Charly Records' new series of DVDs celebrates funk, blues and soul legends performing at the North Sea Jazz festival. It's a neat idea that gives us the chance to sample some great live performances from less familiar - but still brilliant - funk and R&B stars. Most of all it gives you a chance to taste the live performances for those sadly no longer with us. One such character is Johnny Guitar Watson, who gets full coverage here in this bumper package, including an audio CD, DVD and hours of archive extras.
Watson is not the most familiar of names but he has an extensive discography and was a master of reinvention. It wasn't until the 70s, when he adopted a dirtier, funky approach to his music, that he truly made a name for himself. The classic albums Ain't That a Bitch and A Real Mother For Ya are fully represented here.
As you would expect from a funky gig, there's a certain amount of flamboyance and showmanship on display. There's a definite energy that hits you the second Watson bounds onto the stage all sequined and tassled. Not long afterwards he jumps off the stage and mingles with the crowd (making you realise that in the not too distant past there was a time when performers could get away with this, without having to hurdle any burly 'security guards').
There's a great amount of talent on display and it's easy to be impressed by the sheer skill and musicianship. Every member of the band gets a fair crack of the whip when it comes to showing off their talents, and just to remind us we are at a jazz festival the keyboard player even gets a skat solo.
Gangster Of Love has lost none of its bluesy potency, despite being currently used by Ben Affleck to sell deodorant. It shows Watson on top form, wowing the crowd with a long but expertly played intro. The intro to Three Hours Past Midnight is no less fascinating as Watson's gold-toothed grin fills the screen, making it seem so effortless.
The classic Superman Lover is electrified live on stage with a souped-up funk-to-the-max feel, with some cool saxophone solos and much jumping about on the stage. However, it's quite sad watching this enjoyable and energetic performance knowing that Watson would die three years later on stage in Yokohama.
The gig closes with the classic A Real Mother For Ya, in which the funk amp is turned up to twelve and Watson enlists various members of the front row to sing the chorus with him. At the end of the song it almost looks like he's going to personally thank every single member of the crowd for making it such a good gig.
While the many DVD extras here cover the same songs at different gigs, there's always something a little bit different to make them worth watching. Watson playing his guitar behind his back in front of an astonished Leverkusen crowd is a definite high. There's also radio interviews and vintage footage of Watson in his earlier R&B mode.
All of this culminates in what is an excellent package of great live performances. The North Sea Jazz Festival celebrates its 31st year in 2006, bringing together many genres and it certainly looks like there's plenty of mileage in this series of DVD releases too.