can overlook the pretty shoddy video quality on this release, and are a fan of the better known bands of this ilk, you might be in for a pleasant surprise.

The DVD

Video:
This is about the most abysmal video quality I've seen recently, a horrible full frame black and white image that almost looks like it was mastered off of a kinescope, believe it or not (of course I know it wasn't). Extremely poor contrast, with lots of ghosting and haloing, make this pretty hard to watch at times. The musicians disappear into the low contrast environment with regularity, making the music emanate from a largely black screen.

Sound:
The sound quality is marginally better, with an adequate 2.0 mix that manages to avoid distortion, if never rising to modern levels of fidelity and range. A "simulated" 5.1 mix is too reverb heavy to be of much use.

Extras:
None are offered.

Final Thoughts:
Renaissance was a very interesting band that managed to fuse a number of disparate elements into a nicely cohesive whole. If you've never heard of them, this is a barely passable introduction, video-wise, that will probably spur you on to check out their recorded catalog. If you're an ardent fan, you'll probably want to check out these rare live performance. Either way, the video and audio quality argue against any other recommendation than Rent It.

____________________________________________
"G-d made stars galore" & "Hey, what kind of a crappy fortune is this?" ZMK, modern prophet

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