The movie, alas, was a predictable gloss. The duets album was more “Duets II” than “Sinatra-Jobim.”
So what’s a Ray Charles fan to do? Run out and get this video. It’s a treasure.
The typically great Rhino notes tell the whole story of its unearthing, but the gist is this: Ray, perhaps at the height of his powers (1963), brought his best band and best configuration of Raelettes to Brazil for a live TV broadcast. The rehearsal and the program are presented in their entireties, including weird Brazilian commercials in the second set (the broadcast).
Ray is just flat astounding, in a spectacular sampler of just about everything he did: economical, bop-inspired blues piano, swinging arrangements of unlikely material (“You Are My Sunshine,” “My Bonnie,”), breathy-but-Bird-ish sax playing (on one of the couple of impressive instrumentals), and above all, otherworldly singing.
Vocally, the guy had a bottomless bag of tricks to draw from, and he’s in perfect command, rhythmically and melodically throughout them all: wordless growls, stuttery double-time phrases, behind-the-beat extrapolations, an ungodly falsetto. Usually I don’t like what Sondheim calls “now” singers, the kind that are always inserting meaningless little interjections into the lyrics. Ray’s the ultimate “now” singer, but it’s such a natural part of his style, it’s perfect. His “Wait a minutes,” his “I’m gonna tell yous,” his “Whoaaaaas” are all in musical and lyrical context somehow, and are like marvelous little jazz curlicues or the optional grace notes in Bach. Astounding.