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Published: 2008/03/27
by Mark Burnell

Quincy Jones And Friends : 50 Years Of MusicLive in Montreux 1996

(Eagle Eye Media)

This latest entry in the “Live From Montreux” series highlights a Quincy Jones career retrospective show from 1996. As always, the production values are absolutely top notch. As always, the actual quality of the music is, unfortunately, quite varied. What is it about the Montreux Jazz Festival that seemingly brings out the “let’s get as many people as we can onstage” impulses of every major musician that plays there? During this show, not only does Mr. Jones conduct a big band consisting of both the Northern Illinois University Jazz Band and the in-house festival band (that’s over 30 musicians right there!), but he also has a stream of special guests, ranging from Patti Austin to David Sanborn. Despite the obvious talents of everyone involved, it verges on overkill. Just when you think things can’t get odder than the ever-ubiquitous Phil Collins making an appearance (and yes, unfortunately, he does sing), along comes a cute-as-a-button blond eight-year-old moppet playing some admittedly decent harmonica. One can’t help but wonder if Michael Jackson and Bono are eagerly waiting in the wings to pay homage to the great Q before time runs out.

There are a clutch of stunning performances here, but for the most part, the endless parade of guest vocalists dominate, and that’s not really a good thing. For a “career retrospective” of a legendary jazzman, there’s just way too much singing, and there’s a serious omission of material from Jones’ “hipster” period in the late 1960s. If time could be found for Phil Collins, would it have been too much to ask to squeeze in “Soul Bossa Nova” or something from any of the superb soundtracks Jones was responsible for from that era?

On to the highlights, which basically occur whenever Jones the conductor lets the musicians loosen a bit. James Morrison astounds on both trumpet and trombone, especially on the upbeat “Tickle Toe,” and veteran harmonica player Toots Thielemans shows the kid how it’s done with a brace of appearances blessed with his delicate playing. Best of all is the extended “Walking in Space,” a spacey thirteen minute suite that flows from some genuinely beautiful Patti Austin vocals with some wild solos from the aforementioned Morrison and, surprisingly, David Sanborn. Sanborn belies his “smooth jazz” reputation and simply howls his way through a pair of terrific improvisations.

This release is a bit of a letdown, although it does have some great moments. It’s a DVD for serious fans only, but it should be noted that fans will get their money’s worth, as the concert clocks in at over two-and-a-half hours.

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