Although an initial glance might not tip off even the most observant of consumers, this German two-disc set includes the entire contents of the 1959 double-LP Belafonte at Carnegie Hall [LP]. In North America, the title was reissued in the early '90s. Sadly, it was a considerably truncated single CD. Compiled from two benefit concerts -- on June ...
Although an initial glance might not tip off even the most observant of consumers, this German two-disc set includes the entire contents of the 1959 double-LP Belafonte at Carnegie Hall [LP]. In North America, the title was reissued in the early '90s. Sadly, it was a considerably truncated single CD. Compiled from two benefit concerts -- on June 19 and 20, 1959, respectively -- at the venerable Carnegie Hall, Belafonte's mesmerizing performances exemplify his enormous capacity as more than just a folk and jazz vocalist. Although marketed as the "King of Calypso," Belafonte sheds that erroneous image in favor of a more accurate persona as a seasoned entertainer whose visceral theatrical faculties allow him the ability to inhabit the songs he sings and stories he tells. This 19-song set contains highlights from most of his studio albums, with the exception of the seasonal offering Belafonte Sings of Christmas and the critically acclaimed Porgy & Bess -- which was a collaborative effort with Lena Horne. Instrumentally, Belafonte has a diverse pallet from which to draw, ranging from the intimacy of a single acoustic guitar and hand percussion combo to the immensity of a 47-piece orchestra. For maximum effect, the musical arrangements often incorporate dimensions of both -- which is how Live in Concert at the Carnegie Hall commences. The brief "Introduction" is a free-flowing orchestral overture to the entire performance. As it builds and crescendos, only bongos, acoustic guitar, and the unrelenting vocal authority of Belafonte remain, yielding a most dramatic segue into "Darlin' Cora." The liner notes -- reprinted from the original gatefold two-record set -- explain that these performances contained three acts: "Moods of the American Negro," "In the Caribbean," and "'Round the World." From here, the 90-plus minute set is derived, including many audience favorites that would become synonymous with Belafonte and would remain in his repertoire for the entirety of his performance career. The incredible range of material includes a fiery "John Henry," the sublime serenity of "Jamaica Farewell," as well as his hits "Day O" and "Man Smart (Woman Smarter)." As a guide between the songs, he talks about his heritage and the impact that music has had throughout his life and travels. "Man Piaba," a calypso retelling of a "facts of life" lesson, is a consummate example of how Belafonte seamlessly weaves his stories into songs. This climaxes with a ten-plus minute audience participatory version of "Matilda," in which different sections of the orchestra, acoustic combo, and even audience are encouraged to sing along. As not to disenfranchise anyone and all in the best of fun, Belafonte even solicits responses from such unlikely participants as "women over 40" and "people on scholarship." It is this type of unification of all peoples -- through song and personal discovery -- that became the bedrock of Belafonte's enormous popularity regardless of age, sex, or race. Live in Concert at the Carnegie Hall captures the essence of the performer in his prime. ~ Lindsay Planer, Rovi