Between 1966 and 1970, James Brown recorded three stellar Christmas albums. For years the only readily available versions of these albums were single compilations such as the original Funky Christmas and the remastered (and wonderful sounding) 20th Century Masters Christmas Collection edition of that same album (a short review of that album can be found here). While these albums are indeed excellent, I always wondered what was left on the cutting room floor and now, finally, after years of waiting, my Christmas wish has come true.
The Complete James Brown Christmas contains all three original Christmas albums – 1966’s Christmas Songs, 1968’s A Soulful Christmas, and 1970’s Hey America – spread across two discs with a generous serving of gravy bonus tracks for good measure. If you’ve ever wondered what these original albums sounded like, now is your chance!
The first thing we should comment on here is the sound, which is most certainly impeccable. But, how does it compare to the 2oth Century Masters edition? Well, after a few weeks of exhaustive research we can honestly say it’s not too different but there are indeed differences. Generally speaking, the sound has just a smidge more clarity than the 20th Century Masters edition, although with that clarity comes a bit of loss in the bottom end. In a head to head play, most of the songs on the 20th Century Masters edition had just a bit more funk in the mix thanks to a slightly heavier bass and thicker sound.
After much deliberation we actually prefer the mastering on the 20th Century Masters edition although you would probably never even notice except during the most critical listening sessions. Note: “Hey America” is a full 20 seconds shorter on the new release, a decision that is quite perplexing considering this is the “Complete” James Brown. There is also an instrumental track version that really brings the funk to the forefront.
Mastering aside, the real reason to pick up this set is the pleasure of hearing all the songs that didn’t make the original compilation (or, if you’ve never had any of the JB Christmas albums, getting it all together in one place). Considering how fantastic all the material is I can imagine how difficult it must have been to choose a track list for the compilation album. That being said, the track list on the comp is and always has been absolutely perfect. Try as we may, we just can’t listen to it any other way and instead chose to reassemble all the songs that weren’t on the 20th Century Masters edition into a James Brown Christmas Volume 2 disc. And you know what? Christmas just got twice as funky.
Our “Volume 2” looks something like this. Well, exactly like this actually.
“I’m Your Christmas Friend, Don’t Be Hungry” is almost as great an opener as “Go Power” and quickly sets the tone for a funky Christmas night. At times sounding a bit like a spokesperson for good health and exercise, JB delivers some impassioned vocals about being your friend. Very nice. “This Is My Lonely Christmas Pts. 1 & 2” hits a late night jazzy stride complete with some wonderful JB organ, note perfect horn lines, and some very tasty string accompaniment. “The Christmas Song (Version 2)” is an alternate take that is just as soulfully powerful as the original, while the alternate version of “Santa Claus is Definitely Here to Stay” is as tearfully beautiful as always. The instrumental version of this song is simply beautiful, and peels back the layers just enough to fully realize what a splendid and gorgeous arrangement this song really is. Those horn lines, that melody, amazing!
Throughout the album are some wonderful slices of cocktail Christmas jazz, brimming with organ, horns, and some excellently placed vibes that sit just right for the holiday season. Tracks such as “You Know It” (present in a vibes version and a searing, smokey organ version), a very funky “Christmas is Coming,” a hypnotic “In the Middle,” a fantabulous “Believers Shall Enjoy (Non Believers Shall Suffer)” (also present in a both vibes and organ version), and a cheerful drink-in-hand “Santa Claus Gave Me a Brand New Start,” remind everyone that James Brown and the band were hitting a serious musical stride during this period. You will dance. You will groove. Oh yes, you will.
In the Mook household, it just isn’t Christmas until the JB Christmas albums come out. The season starts with a funk and doesn’t let up until we can’t dance no more. After years of listening to the absolutely perfect 20th Century Masters edition, The Complete James Brown Christmas was a more than welcome addition. Essential, really. The music cooks, and the quality of the material, along with the fantabulous packaging, makes it a Christmas music gift of epic proportions. We can wholeheartedly recommend picking this up without any reservation. Even if you have one of either Funky Christmas or 20th Century Masters, you need this. It’s just more JB for your Christmas spirit.
And don’t we all need a little more JB around the holidays?
I can’t believe it. Here it is the tail end of 2011 and the Rolling Stones go and release their best album since 1969’s Let it Bleed. I’m serious. This is spec-freaking-tacular.
