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The bodiless voice announced from the Artpark stage, "Welcome to the Ray Charles Show, 1990!" The excitement of the approximately 1,500 attending was undeniable. However, the show dissipated it with a substandard opening -- followed with an untimely intermission.

Thirteen musicians played five quick big band charts in 20 minutes, rather routinely and without any contagious enthusiasm. There was polite applause, the loudest for the saxophonist who played the melody to "The Shadow of Your Smile." Then, without explanation, it was time for a break.

The sound was another problem. Most of the horn solos before intermission were only partially distinguishable.

It took 20 minutes after Ray Charles came out for the post-intermission portion of the concert for his voice to approach the level where it could be heard with the clarity and intimacy it deserves.

Charles was certainly not at his best, fighting the volume of his 17-piece band with a less than adequate sound system. His words weren't even discernible for the first two numbers. Even "Georgia On My Mind" lacked the power it needed to bring everything together. No wonder the 59-year-old singer ended it with a sigh.

However, things first started turning around when Charles stopped the band and sang unaccompanied soulful blues tradeoffs with his guitarist. Soon thereafter he played and sang in duet with his organist for the subtle ballad, "She Knows."

After that, it seemed the band finally found its dynamic groove and things started happening. But by then the show was already half way through, and Ray was ready to bring out the Raelettes out for "Mama Don't Allow/Set Me Free."

What followed was a string of Ray Charles hits, as many as he could fit into 30 minutes.

Jazz pianist Thelonious Monk was known for his ability to play through the chord changes rather than over them. In much the same way, Ray Charles sings and plays through musical styles, rather than over them, as so many crowd-wooing pop stars do.

And therein lies his secret. Rather than merely interpreting material like, "Hit the Road, Jack!" and "I Can't Stop Loving You," Charles makes them his own by singing them through the blues.

He ended his show with "What'd I Say," one of many trademark tunes that epitomize his uniquely American musical identity.

He didn't come back for more.

Ray Charles

Legendary American pianist and singer.

At Artpark Wednesday evening.

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