James Rhodes's first live album captures everything that is special about his gigs - apart from the visuals of course. In life, he is a slight figure and you wonder how he can produce such colossal music; here instead we get the packaging, all black & white and retro - anyone who smokes a cigarette in black & white is instantly retro and cool. This is beat poet chic.
But James Rhodes is very forward thinking in his approach to music - his direct addresses to the audience fall somewhere between lecture, infomercial, stand-up comedy and album liner note causerie. He is an engaging speaker and casual swearer, saving all his passion for the pieces.
And it is the music that remains the star. Introduced with juicy, gossipy, biographical information, the composers featured here are presented at their best. Even though he's seated at a piano, James plays second fiddle to the men who created these sublime pieces of music.
All human life is here. The full gamut of human emotion - apart from disgust and ennui. The first disc is dominated by Beethoven's mighty Waldstein sonata - worth putting your hand in your pocket for that alone - but my personal favourite is the Chopin on Disc Two. "In The Hall of the Mountain King" is perhaps the only track that loses something in not being visual - seeing Jim's hands disappear into a blur of frenetic activity is a wonder to behold.
Sit back in a darkened room and let Jimmy share with you an evening of beauty. The finest music presented in an entertaining manner, this is an album that reaffirms James Rhodes as one of the most exciting crusaders for classical music on the scene today. Oh, and he plays like a dream, too!