Released as a download only (320 kbps!) on Google Music, The Rolling Stones Brussels Affair 1973 is the official release of an oft-booted album over the past three decades. But there’s a reason this has been booted in such high praise lo’ these many years: it just f-ing rocks. This is the Stones at the peak of their powers. Riding a high of album creativity from 1968’s Beggar’s Banquet to 1972’s Exile on Main Street, the Stones bring everything out to the forefront and rock like it’s nobody’s damn business. Sorry for all the swearing, but this is the most badass live Stones album I’ve ever heard and it’s been rocking me non-stop since I downloaded it a few days ago. Just look at that damn album cover you son of a…
Price is $4.99. Do you see that? $4.99 for a 320 kbps download of one of the Stones greatest live recordings, and one of their greatest albums, of their entire career. Do we live in a great time for music or what?
Ok, so you know how we roll here, how’s the sound? Fan-freaking-tastic! I don’t want to hear anyone complaining about the fact that’s it’s download only. It’s 5 bucks and the sound is fantastic with some excellent separation between the instruments and a nice, thick atmosphere that perfectly captures the excitement of the Belgian crowd. Honestly, I am simply blown away by the quality of this recording, everything being perfectly balanced and perfectly placed. Just amazing.
More importantly, the music is stellar. I haven’t heard the Stones rock this hard, and with this much perfect musicality in, well, ever. Every one’s completely in sync (and in key) and rocking to the fullest extent that Belgian law will allow. Did I mention this thing is killing me? Mick sounds fantastic and is in perfect voice with just the right amount of wild excitement to make everything sound like the party of the century. Meanwhile, Keith Richards and Mick Taylor are blowing guitar riffery left and right to astonishing effect, while Wyman and Watts are holding the rhythm section together like it’s their job…which it is. I mean, they are all just nailing it like there is no other band on the planet at the time. And really, on this night, there is no one else. Absolutely no one else but the Stones, live in Belgium, 1973.
Organist Billy Preston and saxophonist Bobby Keys supply a much appreciated texture to the band, and with their help everything, and I mean everything, just gels to perfection. Every song, every moment, cooks with a rolling boil that constantly threatens to go overboard but somehow, miraculously, never does. It’s perfect. The Rolling damn Stones live on stage in complete perfection.
“Brown Sugar” kicks things off with a stunning swagger that is quickly followed by an almost funky “Gimme Shelter” that is simply brimming with suspense. A ragged “Happy” flies by, followed by the killer groove of “Tumblin’ Dice.” If you thought the versions on Exile sounded good, just wait until you hear these! The riffs explode from the speakers while Jagger presides over everything and one can’t help but picture him prancing all over the stage. Jeez, four songs in and it’s already some of the greatest Stones I’ve ever heard.
Four tracks from Goat’s Head Soup follow with a fire that was sometimes lost in the studio. “Starf***er” rocks out with it’s Chuck Berry riffery while “Dancing with Mr. D” sounds like it should have sounded in the first place with it’s sleazy, stoner riff right out front for all the world to hear. “Heartbreaker” rolls along with a new found funk worthy of this raucous band, while “Angie” is delivered with a heartfelt emotion that finds Mick at his most vulnerable. Just perfect.
“You Can’t Always Get What You Want” finds new life in it’s 11 minutes of rock perfection. Taylor takes a wonderfully pointed solo that pairs perfectly with Keys’ emotive sax solo, while Jagger is drawn in to the magic in it all and delivers some of the best vocals of the night. But just when you thought the Stones had hit their peak for the night they rush off into the speeding train-like rhythm of what might just be the definitive “Midnight Rambler.”
The band…who are these guys? When did the Stones become such a live rock machine? They rock the song for all it’s worth and then some. The train reaches a lurching stop midway through, Taylor adding very tasty wah-wah guitar to remind everyone it’s 1973. Jagger, meanwhile, is grunting his way through a soul review of everything that makes rock and roll so exciting. He’s nailing it. Everyone is. All of a sudden the world’s greatest rock band is just knocking the balls off of everything. It rips. It kills. Unbelievable.
As if that weren’t enough – and really, every Belgian in the audience must be too ecstatic for anything to end at this point -the band smokes through delirious versions of “Honkytonk Women,” “All Down the Line,” “Rip This Joint,” a completely unhinged “Jumping Jack Flash,” and a stunning end of the world “Street Fighting Man” that will knock your stones right off. Seriously.
