New Video Releases: James Brown

James Brown Live at Boston Garden April 5, 1968
Extended Edition
Shout! Factory

Mr Dynamite: The Rise of James Brown(2014)
Director Alex Gibney
Currently airing on HBO

JBBostonGarden.PS.300dpiThere are currently two revealing documents pertaining to how American music was forever changed by James Brown.

James Brown Live at Boston Garden April 5, 1968 is the actual concert footage that was broadcast live that night on WGBH in Boston, exactly one night after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed.

While many cities across the United States were burning out of control, Boston stayed calm. James Brown made sure of it.

At first Mayor Kevin White did not think it was worth the expense to broadcast the show for free, but Boston City Council member Tom Atkins assured Mayor White that this was the cheapest way to keep the city untouched. Otherwise, it would burn.

The DVD, released by Shout! Factory last week, shows Brown’s command of his band and the behavior of the crowd, ensuring that the only thing to get out of hand that night of mourning would be the music. The two-hour set captures a tight, concise show that features a band leader, lead singer and composer working at his full potential in a time of crisis.

Mr Dynamite: The Rise of James Brown, directed by Alex Gibney, is a two-hour turbo-charged ride that gives candid insight of how James Brown worked with his band, what they honestly thought of him, and how his influence is still felt in 2015. That last sentence is not a typo.

It connects the dots from Brown’s admiration of Louis Jordan and his big band all the way through to Questlove (drummer for The Roots) stating that Brown’s band brought us the seed that birthed hip-hop. Mick Jagger, executive producer of the doc, plainly states he “tried” to steal as much of James Brown’s dance moves as he could.

Fred Wesley and Alfred “Pee Wee” Ellis, who both served as band leaders and arrangers for Brown at different times, say that, as much as they were “not impressed” with the idea of vamping as the main crutch of Brown’s compositions, they did recognize that Brown was making a different type of R&B music. Both musicians state that they joined Brown’s band at first as a stepping stone to eventually pursue careers in jazz. This point is paramount for two reasons.

One. Brown always thought of himself as a jazz musician.
Two. Without a stockade of jazz players in his band, there are no transposers of Brown’s ideas during his peak years. Essentially, there is no funk, no hip-hop…without jazz.

We also have Bootsy Collins commenting on how, when he came into the band, Brown was interested in how “these younger cats” listened to music and what they wore. Again, going back to the jazz funk idea. Miles Davis always surrounded himself with the young lions, especially during his fusion phase, which was heavily influenced by funk. It is by no mistake that Bootsy Collins was a part/influence of Brown’s band during that peak time.

Another acknowledgment in the doc is how Brown would record raw rehearsals in the studio and release them on albums as songs. Again, another unorthodox move; but it was so fundamentally important for the birth of hip-hop. It is the in-the-moment playing that always gives way to the delectable break that producers are seeking.