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Koch Vision presents
Les Paul: Chasing Sound! (2006)

Here I am, still at the center of the world, and at my age, still having the privilege to play."
- Les Paul, age 90, on his way to his weekly gig at the Iridium, in Manhattan

Review By: Jon Danziger  
Published: September 10, 2007

Stars: Les Paul, Mary Ford
Other Stars: B.B. King, Bonnie Raitt, Tony Bennett, Jeff Beck, Merle Haggard, Steve Miller, Keith Richards
Director: John Paulson

MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 01h:26m:24s
Release Date: August 14, 2007
UPC: 741952643296
Genre: jazz

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

It's hard to understate the influence of Les Paul, and it's difficult to think of another musician who can stand shoulder to shoulder with the best inventors and composers#8212as this winning documentary makes clear, he's adored by generations of guitar players, from the big band days to Keith Richards, and as an innovator, the only musical analogies that come to mind would be the Sousaphone or the Theremin, but in comparison both seem like novelties, and neither have anything like the omnipresence of the electric guitar. Things in our world would just sound different, and worse, if it weren't for Les Paul, and this is a fitting retrospective and tribute to the man, now in his tenth decade.

The documentary is a terrific assemblage of archival clips, performance footage and interviews of Paul acolytes, and together they form a fitting picture of the man, who throughout his life looked more like he was ready for 18 holes than for rock and roll, but who remains a wonder with a guitar in his hands. The film documents his growing up in Waukesha, Wisconsin, and his quest as a young man for a new sound#8212combining dad's phonograph needle with mom's telephone gave him just what he was looking for, and Paul electrified the staid guitar in the process. Music took him to Chicago, and then to New York, and later to Hollywood#8212his story is pretty much a history of American popular music in the twentieth century, with his country roots, jazz explorations, pop hits, and rock acolytes. The influence of Django Reinhardt, the great jazz guitar player, is especially important, and Paul cut his chops with some of the very best, including Art Tatum, Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman and Duke Ellington#8212his canny innovations were almost matched by his bravado, and he merrily recounts talking his way into a job with Bing Crosby, for instance, simply by showing up and playing a swinging rendition of Back Home in Indiana.

The filmmakers get Paul to rummage through his massive memorabilia collection at home in Mahwah, NJ, and though some of the anecdotes have clearly been spun out many times over the years and can feel a little shopworn, it's still kind of great to hear Paul talk about the daredevil aspects of overdubbing, and working without a net#8212to produce his signature sound, he'd play a first guitar track, and then run that tape through the machine again while he played a second track, and on and on. It produced some glorious music, but if you muffed a bar on a track, you didn't destroy just that take, but every single one that came before it, making the sounds he produced that much more miraculous. (We've become so conditioned to our technology that we take it for granted#8212if, for instance, I had to write a DVD review in longhand or on a manual typewriter without a single typo, rather than this, you'd be seeing a whole lot of "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.") A good amount of time of course is devoted to Mary Ford, Paul's late wife and lead singer of choice#8212she seemed to work out her harmonies with the same prodigiousness that he worked out the various guitar lines, and some of the music they made together remains fresh and fun and transporting. (A good amount of time is devoted to perhaps their most famous record, How High the Moon.)

It's certainly a kick to see some of the folks who pay tribute to Paul, ranging here from the Andrews Sisters to Paul McCartney to Richard Carpenter. And heaven knows Paul has earned the right to rest on his laurels, but he never seems happier than at his weekly gig, which seems to be equal parts music and storytelling. (The film ends with his heartbreaking cover of Over the Rainbow.) Paul turned 92 earlier this year, and with continued good fortune this American treasure will make it to his centenary and beyond.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Much of the newer footage seems to be on high-end video; and the archival footage varies in quality. It's not always a visual delight, but the transfer is satisfactory.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Given the wonders that Paul accomplished with a reel-to-reel, it feels kind of like cheating to get this documentary with a 5.1 track. But it all sounds fine, if there's occasional distracting static.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
2 Documentaries
5 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. accompanying booklet, reprinting an article on Paul from the July 2002 issue of Guitar Player
Extras Review: Some nice performance footage, both old and new, are the highlights of the extras package. Live from the Iridium: Les Paul and His Trio (21m:54s) is a truncated set that's been truncated still further in the feature—among the best numbers are How High the Moon (inevitably) and Route 66. Vintage Duets From the Vault (13m:06s) shows Paul over the years with Keith Richards, Kay Starr, Chet Atkins, and (best in show) Merle Haggard singing Pennies from Heaven. A compilation (22m:58s) of vintage TV clips show Paul with the Andrews Sisters on You Are My Sunshine, and lots of promotional material for his presenting sponsor, Listerine.

Three extended pieces on Paul are more technically oriented. Les Paul#8212Jazz Cat (9m:56s) covers a lot of the same ground as the feature; The Wizard of Waukesha: Les Paul's Recording Techniques (9m:17s) highlights his creativity and innovation; and Going Electric: The Evolution of the Electric Guitar (9m:20s) has him waxing rhapsodic about his instrument of choice. And along with the accompanying reprint of a magazine piece on Paul is a photo gallery (3m:42s), crammed with promo shots, album covers, magazine spreads, and even baby pictures.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

A tuneful, endearing and sweeping look at the life and times of one of the great innovators in American popular music. Rock on, Mr. Paul.


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