So, there it is. The Rolling Stones Brussels Affair 1973. Rock and roll played by the absolute masters at a time when they were at the peak of their powers. A recorded document so damn stunning, so unforgivingly awesome, it will further cement their status as the world’s greatest rock and roll band. After this, everything else just seems weak.
Trust me on this.
What is it about the Grateful Dead and a never ending supply of happy news? For anyone out there that thought the entire Europe ’72 box was just too massive a release (we’re talking 22 shows spread across 72 (!) discs…), we now have the utterly awesome option to pick and choose shows at our leisure. Yes, each show will be released individually in order of recording date starting with the first 6 shows.
I had a feeling they would do this at some point to pick up on some of the market that just couldn’t bring themselves to commit to the massiveness of purchasing the entire tour, but I had no idea it would happen so quickly! By my calculations, based on digesting individual shows for about 3 months before moving on to the next (my general album guideline), you could buy 4 new Europe ’72 shows a year for the next 5.5 years. That is just ridiculous!
And I could not be happier! Europe ’72 is legendary for night after night of amazing shows by a band that was in peak, peak form. The Bickershaw Festival, Wembley Empire Pool in London, the last night at the Strand Lyceum! Oh man, it’s going to be a good 5 and a half years…
Check it out here!
One of the Dead’s finest, finest shows. Ever. Reviewed HERE!
Yes, we are still here and still reviewing. We’re just taking our sweet time to do so! We’ve got a lot of great reviews on the way so stay tuned…
*Continued from Part 1*
Well, folks, this may be it. My favorite show, by one of my favorite bands, ever. May 21, 1977…
The first set is so impeccable, and played with so much emotion, it may just be their finest first set ever released. A first set that is so strong, so mind melding perfect, that I find myself reaching for it whenever I need a friend to help me through the day. It turns rainy days sunny, and cold nights warm. It surges with electricity, and lays back gently when you need it to. Perfection.
“Bertha” kicks things off and the good times are apparent from the first note. There’s just something about those chords, those sunny, delightfully rhythmic chords, that make everything feel great. Garcia’s guitar sounds especially sparkly here – his leads are amazingly clear throughout the entire show – as he sets off on a spiraling solo that goes everywhere you want it to. Heck, first song of the night and I’m already completely mesmerized. You just know it’s going to be a good night…
As the set moves on we are treated to absolutely excellent versions of “Me and My Uncle,” “They Love Each Other” (which has a particularly funky bounce to it), and “Cassidy.” “Jack-A-Roe” comes in slowly as the band works their way into a fine cowboy groove that would make any saloon boy happy. Garcia takes two excellent solos that exemplify his clean picking style and unique ability to straddle the line between rock and bluegrass.
“Jack Straw” is greeted with much appreciative applause and the band doesn’t disappoint, delivering a fantastic version full of heart and emotion. The jam portion is excellent and both Jerry and Bob are in fine voice. This is followed by perfect renditions of “Tennessee Jed,” “New Minglewood Blues” (with some especially funky interplay between Jerry and Keith) and another laid back “Row Jimmy.”
There is just something about this fantastic first set that is utterly difficult to describe. There’s a vibe in the air. A vibe that existed only for a brief moment and was, thankfully, exquisitely captured on analog tape lo’ those many years ago. I remember playing this first disc for my dad one day, in the middle of summer, in a house about a block from the shore. “This,” he said, “is nice.” Couldn’t agree more pops!
Of course, like I’ve said so many times before, this is the Grateful Dead in 1977, so they aren’t done yet. After a rousing “Passenger” to start disc 2, they end the first set on a high note. A very high note. A note so high you may just start to feel the warm May air wafting through your speakers. I’m speaking of course, about “Scarlet Begonias > Fire on the Mountain.” And, oh Lord, what a “Scarlet > Fire” it is…
The pace, like the rest of the show, is laid back and in no hurry. The band hits the “Scarlet” groove completely locked into one another and there’s no looking back. If you could capture a lazy summer day in sound this would be it. When the first jam hits, Jerry is so deep in the cut you wonder how he’ll ever get back out. This portion of the jam, the first guitar solo of the song, is the telling point of “Scarlet Begonias” – if this goes well, it all goes well. And man, does it go freaking well!
