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Old-School Rules: The Best of Music DVDs

Digital Journal — In this age of pillow-head indie rockers and southern-fried hip-hop, it’s easy to forget the masters that paved the musical road. Luckily, our visual appetite can be satisfied along with our aural desires, as several recent music DVDs reveal the genius behind the mavens of rock, jazz and funk. Garage rockers, pay attention.

Jimi Hendrix: The Last 24 Hours
Studio: Music Video Distributors
Run Time: 58 minutes

Was Jimi Hendrix murdered? Did the government accuse him of being a tree-hugger and kill him because he roused the 1960s rabble? Why did Jimi’s girlfriend react so nonchalantly about his apparent suicide? The Last 24 Hours doesn’t necessarily answer these questions as much as raise them for discussion, revealing evidence that Jimi’s death is more suspicious than anyone thought. Although authorities told the public the guitar whiz died by swallowing too many sleeping pills, the documentary aims to sort out the five Ws of Jimi’s final day.

What feels like a conspiracy theory is actually more of a tribute to the young musician who brought us “Wild Thing,” “Purple Haze” and an orgasmic rendition of “Star-Spangled Banner.” Footage of Jimi rocking the stage is mixed with interviews from former band mates and buddies who can’t help but praise every musical move Jimi made. The producers didn’t get rights to Jimi’s entire catalogue, so some disappointing renditions of tunes like “Wind Cries Mary” pale in comparison to the original, begging the question, “Should a doc on Jimi Hendrix feature anything but his classic songs?”

The viewer must decide whether the evidence is enough to indict the unusual suspects: the U.S. government, who supposedly coordinated a project to kill rock peaceniks; Jimi’s manager, a money-grubbing back-stabber who worked Jimi so hard that drugs and women eased his road trip woes; or Monika Danneman, Jimi’s girlfriend at the time of his death September 18, 1970.

Thirty-five years later, a riveting documentary still holds interest in a music scene dominated by bands influenced by Jimi’s unique sound and flailing stage performances. The Last 24 Hours may be nothing but old evidence presented for a new audience but the footage of Jimi — even acting in a film — is well worth the purchase price of this DVD.

Miles Electric: A Different Kind of Blue
Studio: Eagle Eye Media
Run Time: 123 minutes

You don’t have to like jazz to appreciate the genius of Miles Davis. He was that rare musician who could shake your blood vessels into a funky boogie, using only a five-second trumpet blast. Learning how he composed his legendary repertoire is like finding the source of the sun’s energy.

The hyperbole is warranted because Miles Electric: A Different Kind of Blue maps Davis’ career with fascinating insight into the brain behind the notes. First tracing his rise into the traditional jazz scene, the story uses interviews to explain how one man could be such a wrecking ball of musical force. Herbie Hancock, Santana, Chick Corea and Joni Mitchell all deliver enough delicious sound bytes to give the rabid fan even more depth into Davis’ character. But the interviews aren’t ho-hum “He was so amazing” quotes; some musicians play several bars of Davis tunes and discuss why the trumpeter rewrote the jazz age and ushered it into new modes such as fusion, funk and experimental.

Any true jazz fan will want to see Miles, Miles and more Miles. Well, this DVD doesn’t disappoint. Besides playing footage of Davis getting jazzy at clubs and TV appearances, the producers show his entire performance at the Isle of Wight Festival. It’s inspiring without being stodgy. It’s a meal of a live show that, once digested, can satiate the most demanding music lovers.

The DVD’s bonus features are paltry — additional interview footage — but the meat of the disc is a needle in the jazz-DVD haystack. Here you can listen to Miles rap poetic about the public backlash against his entry into jazz fusion; here you can learn how his lovers influencing his music; here you can get two hours of Miles and friends in a package that flows as seamlessly as a Bitches Brew classic.

George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic: Live at Montreux
Studio: Eagle Eye Media
Run Time: 137 minutes

You heard him in the Snoop Dogg classic, “Who Am I (What’s My Name)?” You bobbed your head to tunes he wrote for Charlie’s Angels, PCU and The Ladies Man. You might not have known it, but he was the mastermind behind the Red Hot Chili Peppers album, Freaky Styley. George Clinton has touched all corners of the music industry, making him one of the most sampled artists in history. Besides branding funk on the masses, Clinton led his wildly entertaining collective Parliament Funkadelic through three decades of theatrical shows and booty-thumping jams. At 63, the funkmaster is still touring and rocking the stage, and there’s no better example of how infectious his energy can be than in a DVD showcasing his show in Montreux, Switzerland, last year.

In 21 tracks, George Clinton draws the best from his R&B-heavy band — flashes of brass pepper “Not Just Knee Deep,” violin adds depth to “Maggot Brain” and the bass booms like a wrecking ball in “Flashlight.” Through it all, Clinton is the up-tempo bandleader waving encouragement to lagging musicians and crying out the chorus with the zeal of a singer half his age. This is funk, but it’s also rock, hip-hop, soul and space-pop (for lack of a better term). Often, the tunes feel truly out of this world, as if Clinton composed keyboard lines that were dropped from Mars. That’s not too surprising, considering Parliament released Mothership Connection in 1976, detailing the arrival of “Afronauts” to bring funk to an unfunky planet.

The only weakness in the DVD is camera shots that look jerky or ill-conceived. Instead of lingering on a chunky bass solo, the camera will pan wildly to the audience, showing listless fans waiting for the funk-orchestra to begin. Better production would have elevated this DVD past the mountains of George Clinton discs already available.

But this is an indispensable collection of Clinton tracks that show where pop music began and where its forefather is taking it today.

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