Live + In Performance
BluesWax Rating: 9 out of 10
Extraordinary Funk Grooves and Captivating Ballads
Shout Factory has wisely reissued two outstanding live Donny Hathaway recordings together: Live from 1994 and In Performance from 1996. Both recordings have always ranked high on my favorites list as they are (for the most part) both all-about-the-groove, a non-stop infectious and fascinating groove. Hathaway was a master who knew how to take charge with his songwriting, singing, piano playing, he also chose superb selections to cover, and he really knew how to assemble a band! No taking away from Hathaway, but he also had the assistance of top-shelf producers Jerry Wexler and Arif Mardin from the great Atlantic Records label. Two minor quibbles: Where are the track times? And wouldn’t it have been nice had Shout added the six previously unreleased tunes that were included on These Songs for You, Live. Okay, now I feel better.
Disc One: Live, features a core unit of magical players: Phil Upchurch and Mike Howard’s guitars, the propulsive bassist Willie Weeks, Fred White’s drums, and Earl DeRouen’s congas on the first four tunes, and adds Richard Tee’s organ and Cornell Dupree’s guitar on the remaining four tunes, what a band! Standout tracks are Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” where Gaye was quoted saying; “Did I write it, or did he? It sounded like it came out of his soul as much as mine.” There’s a tremendous “The Ghetto” (12:18) authored by Hathaway that starts innocently, then tosses in a short instrumental nod to “Compared to What?” that perfectly intensifies towards a dizzying and mesmerizing flurry, with Hathaway effectively utilizing crowd participation. And the closing “Voices Inside (Everything Is Everything)” co-authored by guitarist Upchurch, that clocks in at 13:40, where Hathaway declares that “we’re going to break it down into four movements.” And so they do, gloriously, tight and funky, Willie Weeks just slams down the bass lines right in the pocket in the first movement instrumentally as it’s obvious that the band is locked in and ready to roll. Second movement (also instrumental) is for guitarist Mike Howard’s short solo. The third movement belongs to Cornell Dupree who simmers lengthily and wildly. As we enter the final movement Hathaway takes it down a notch but that doesn’t last long as Willie Weeks bass rolls into an extended thumping solo that sends the crowd and the band out of this world. So much so that we now know: Everything is Everything!
Disc Two: In Performance is not as rambunctious as the first disc, but there are high moments. The band includes all of the band members on Disc One, except for the instrumental “Nu-Po” authored by Hathaway with Gil Siva’s guitar, Bassie Saunders’ bass, John Susswell’s drums, and Leslie Carter’s congas. I’m not familiar with any of these musicians but they do perform solidly. Hathaway covers the Nina Simone/Weldon Irvine “To Big Young, Gifted and Black,” and Leon Russell’s “A Song For You” both are moving ballads. The aforementioned “Nu-Po” is much more groove oriented and is a light and airy instrumental. Hathaway takes on the dramatic “I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know” from the pen of Al Kooper, and it’s a gorgeous rendition with splendid and bended guitar fills from Dupree’s guitar. The curtain falls with Gary McFarland’s “Sack Full of Dream” and it’s a sumptuous and heart-moving way to close out this fine two-disc recording.
Hathaway chose to end his life in 1979, but left behind a magnificent body of work, he was also a fine producer and arranger who also worked for Curtis Mayfield’s Curtom label. Who can forget his smash hit duo with Roberta Flack “Where Is the Love,” produced by the sorely missed Masked Announcer Joel Dorn? Damn, he even worked with Freddie King as an arranger on “My Feeling for the Blues,” and played piano for King Curtis!
So now for the first time we have two live performances by Donny Hathaway in one package, with liner notes from author David Ritz who summarizes this box set best: “The live Donny was the most moving Donny.” I wholeheartedly agree. This is a highly recommended recording that at times can be played in late-night tender settings, but when they funk out, turn it up loud and dance with your loved ones and friends. Enjoy!
Bob Putignano is a senior contributing editor at BluesWax, a contributing writer at Blues Revue, and the heart and soul of Sounds of Blue.
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