Jerry darts back and forth through the percolating rhythm section during the subsequent jam. He takes off, not too fast now, and he and the band settle into a very fine groove that is the perfect blend of tight and loose. Everything is just exactly perfect as they take their time, each note earning its rightful place in the jam, and each moment achieving a beauty like the low light of a summer sunrise. Somehow, someone starts steering the ship (Lesh perhaps?) and before you even know what’s happening we are thrust into the surging power of “Fire on the Mountain.”
Jerry’s Mu-Tron guitar filter gets switched on and the whole place suddenly lights up with a hushed awe. Yes, we are now properly situated in the midst of a stunning “Fire on the Mountain” that takes all the time it needs to continue the good times. Wifey often comments how wonderful the small feedback swells are around the 6 minute mark and I couldn’t agree more. The band is deep, deep into the cut and you realize that there is nothing like a 1977 “Fire” jam. Nothing. Jerry and the boys bring it back home and everything for the past 25 mintues or so has been just like it should be. Not too explosive, not too hurried, but just right. And so ends the first set (!!).
Disc 2 continues with an oft fiery “Samson and Delilah” and heartfelt “Brown Eyed Woman” with a beautiful Garcia solo. This is follwed by two hidden bonus tracks from October 11, 1977 in the form of a long, soulful “Dancin’ in the Streets,” and a wonderfully welcome and almost sunny “Dire Wolf.”
Disc 3 defies all logic with an unbelievable suite of songs. A suite of songs that takes you on a complete journey of the mind and touches on almost every musical aspect of the Dead’s career. For well over an hour the band hurdles full throttle through every emotion they’ve ever had with “Estimated Prophet > He’s Gone > Drums > The Other One > Comes a Time > St. Stephen > Not Fade Away > St. Stephen!” Whew!
“Estimated Prophet” is a joy as always. These ’77 versions were always a treat with Lesh holding everything together on bass and Jerry mutating his way all over the outer reaches of the cosmos. This morphs into one of the most powerful versions of “He’s Gone” I have ever had the pleasure of hearing. The song itself is played perfectly, with excellent interplay between the musicians, great Garcia solos, and spot-on singing. But it’s the jam afterwards that really drives this 15 minute monster as the band picks up a boogiefied rhythm and Jerry just starts cooking along without a care in the world.
“He’s Gone” stumbles into some heavy “Drums” that eventually break down the dam to a deliriously intense “The Other One” that somehow time travels all the way back to the late 60s for sheer power and creativity. Lesh is a monster here, rattling the very fabric of time with some slippery bass lines. Somewhere around the 3 minute mark it sounds like Jerry remembers he has a volume knob and he cranks it. Suddenly everything takes another surge forward and the intesity continues to grow. Eventually the jam settles into a quiet lull after the storm and we find ourselves stepping out into the sunlight…
“Comes a Time” takes all the time it deserves in its 11 plus minutes as Jerry and the boys stop time for some major inner reflection. Garcia’s first solo is magnificant, but it’s the concluding jam that really sets this version on fire. Jerry’s guitar tone is dripping with honey as he winds his way through melodic riffs one after another. The band picks up what he’s laying down and for a few moments it is pure beauty in music. A truly monumental version of this rare gem of a song.
As the last notes of “Comes a Time” ring out, “St. Stephen” rings in and the crowd couldn’t be happier. In typical ’77 fashion it is impeccably played, floating by like a summer’s day and landing directly in the path of a joyous, grooving “Not Fade Away.” Unlike the thunderous version from October ’77 on disc 2, this takes a more subtle approach and focuses more on maintaining the good times vibe (with a seriously rocking beat of course!). The sun shines brightly that May evening and the band brings it all back to “St. Stephen” and a hot “One More Saturday Night” to close out the show. Amazing!
Well, there you have it. Dick’s Picks Vol.29. One of the Grateful Dead’s finest releases. If I could recommend only one Grateful Dead release to anyone, this would be it. If I had to choose just one release among my vast collection of Dead recordings, this would be it. It is six discs of pure perfection. It is everything you could ever want from a Dead show and then some. The sound is impeccable (seriously, it’s fantastic), and the performances are exciting, dazzling, and simply mind blowing. This is just. Exactly. Perfect.
