"Live In Africa 1974"
Shout! Factory

Blueswax 8
Rating 8

Rumbling in the Jungle with the King of the Blues!, (06/11/09)

This 1974 concert was held at the same time of the Ali-Foreman "Rumble in the Jungle." In fact it was a three-day festival where B.B. King was the headliner. Although this DVD is short in length, it does capture King at near the peak of his powers.

Live in Africa begins with a backstage pipe-smoking B.B. who slyly states, "I'm ready," as he steps onto the stage. The set is very familiar, but these performances are killer! King's band is huge, too: bass, second guitar, a very large horn section, and a conga player, but unfortunately the musicians are not identified in the liner notes. King starts things off in a funky fashion with "To Know You is to Love You," followed by a somewhat lengthy instrumental introduction to "I Believe To My Soul," that really percolates. "Why I Sing the Blues" seems to be a crowd pleaser, and more funk prevails on "Ain't Nobody Home."

The highlight of the set is "Sweet Sixteen" as B.B. takes his time and then builds this classic tune to a near frenzy with outstanding guitar work and gut-wrenching vocals. "The Thrill Is Gone" sounds a bit anticlimactic, and "Guess Who" slows things down and seems to be the set closer. But the applause is intense and King walks to the microphone to ask, "One More?" But, of course! He rolls into a nice version of "I Like to Live the Love."

The bonus track is a 1981 interview with B.B., which is relatively short but sweet and a welcome addition to this very fine DVD. But make no mistake about it, this video is all about B.B. and his band at full throttle. Special kudos go to pianist Ron Levy, who's playing is very complementary to King throughout, but I was surprised to see that Levy did not have his B3 organ in tow.

Live in Africa 74 weighs in at just forty-eight minutes, but do not let the short length detour you from purchasing this DVD. Additionally, the sound is phenomenal and is presented in 5.1 Surround or 2.0 stereo. Also of note and very cool, there's a quick shot of Muhammad Ali sitting in the first row enjoying the show, and brief footage of B.B. and Don King.

B.B. King's first biographer Charles Sawyer's liners are very informative, but he states that, other than B.B., Ron Levy is the only living member from this 1974 band. But wait a minute, the second guitarist in B.B.'s ensemble is the great Larry Carlton, and he's still going strong. In fact, I just spoke with him a week ago!

Bob Putignano: