March 1972 saw the release of Donny Hathaway Live a career defining statement that easily is one of the most exceptional concert albums of all time. Recorded on Aug 28 and 29 1971 at The Troubadour in Hollywood and on Oct 27-29 of the same year at The Bitter End in New York, Live illustrated Hathaway's ease at guiding a faithful (and boisterous) audience through a journey of emotional peaks. Like its' inspiration, Curtis Mayfield's excellent Curtis/Live (perhaps not coincidentally also taped at The Bitter End), Hathaway's record documents the special magic that occurs when a performer and audience are perfectly in sync.
A year and a half after Hathaway's tragic death saw the release of the excellent In Performance, six more songs recorded at the shows used for Live with no duplication.
In 2004 a live compilation taken from the two albums These Songs For You, Live! was released featuring more songs from The Troubadour shows along with some other previously unreleased concert recordings.
Unfortunately these two pivotal live albums have only ever been released on CD in Germany and as part of two different European boxed sets, an odd situation finally rectified with the remastered reissue of both titles in a double disc package for the North American market.
Donny Hathaway Live opens with a vibrant cover of Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" still relatively new when recorded here. An extended workout on "The Ghetto" features colourful percussion and Hathaway's skills as an arranger teaching separate vocal parts to the males and females in the intimate club setting.
In 1971 Hathaway and Roberta Flack had a huge hit with Carole King's "You've Got A Friend". Here the jubilant audience fills in for his duet partner creating a mesmerizing example of crowd participation. John Lennon's "Jealous Guy" has a tender vocal contrasting with the deep groove underneath provided by piano and funky guitar interplay. The album closer "Voices Inside (Everything Is Everything)" features lengthy solos from all band members then finally erupts into the chanted vocals.
The second disc covers In Performance (originally released in late 1980) although, to use an old vinyl term, it really is sides three and four of Live . This disc sure doesn't have a shortage of first rate material either. "To Be Young, Gifted And Black", "A Song For You", the jazz-funk instrumental "Nu-Po" and Al Kooper's "I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know" are all played with spectacular feel.
If there is a problem with this album, it's that at a modest 40 minutes one wishes it were a lot longer. Not a bad problem to have especially in this current age of unnecessarily bloated 80 minute CD releases.
The only issue I have with this 2 disc release is the artwork which sort of downplays the inclusion of In Performance . Just because this album was released posthumously shouldn't relegate it in any way as being lesser than Live . It's definitely just as strong and worthwhile as it's predecessor.
Not only is this the first time these incredible live albums have been released on CD in North America, they've been carefully remastered by Steve Hoffman & Stephen Marsh to bring out the warmth and inherent spirit of the performances like never before.
This is true soul music at it's most magnificent. More please.
Robert Lawson 2012.