*Be sure to check out Part 1 to read about Discs 1-3, May 19, 1977!*
Tracklist (May 21, 1977)
There are many moments throughout the Grateful Dead’s incredibly long career where it seemed as if the Gods themselves were smiling down on the band from the Heavens. And perhaps, at least to this listener, those smiles shone none brighter than during May 1977. There was just something in the air…
Dick’s Picks Vol. 29 features two complete shows from 1977, May 19 and 21, spread across six discs (!). The shows complete a perfect trio when combined with Dick’s Picks Vol. 3 from May 22, and serve as further testament to the almost impossible perfection that was May ’77.
Sound throughout all six discs is simply fantastic. Oh Lord how beautiful the sound is! There is a thick warmth and atmosphere that perfectly encapsulates every single nuance of the musicians – Garcia’s guitar is crystal clear, Lesh’s bass is tight and round, Weir’s angular rhythms are a joy as always, Godchaux’s piano is full of life, and the twin drumming of Kreutzman and Hart is dynamically astounding. With each ensuing jam the sheer quality of the recording becomes more and more apparent as this mere 2-track recording exudes a distinct quality somehow missing from modern recordings. Oh man is it clean!
Because of the immensity of this release, and the sheer fact that both shows are complete perfection in every way, not to mention some fantastically amazing hidden tracks on discs 2 and 5, we simply have to divide this review into two parts. So, take a step back, and yet another step back, and let’s take a look at the majestic beauty that is May 19, 1977.
After kicking things off with a steady rolling “Promised Land” the band gets right down to business with a stunning “Sugaree.” Jerry is in fine voice here but even better is his guitar which sings from the heavens during the three distinct jams. There was something magical about these ’77 “Sugarees” and this may very well be one of the best, not only of the year but of their entire career. The band moves along, united as one, lead by Jerry’s sweet soulful voice and expressive guitar. As the jam progresses Jerry just does not want to let go of the jam as he gets ever deeper into the beauty of it all. By the third jam the band eases into it so gently you would think they are just going to ride it out like that to the end.
But, this is the Grateful Dead in 1977…
Slowly, surely, things pick up steam as the musicians all search for, and find, just the right groove. Jerry flies in out of nowhere and just starts spewing notes all over the place. The jam suddenly hits a huge surge and then flies effortlessly back into the main portion of the song. All is right with the world for 16 minutes as the band does their best to bring as much emotion and passion as they can to this enduring Dead classic. This is, simply stated, awesome.
The first set continues with a wonderful “Peggy O” that features a gorgeous Garcia solo that is so perfectly played it hardly seems possible to have been achieved in a single take, let alone in front of a ecstatic live audience. “Row Jimmy” sneaks in with a very laid back vibe while the always welcome “Loser” displays a typically moving Garcia solo. Fantastic!
Disc two closes out the first set with a very funky “Dancing in the Streets” that really takes off during the jam portion. The band is completely locked together as one as Jerry delivers a spiraling solo full of various twists and turns. His years of banjo playing come to the forefront here as his playing is clean and precise – at one point the jam actually starts to sound like some sort of funky rock hoedown of sorts. The band fades things out and takes a short break.
A typically smoking “Samson and Delilah” starts off the second set followed by a wonderful “Ramble on Rose” featuring a typical ’77 psychedelic ragtime dixieland solo (yes, you read that right). “Estimated Prophet” features the band once again locking together in a very intense groove as Jerry does his mutated guitar excursions over top of Lesh’s thick groove. Very cool as always!
Following “Estimated Prophet” on disc 2, we are treated to three bonus cuts from October 11, 1977 in the form of “Not Fade Away,” “Wharf Rat,” and “Around and Around.” Both “Wharf Rat” and “Around and Around” are indeed well played and make for perfect additions to the set. It is the “Not Fade Away,” however, that is truly, truly splendid. Coming out of what must have been some really serious drums, Kreutzman and Hart deliver a pounding beat that can only be described as tribal war drums. This tandem rhythm sets the stage for a long intro jam that just cooks. The singing begins and then we are quickly thrust back into the jam with a seriously heavy fury.
Thunder comes in from all sides as the band keeps growing in powerful menace. Around 8:29 Jerry gets into a unique, hypnotic repeating figure that seems to be unlike anything I’ve heard him do before or since. The band continues to swell around him, the drums in particular, as they make their way into a perfectly played call and response between all the musicians. The drummers pick up a start/stop rhythm as Jerry, Phil, and Keith all take turns riffing in between the rhythms. This jam has long been one of my favorites by the band as it is quite intensely ridiculous. Hard to imagine it’s only a bonus track!
