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Phil Keaggy: The Master and the Musician 30 Years Later Tour DVD
Video and sound captured by the Tech crew of Mountain Christian Church, Joppa, MD
Strobie Records DVD
Main program: 117 minutes (bonus features additional)
When word went out about Phil Keaggy assembling a full band for a series of concerts that would recreate – live, on stage – his instrumental classic, The Master and the Musician, a single thought spontaneously erupted from deep within the psyche of every Keaggy fan, like some massive reverse-Vulcan mind-meld: this tour must be recorded for a DVD! Thankfully, this has happened, although not without a long and winding road of a story behind it. This wonderful DVD with the unwieldy title of Phil Keaggy: The Master and the Musician 30 Years Later Tour (which, from this point on, I’ll refer to as ‘The M&M Live DVD’) actually exists thanks to the house A/V crew of Joppa, Maryland’s Mountain Christian Church, which shot the concert mainly to project the event live, on-screen, for the benefit of those whose seats were less than optimal for watching the musical magic taking place onstage. Previous attempts to shoot the concert with superior equipment and sound (evident in some of the bonus footage) resulted in a better technical product but one that was lacking the spontaneity and inspiration of the Joppa, Maryland show. The trade-off is inspiration over technology, and the decision to go with inspiration was a wise one.
So here we have, in all of its rough-hewn beauty, a bare-bones document of a uniquely unguarded moment in time, when seven musicians combined to create music that evoked something truly special. The most adventurous techniques here are simple cross-fades and overlap-shots. The lighting is adequate, but not decorative or choreographed. The sound is well-balanced but not processed or 5.1 enhanced. Without the added tensions of knowingly being filmed, Phil and the band were ‘free as a bird’ to soar through music spanning the last three decades, making it sound as fresh and inspired as tomorrow. This is a look at Keaggy as we, who have attended his concerts through the years, know him best: carefree, dazzling, spontaneous, brilliant. This, perhaps, is Keaggy as nature intended……..
The DVD is presented in two ‘Acts,’ the first one being the live performance of The Master and the Musician. What was essentially a solo recording originally (there was help with the occasional flute or bass parts) comes to dynamic life on The M&M Live DVD in startlingly accurate fashion, the presence of players interacting in a live context infusing the wonderful songs with new life and vitality. The DVD uses out-takes from the album cover-shoot for The Master and the Musician to create ‘title cards’ for the songs as the band flawlessly segues through the mini-suites with pastoral elegance and aggressively attacks some of the jazz-fusion of songs like “Agora,” and “Follow Me Up.”
The second section of the DVD treats us to a mini ‘best of’ concert, featuring Keaggy classics that go as far back as “Love Broke Through,” and as recent as “Forever to Joy,” from his latest CD, Phantasmagorical. Phil even performs the relatively rare “My Life,” which will be mainly remembered only by people that own The Second Chapter of Acts’ live recording, How the West Was One. Other songs on Act 2 of the DVD are: “Thank You For Today,” “Let Everything Else Go,” “Noah’s Song,” “Time,” “Everlasting Light,” and, ending the concert, the classic, “What A Day.” Certainly, this is a cornucopia of great songs worth the price of admission. Besides, the DVD booklet also treats you to eight concert shots by (ahem!) Bert Saraco. How can you go wrong?!
Along with the always-amazing Phil Keaggy were multi-instrumentalist Tom Shinness on guitar, cello, and percussion, long-time fellow-musician John Sferra on drums and percussion, Bryan and Melissa Lautenbach on keyboard and flute, respectively, Joel Jimenez on bass and percussion, and Ric Hordinski on guitar, often re-creating Phil’s original lines to perfection (no easy task). The church’s video team serves the players well, showing nice close-ups that will have fret-heads drooling. John Sferra’s articulate drum solo is a pleasure. Sferra also stepped out as vocalist and guitar player (brave lad) on his own composition, “Everlasting Light,” and it’s worth noting that John and Phil onstage together are two-thirds of a Glass Harp reunion!
The bonus features offer individual performances by members of Phil’s band (this is actually how the concert began). Loudbrook, an innovative ambient/jazz/classical group represented by Bryan and Melissa Lautenbach (keyboards, flute), perform “Cry,” from their current album, Braille. “Don’t Give Into Tomorrow/Fair Park” is performed by Tom Shinness, and Ric Hordinski performs “Interlude #12,” a rather spacey guitar solo featuring Ric’s masterful volume swell techniques: this segues into “Forever to Joy,” featuring the entire band (this song gives us a glimpse of the high-quality visuals of one of the rejected video shoots).
This DVD package is clearly a must-have for Keaggy fans and for lovers of live musical performance. No bells and whistles here – just great playing. What more can you ask of a legend?