James Last-Gentleman of Music (2000)

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Released 24-Jan-2002

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Music Main Menu Audio & Animation
Gallery-Photo
DVD-ROM Extras-PC Friendly
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 2000
Running Time 92:49 (Case: 95)
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Stanley Dorftmann
Studio
Distributor

Warner Vision
Starring James Last
Case Soft Brackley-Transp
RPI $39.95 Music James Last


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures Yes
Subtitles English Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes, closing titles with scenes from pub

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    James Last is a familiar name in my parent's home and I still remember a stack of James Last records that I would listen to every now and then when I was feeling bored. So, when I was offered the opportunity to review a video of James Last and his orchestra performing live at Bayreuth, I said to myself "Great! It will be fun to hear him again after all these years!"

    Although I suspect James Last is probably most well known in Germany, his music has been heard in over 150 countries. Nicknamed "Hansi" by his friends and fans, he has released literally hundreds of albums since his first one called "Non Stop Dancing" in 1965. Born in Bremen, Germany, James was classically trained but also played the bass in jazz bands. His real flair was arranging traditional, classical and popular songs and he became a bandleader with his own "orchestra" (in reality a motley collection of brass and string players augmented by other musicians) playing arrangements of a variety of musical material.

    True James Last fans can usually recognise a James Last arrangement when they hear one - he has a simple formula which can be summed in three words: strings, brass and beat. He has a talent for distilling the core essence of a song into a brilliantly simple arrangement that showcases the melody and yet offers something new that the composer perhaps did not quite envisage when he/she wrote the song. It would be easy to sneer and to dismiss his music as "dumbed down for the great unwashed" but his arrangements are often quite original and very much listenable without descending into the realms normally occupied by the likes of "101 Strings Play Beatle's Greatest Hits."

    This concert (Gentleman of Music), recorded specially for broadcast on the PBS television network in the United States, is no different and contains arrangements of light classical, pop and folk songs/medleys. It is recorded at Bayreuth (at the Oberfrankenhalle) - adopted home of Wagner in his later years and the venue for his operatic musical dramas (I wonder what he would have thought of Hansi?) and James in his stage banter panders to both the live audience as well as to American viewers of the TV broadcast.

    We get to hear arrangements of not only Beatles songs, the love theme from "Titanic" and "Don't Cry For Me Argentina" but also James Last originals such as "Games That Lovers Play". In between are light classics and folk songs. We also get "mini interviews" with members of his orchestra in between songs and even snippets from James Last and his musicians enjoying a night out at the local pub.

    The musicians in the concert are obviously having the time of their lives and enjoying the experience almost as much as the audience and even Hansi himself. The string section in particular have a tendency to break into dancing whenever they have a spare moment and the audience starts off by being fairly sedate and polite, but soon starts dancing, holding placards and gigantic red hearts. By the half-hearted way in which James seems to be marking time, I get the feeling that the orchestra is well rehearsed and could probably play the songs blindfolded.

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Track Listing

1. Granada/Lady Of Spain
2. Titanic Love Theme
3. Beatles Medley
4. Rosen Aus Dem Suden
5. String Of Pearls/In The Mood
6. Morgens Um Sieben
7. Zigeunerweisen
8. Hit Medley:
9. When The Snow Is On The Roses
10. Fool
11. Happy Heart
12. Don't Cry For Me Argentin
13. Hip Hop Polka
14. Jigs And Reels
15. Biscaya
16. German Folk Medley
17. Games That Lovers Play
18. My Way
19. Orange Blossom Special
20. Love For Sale
21. Have You Ever Really Loved A Woman
22. Carmina Burana

Transfer Quality

Video

    This is a full frame transfer from a video source originally intended for broadcast television (i.e. 1.33:1, not 16x9 enhanced).

    The transfer itself superficially looks pleasant but has a "video tape" feel about it, with exaggerated contrast and colours. Black levels are quite good, and there is enough low level detail to fill in the shadows. Detail levels are probably about average for a video source.

    However, the video transfer suffers from a number of artefacts both inherent in the video source as well as caused by MPEG compression.

    The aliasing at times can be quite persistent and annoying, and reflects the inherently interlaced nature of the video source. I also suspect the video may have been mastered to NTSC given that it is intended for broadcast by PBS and converted to PAL for this DVD.

    MPEG compression artefacts are mainly manifested as Gibb's effect ringing in the background of many of the frames.

    In between songs, James Last occasionally talks to the audience, mostly in German (with the English translation burned into the video frame) but he occasionally breaks into English for the benefit of the American TV audience. Interviews with the musicians seem to be conducted either in English or dubbed into English. There is a hidden "English" subtitle track, but enabling or disabling it seems to have no effect.

    This is a single sided single layered disc.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    There are two audio tracks on this disc, both labelled "English" although it would probably have been just as accurate to label them "German": Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s) and Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s). I listened to mainly the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track.

    The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is very much like the video transfer - superficially pleasing but problematic if you pay any attention. The strings sound quite harsh and brittle. Although the track does appear to be a native 5.1 mix, occasionally some instruments, particularly the strings, bleed into the rear speakers.

    The main issue I have with the audio track is persistent audio synchronisation problems. Although most of the time this is not an issue as the songs are instrumentals, it is still disconcerting to see the video lag slightly behind the audio. Dialogue during interviews is quite annoying - at first I thought the interviewees must have been speaking in a foreign language and subsequently badly overdubbed into English - then I realised (for some of them at least) they were speaking in English!

    The Dolby Digital 2.0 track is mastered at a lower volume level but sounds quite similar to the 5.1 audio track, including the audio mis-synchronization, although the mis-synchronization does not appear as severe as on the 5.1 audio track.

    The subwoofer is used mainly to provide some enhancement to the low frequencies. The rear speakers are used mostly for audience noises as well as ambience.

    Incidentally the audio synchronization problems are evident not only on my DVD player (a Pioneer DV-626D) but also on a PC with a DVD-ROM drive so I suspect the problem is inherent in the disc.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    This disc does not have a lot of extras, but then most of the space on the single layer has been used by the main feature.

Menu

    The menu is animated and includes background audio.

DVD-ROM

    This installs a copy of PC-Friendly.

Gallery-Photo (1:27)

    This is a video containing a montage of various photos of James Last taken at various stages of his life and career, including publicity shots of him and his orchestra as well as family photos. The background music is an excerpt from When A Man Loves A Woman.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    This title has yet to be released in Region 1.

Summary

    James Last: Gentleman Of Music is a good introduction to the music of the prolific German arranger and bandleader. Fans of the man will of course not need any incentives to buy this disc. The video is okay, although prone to aliasing. The audio is likewise okay, but suffers from audio mis-synchronization. Extras are limited to a photo gallery.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Christine Tham (read my biography)
Friday, March 01, 2002
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-626D, using Component output
DisplaySony VPL-VW11HT LCD Projector, ScreenTechnics 16x9 matte white screen (254cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials/Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationDenon AVR-3300
SpeakersFront and rears: B&W CDM7NT; centre: B&W CDMCNT; subwoofer: B&W ASW2500

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