Disc 3 ushers in a suite of songs that somehow defy all logic. After a perfect, and if you ask me, definitive, “Terrapin Station,” the band sets off for an epic sonic adventure that resides just this side of mellow fantastic. “Playing in the Band,” which always goes off into uncharted territory no matter what year it is, blasts off into a laid back stratosphere. No sonic freak outs here, instead they sail calmly down a psychedelic river that never ceases to stay interesting. The band takes their time exploring the outer reaches of music and melodic space, gently gliding through the air like so many thistles on a warm spring day.
And then, as reporter Keith Morrison often says, something strange happens…
The band begins to pick up steam as the rhythms start to lock together and the formless jam suddenly starts to take shape. And then it happens, inexplicably and without warning. Suddenly we are at the tail end of “Uncle John’s Band.” A quick moment of silence, the band comes in singing the familiar line “how does the song go,” and then we are situated back at the very beginning of “Uncle John’s Band!” Yes, somehow the band gathered their collective minds and backed into a sort of inverted UJB that serves as a backdrop for some truly beautiful jamming moments. Un-freaking-believable!
This then leads to thunderous “Drums,” a truly beautiful “The Wheel,” an aching “China Doll,” and back into “Playing in the Band” (with an outro jam to set your socks on fire) to round out the set and finish this truly monumental show.
I don’t know what words, if any, can accurately describe how amazing 5-19-77 truly is. Without a doubt it’s one of their best shows of the year, and at least for this listener, one of their best of all time. I would be more than happy if they simply released this show alone and then moved on to the next volume in the series. But instead, they graciously decided to couple it with a show from 2 nights later. A show that changed my life. A show that just may be my favorite of all time…
*Be sure to check out Part 2 to read about Discs 4-6, May 21, 1977!*
Tracklist (May 19, 1977)
For a few years back in the late 60s, the Doors were providing the perfect blend of dramatic stage theatrics and mind melding music. Centered around Jim Morrison’s unpredictable persona and deep baritone vocals that straddle the fine line between smooth crooner and blues shouter, the Doors were a cornerstone of surging psychedelic creativity. The performances became more than just mere concerts and instead transitioned into entire group/audience consciousness fully tuned into Morrison’s unique and mesmerizing performances. Their shows could go one of two ways: a fully embracing, warm, and exciting psychedelic experience (see our review of Live at the Aquarius Theatre: The Second Performance) or, as their shows often did in 1970, a completely unhinged riotous party with the Lizard King himself as the somewhat abrasive and alluring host. Somehow, this release finds the perfect blend of both.
Live in New York 1970 collects together their entire 4 show run at the Felt Forum in January, 1970 spread across 6 discs. The packaging and design is perfect and includes a wonderful vintage looking booklet with some nice photos from the shows. Every last detail is complete perfection right down the the actual disc art and in the case that holds the discs themselves (although why they couldn’t list track times in either the booklet or the discs case is beyond me. Of course, I’m a real sucker for that kind of info!).
Whereas the Aquarius show is a warm and intimate affair, the Felt Forum shows are a loud New York party from the very first note. The sound is raw and wet, the spaciousness of the excellent mix shining forth as the guitar, organ and drums all hit hard with clear delineation. The band sounds loose and wild, with just enough groove to keep things going for Morrison to do his thing over top. The crowd, in pure New York fashion, is on the verge of complete pandemonium and their raucous, lively behavior is in perfect unison with the searing hot sheets of sound the band spews forth. Morrison meanwhile, is at the forefront with complete mesmerizing authority and his vocals, aside from the final disc of the final night, are spot on and full of surprises.
While the set list may at first seem a bit monotonous (each show kicks off with some variation of “Roadhouse Blues,” “Ship of Fools,” and “Break on Through”), it’s the spontaneity and excitement that the band brings to each version that makes it all so special. With each show the versions get just a little more loose, a little more wicked, as Morrison and company head off into places unknown. All 4 versions of “Roadhouse Blues” for instance vary wildly, not only in the famous scat section, but in the groove itself. The same goes for “Ship of Fools,” “Break on Through,” and the always awesome pairing of “Back Door Man > Five to One.” One moment the band is playing it by the book, the next they’re turning a new corner musically and lyrically as Morrison takes the reigns to new heights (cool air ones I would imagine).
