Recording of December 2014: Love Power Peace: Live at the Olympia, Paris, 1971

James Brown: Love Power Peace: Live at the Olympia, Paris, 1971
Polydor/Sundazed 5470 (3 LPs). 2014. James Brown, prod., mix; Ron Lenhoff, eng., mix; Bob Irwin, mastering. AAA.? TT: 92:50
Performance *****
Sonics ***½

In the one scene in the new James Brown biopic, Get On Up, that's actually about his music, JB, who began his career in music as a drummer, tells his horn section to "sound like a drum." It also shows him being dictatorial and harsh, traits that contributed to his losing several bands' worth of key musicians over the years. Perched on the edge of such a precipice were the shows in Paris, at the Olympia Theatre, in March 1971, one of which was recorded by King Records.

As dynamic and personally motivated as he was, much of Brown's fame is due to his bands: first the Famous Flames, then the various incarnations of the JBs that played such a huge role in shaping the history of soul and funk. The band captured here was arguably Brown's best JBs lineup ever. With a rhythm section of John "Jabo" Starks and Don Juan "Tiger" Martin on drums, and William "Bootsy" Collins (then a teenager) on bass, it also featured Bootsy's brother Phelps "Catfish" Collins on guitar; and a horn section, led by trombonist and music director Fred Wesley, that included St. Clair Pinckney on tenor saxophone and a pair of underrated trumpeters, Darryl "Hasaan" Jamison and Clayton "Chicken" Gunnels.

The fact that this three-LP set is one complete show, and not a compilation of cuts from Brown's six-night stand at the Olympia, is a key factor in giving these six sides a unifying continuity you can hear. Unlike a lot of live records, there are no weird edits in which the applause and crowd noise don't match what came before. And the sound, from 44-year-old tape, has been brought to life by Sundazed's Bob Irwin and Kevin Gray, who cut the new lacquers. While the sonics here will never be confused with those of a record made in a controlled studio environment, what's most striking about the sound is how much of the room you can hear—happily, that room was the historic and acoustically favorable Olympia. While the sound quality is more than acceptable, in spots it's very raw, as in "Sex Machine," when the man who discovered James Brown, singer-songwriter-keyboardist Bobby Byrd, gets overzealous and repeatedly overloads the mike with his call-and-response shouting, to the point of masking the great guitar work of Catfish Collins and becoming the only thing you can hear. Pressed on 150gm vinyl at Rainbo Records in Los Angeles (which has a very mixed reputation for quality and customer service), these LPs somehow feel heavier. Brown himself is in fine scream throughout, and for the most part the balances and overall soundstage spread are very good for source material of this vintage.

This set uses the ¼" two-track, stereo analog mixdown reels that Brown approved in 1971 but that were never released, rather than the later mixes Polydor used in 1992 when this concert was issued, for the first time ever, on a single CD that didn't include the entire show or the original running order. Brown's studio records, while listenable in most cases, were usually a single surrounded by filler. But his was a talent meant to be heard and recorded live, and Love Power Peace is a prime slice of what made a James Brown show such an unforgettable experience. Not coincidentally, the Olympia concerts serve as the climactic scene in Get On Up.

What's most fascinating about this show is how it documents a time in the evolution of Brown's music when funk was taking over from soul. Rhythms fly in and out from every direction, and Bootsy is active and essential throughout. Love Power Peace's most cohesive and convincing block of tunes comes on side 5. Opening with the concluding 12-second snatch of "Try Me," it launches into a furious mashup of "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," "I Got You (I Feel Good)," and "I Got the Feelin'"—all in a minute and a half! After this shockingly brief charge through his '60s soul-music past, Brown and the band move into the funk future with Charles Bobbit's "Give It Up or Turnit a Loose," one of the most powerful slabs of genuine, fully formed, Bootsy-led funk that Brown ever shaped into a masterpiece. This is followed by a frantic, screaming JB working the crowd—"Can you feel it? Can you feel it? Raise your hands! Raise your hands!"—to just drum beats and Byrd's answering "Yeah!"s before JB slides into "It's a Man's Man's Man's World": as close as he ever got to actually singing a ballad.

The finale, on side 6, opens with JB's then brand-new single, "Soul Power." It quickly becomes a two-man game, Brown chanting the choruses and Byrd shouting the song's title. From there, a reprise of "Get Up, Get Into It, Get Involved" is an explosion of voices, horns, and drumming—in other words, the quicksilver funk that is the man's most lasting achievement.—Robert Baird

monetschemist's picture

In 2006-7 I was living in Grenoble, France, which is a lovely and very non-touristy town in the southeast. In the fall of 2006, I recall a bit of a buzz when it was announced that he would perform there in June 2007.

Sad to say he passed in December 2006. It would have been wonderful to see him there, small venue - in fact, I think I saw the Harlem Globetrotters in the same place also in 2007...

tomasvalparaiso's picture


Allen Fant's picture

Thanks! for sharing RB.

The venue L'Olympia in Paris France, has to be (possibly) the most magical concert hall in the world!

Bluejimbop's picture

Your point is well-taken about JB & ballads but go back to early in his career. He could sing. "Bewildered" and "Prisoner of Love" come directly to mind. As you alluded to, he couldn't help but go nuts after awhile but I'm gratified every time I go deep catalog and rediscover his singing voice.