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Les Paul - Chasing Sound

Koch Vision // Unrated // August 14, 2007
List Price: $24.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted September 10, 2007 | E-mail the Author
If you play the electric guitar with any frequency, then the name Les Paul probably means at least something to you. Whether it's pure knowledge of his signature guitar's sexy curves or the incredible nimbleness of his fingers dancing along the fretboard, Les Paul has left massive imprints across all of music. At 90 when this documentary was filmed, the man is going as strong as ever. Les Paul: Chasing Sound gives us an intimate portrait of this master's life and times, from his youthful roots with ramshackle bands to the massive prestige his name carries to this day.

The Documentary:

To see and hear Les Paul, aka Lester Polsfuss, perform can be quite an awesome event in the life of a growing musician. His rapid-fire, dexterous style of grace and beauty is remarkable. His grace doesn't really lie in "picking" skills a la Chet Atkins, but more in a slick capacity for implausibly fluid slides and strums. Fluttering notes is a specialty of his, tickling the air of his music with graceful whimsy. He embodies the quintessence of a guitar "solo". More importantly, he'll toss things out of these instruments that you've never heard before.

But his playing style isn't the only thing he brought to music. He's also the innovator of many sound effects, echoes and reverberations. Arrangement, dubbing, tone manipulation and multi-track recording are the tools of his mastery. And then there's the renowned Gibson Les Paul model guitar that's famous for its solid structure, beautiful design, and legendary line-up of famous "wielders". Les Paul is, in himself, a legend.

Les Paul: Chasing Sound, his authorized biography, makes certain that you get to know the roots of this magician in an engrossingly intimate way. Featuring exquisite historical performances and a wonderful editing and narrative style, even casual viewers will find a lot of magic within this documentary material integrated within footage of one of his recent live performances. We're taken from Wisconsin and Chicago all the way across the country to Hollywood as Les Paul's adventures in music grasp us on screen. It's not in a chronological list form either, like reading off a timeline. His life takes on an intricately displayed persona with very insightful and emotive glimmers. Les Paul himself tells us about it all in wonderfully candid form.

The structure of this beautifully shot documentary is outstanding. When you blitz through some other documentarian pieces, especially music-related docs, you get a little lost in the cookie-cutter format following an interview-clip-interview pattern. Chasing Sound, however, is just a purely enjoyable piece of work to watch, both for content and the format. Historical footage wedges into the flow, but they're edited in with such a seamless fashion that you just soak in the material while watching the interviews. Also, the marvelous musical accompaniment is a barrage of wonderful choices to backdrop this feature. It's wholly possible to just kick back and soak in the music and scrolling images flushing across the screen. Posters, records, lyrics, and sweeping shots of awards and guitars cross our sight. However, it's in a very humble fashion void of arrogance.

You see the legit jubilation across several artists' faces that have absorb influence from Les Paul. Chasing Sound packs in a lot of influential musicians affected by him, including small glimmers from Bonnie Raitt and Paul McCartney to prolonged portraits regarding Chet Atkins and B.B. King. That's not even including all the artists mentioned that utilized his Gibson-branded works of art. The list is astronomical, one hardly worth starting to mention. This documentary makes certain to do a bit of name dropping, and it's to our amazement and joy to see our man Les standing next to such an amazing range of musicians.

Not only did I learn a lot about Les Paul watching Chasing Sound, but I just had a great time listening to his performances and his stories. If you're not aware of the full influence he's played on the world of music as a whole, not just as a guitarist, then Chasing Sound is a great way to pick up on it. This isn't a documentary shackled by dates and times to remember, but instead takes us along a comfortably enjoyable pace while educating us. Les Paul: Chasing Sound is one of the lusher and more pleasurable musical portraits I've had the delight to see.

The DVD:

Les Paul: Chasing Sound comes packed from Koch Vision in a standard keepcase DVD with very classy coverart, discart, and liner notes which include an article from the 2002 issue of Guitar Player. The article is "Les Paul on the Les Paul", by Michael Molendo.

The Video:

Chasing Sound receives a very solid anamorphic widescreen transfer. Rich with color and detail, everything about this documentary looked splendid. From the lurid colors of city lights to the solid grayscale levels in the vintage footage, everything looked as good as can be expected. All of the seamless editing and mild computer animation featuring several posters, records and such looked great.

The Audio:

We're also working with a Dolby 5.1 audio track here, as well as a Dolby 2.0 stereo track. Vocal strength is very solid, capturing each and every word pretty much across the board. More importantly, the music presented sounds phenomenal. The rich detail and fluttering magic within the music is great across the board, from the terrific highs and the tight lows. Channel separation was used quite minimally, but where it was it sounded just fine.

The Extras:

This section borders on dangerous ground for musicians and fans. We're treated to a large plethora of bonus features that primarily include some very cool archival footage and performances. Many of these pieces are the uncut versions of the clips included in the core documentary, which is an outstanding inclusion.

- Live from the Iridium -
As mentioned earlier on, this documentary splices information in with a recent performance. This portion provides a great, somewhat uncut version of the performances featured in Chasing Sound. Featured in 5.1 audio, the sound is fluent and rich to our ears' delight.

- Vintage Duets -
Les Paul and Keith Richards, Les Paul and Kay Starr, and Les Paul and Chet Atkins. More really can't be said, other than the fact that all these performances were recorded within the past ten years.

- Vintage Television Clips -
Some vintage material is included, primarily featuring Listerine sponsorship pieces with Les Paul and Mary Ford. Presented in 1.33, the audio and video quality is actually quite stellar considering the age. There's a lot of Les Paul's performances featured. Also, some older interview footage with Les and Mary is featured where they display their recording method. Some great Les Paul Trio footage is also included, though not in as impressively restored condition.

- Conversations with Les Paul -
Here, more footage of Les Paul's interviews is included, segmented into several ten-minute portions by topic: Jazz Cat: Life in Jazz, The Wizard of Waukesha: Les Paul's Recording Techniques, and Going Electric: The Evolution of the Electric Guitar. These supplemental pieces are just as solid as the documentary itself. Featuring similar editing techniques, these portions could have easily just slipped into the main show itself.

- Photo Gallery -
This is a wonderful photo gallery, accompanied by Les' music, featuring a wealth of magazine covers, record sleeves, and candid shots primarily featuring Les and Mary.


Final Thoughts:

Les Paul: Chasing Sound is a thoroughly solid documentary piece that remembers to keep us entertained while we're enjoying the material about a master of his craft. It takes a low-key, sweeping narrative style accompanied by wonderfully selected music that we enjoy from start to finish. Packed with a solid transfer and dense special features, any fan or curious party will find something to thoroughly enjoy in this package. For that, Les Paul: Chasing Sound comes Highly Recommended.

Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site
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