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Blu-ray Review: B.B. King – Live At Montreux 1993

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B.B. King has a long history with the Montreux Jazz Festival, where he'll be performing again this year for his twentieth time. Given this musical tradition, and Montreux's dedication to video recording, there are probably a great number of performances that could have been presented here. But they chose 1993, where a 68-year-old King masterfully led his band through a blistering testament to the staying power of blues.

The Concert

After a few quick instrumental numbers where the band warms up the crowd, B.B. King takes the stage with a rousing a very non-ironic performance of "Let The Good Times Roll." It's neither hopeful or boastful, but just a statement of fact.

In addition to King's obvious guitar chops, these opening jams in the set also help to show off individual performers, as well as just how tightly this particular B.B. King ensemble works together. "Chains Of Love" finds trumpeter James Bolden taking center stage (after King professionally leads the jam while fixing his own guitar string), and "Caldonia" shows off dueling saxophonists Walter King and Melvin Jackson during a rousing and upbeat track.

"All Over Again" is a slow, sultry slice of late-night, closing times blues. King's guitar playing here, especially, is amazingly conversational, giving the instrument an authentically pleading voice. It's a solo that says more than lyrics ever could. Similarly, "Blue Man" starts as a laid-back blues anthem before quickly building power and letting King belt out a statement of musical purpose.

The energy dips a touch at the very end with "Rock Me Baby" and "Please Accept My Love" but picks back up to close with one of his signature tracks, a cover of "The Thrill Is Gone." At just over an hour-and-a-half, B.B. King's Live At Montreux '93 performance is a solid testament to his musical legacy and a treat for music fans.

Video/Audio

Montreux seems intent on creating a living record of great performances. The recordings I've seen – and this one is no exception – serve live musical performances extremely well, performing a deft balancing act between capturing all the action with well-placed cameras while not going nuts with rapid edits.

Although footage from the 80's and early 90's often tends to look like it's been run through a filter that gives everything a light buff to take off edges (and vibrant colors), the transfer here is on the better end of that spectrum. Detail is sharp, and the consistency of the multi-camera shoot is seamless with quality from shot to shot, although occasionally you'll catch a camera inbetween focus.

Although no fault of the source, there are a few songs where over-eager lighting designers deliver muddy color washes on the band members. But overall this is a very good looking concert that has received an excellent transfer. If all the tracks had looked as good as "Ain't Nobody Home," it would have been near flawless for a live shoot.

Fortunately, the audio for this release is nearly flawless, as the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is masterfully mixed and noticably full. Although rather front-heavy for a 5.1 concert, solos and band accents do travel to the rear channels. But overall the performance is so good, and the balance of the recording so favorable, that it's difficult not to simply get lost in the show. The range of this uncompressed track is admirable as you'll pick up the subtlest nuances of a very skilled and energetic performance.

Bonus Materials

The disc contains a Blu-ray exclusive bonus section: three songs performed by B.B. King and his band at Montreux in 2006 (HD, 15:02). The brief set finds King older and less animated, but still with musical chops and enthusiasm that would shame a performer twenty years younger. Songs for this set include "Why I Sing The Blues", the Bono-penned tune "When Love Comes To Town" and "Guess Who." The video for this section looks noticably crisp, with vivid colors and razor-sharp detail, showing that Montreux is as dedicated as ever to preserving its musical library.

The bonus section also serves to highlight just how good the '93 performance by King really is. It has a raw energy that is noticeably tempered in the newer performances. And while that's to be expected for a performer now well into his 80s, it makes the prior performance of someone barely hanging on to their 60s all the more spectacular. The man simply doesn't know how to not perform, and this video shows a seasoned veteran in his prime.

Conclusion

This is an all-around excellent concert video. A blues legend at the height of his powers, backed by an inspired and energetic band, performing in front of a large and enthusiastic audience, preserved with rock solid video and audio transfers. There's really nothing to fault in this package. If you are at all interested in blues music, or even just good live concerts, B.B. King Live At Montreux 1993 comes highly recommended.

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