Ray Charles. The genius. We all know Ray Charles was sensational. Or at least, we all should know. And yet, even when the enormously popular, Oscar winning Ray underscored this point (though missing some of the better, grittier details) way back in 2004, many need to be reminded again, and beyond that "and then this happened" biopic. Need I say it again? Ray Charles was cool as hell -- sublimely, raucously, heartbreakingly and effortlessly cool.
O-Gênio is a grand celebration of such cool and of course, "The Genius," or, in Portuguese, O Gênio. Unearthed a few years before Charles' death (from Charles' own vault) the 1963 Sao Paulo concert (and rehearsal) is a rare, somewhat astounding document that gives us Charles at one of his musical peaks -- a year after he'd recorded Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, when he was broadening the boundaries for the type of soul music he'd created. Already an innovator, blending gospel and blues (to many Christian's disapproval) and after he'd left Atlantic and signed with ABC-Paramount where he was the first artist to own his own masters, Charles was now positioned at the top, flying high. And higher. And higher still.
Taking on "What'd I Say," "Take These Chains from My Heart," and an absolutely swinging, gorgeous rendition of "You Are My Sunshine" during which the astonishing Margie Hendricks lets loose her growling solo so emblematic of Charles' stunning version. You'll never think of that typically safe sounding song in the same way ever again. He continues with "Set Me Free," "Carry Me Back to Old Virginny," "My Bonnie," a mesmeric, stirring "In the Evening (When the Sun Goes Down)," "Margie," "Hit the Road Jack," "Moanin'," "Birth of a Band," "Hallelujah I Love Her So" and an untitled jazz instrumental... I could list them all but I'll stop... But, and for lack of better words, Charles and band are, to put it simply, fu**ing brilliant.
Watching Ray, his extraordinary talent, his smooth sensuality, his perfect suits and that iconic sway (really, he doesn't sway or tick out as much as the impersonations show) and with his faultless band including Wilbert Hogan and the impossibly cool saxophonist David "Fathead" Newman and of course, The Raelettes (here, Hendrix, Gwen Barry, Darlene McCray and Patricia Richards) you'll wish (so much) that more of his concerts were recorded for posterity. Strangely, as ubiquitous as Ray Charles is, he remains ever mysterious, which is part of his power.
As many times I've watched Charles (in any early performance I can get my hands on), he never fails to leave me with an almost painful, yet delicious sensation of enigmatic... wow. With the tumults of his pain and unbridled joy -- from "Crying Time" to "Let's Go Get Stoned" (yes, let's) -- he's both immensely moving and beyond our reach. Part of this is Ray Charles real-life complexity. As Charles once told a reporter, “I’m the kind of guy, I conform when it suits me, and when it doesn’t suit me I don’t.” Straight-forward, but complicated, honest but mysterious. So provocative and magnetic was Charles, so private yet revealing, so smooth yet rough-edged, so troubled yet supremely business minded, so ready to laugh during an interview or cry onstage in classics like “Drown in My Own Tears,” Charles was, and is indeed... O Gênio. Watch.