It is this spontaneous fire that made the Doors, and the performances contained within this set, such an exciting live act. Take for instance the three searing versions of “Who Do You Love?” The first one, from the first show, is the one we all know and love from the much loved In Concert album. Here, in it’s original running order in the show, followed by a dramatically perfect “Little Red Rooster,” a boogiefied “Money” and a pointed “Light My Fire,” we can hear just how capable the band was of providing blistering blues one minute, and psychedelic wonder the next.
The version from the second show on disc 2 is drum centered with Densmore’s nimble and jazz influenced drumming proving he was much more than just background rhythm. Morrison is as enamored with the song as ever as he goes into a unique call and response with the band towards the end. It stands as a perfect example of the Doors’ ability to follow their leader musically as they pick up the groove and follow Morrison’s “well, well, well…” raving. The version on night 3 is as psychedelic as one could hope thanks to guitarist Robbie Krieger’s sonic explorations on slide (with a huge dose of slide guitar reverb).
Other highlights abound throughout the set such as “Moonlight Drive” from the third show which is hypnotically perfect in every way. The band is dead-on in backing up one of Morrison’s finest vocal performances complete with the “Horse Latitudes” poem – when the band lays back and let’s Morrison do his thing the performance becomes pure Doors magic, a perfect blend of heavy groove and exotic mysticism.
“Universal Mind” hits a drastically different, and completely awesome, groove than that found on the Aquarius shows, while “Crawling King Snake” takes on an old blues beat that eclipses the studio version with pure menace. “Build Me a Woman” gets down to some good times foot stomping, “When the Music’s Over” – heard here in three different versions – is welcome as always as the band sets off into solid grooving and psychedelic awe, and three versions of “Light My Fire” find the band reaching locked-in-the-groove jamming that simply cooks.
One of the more interesting aspects of this set is getting to hear the progression of the band, and the ecstatic New York crowd, over four distinct shows. As each show progresses you can hear the band taking just a few more chances in the music. Compare the evening show of the first night to the earlier show and the band sounds just a little more loose, wild, and perhaps like they’ve been doing some backstage “relaxing” between shows. The crowd too becomes a part of the performances, growing ever more passionate as the nights goes on.
Live in New York 1970 is an incredible document of band that had just recently reignited the burning blues mojo at their core. Morrison Hotel, released just a few months after, was the studio crystalization of these efforts, however here in a live context the mojo is that much more apparent. The band is poised to rock hard and loose and there is an electricity in the air – partly the band’s and partly the near hysteria crowd- that is simply mesmerizing. The Doors, free of the confines of the studio are truly alive and downright dangerous. Everything I like about the Doors, from their unique organ based grooves to Morrison’s unique ability to make an oft played song sound new again, is here in fully embracing sound.
This is the Doors your mother warned you about. The kind of Doors that made history one night in New York City. The kind of Doors that, along with numerous live vault releases over the years, stands as a stunning document of one incredible live band. Simply one of the most exciting and engaging live releases I have heard in quite some time. That’s New York for ya…
It’s an all too rare experience when an album actually lives up to its expectations and then some. Fortunately, this is one of those albums. Recorded on July 18, 1971 at the Hollywood Palladium, California Concert captures a single night of smoking jazz played by a stunning collaboration of CTI musicians spread across two discs. It is everything it should be and more than you could hope for. The performances, played by a stellar cast of jazz greats, are hypnotically grooving and the crowd is ecstatically appreciative.
Before diving into the performances we have to mention the sound which is simply stellar, especially for a live recording. Somehow, that slick, thick, warm CTI sound transferred to a live performance and the recording engineers did an excellent job of capturing the atmosphere – there is a particular warmth to the recording that will make CTI Jazz fans feel right at home. Each instrument is crisp and clear and the stereo imaging is excellent. The drums and percussion are especially nice and Ron Carter’s bass is wonderfully low and fluid. All live jazz recordings should sound this good! Of course, I would expect no less from CTI…
Because each song is epic in both content and length – the shortest song is 7 minutes and the rest all run about 15 minutes or more – we thought it best to do a song by song breakdown. It is really the only way to describe such a stunning album full of truly inspired creativity.
1. “Impressions” (23:35) – Things kick off with an exuberant introduction of all the players as, one by one, they lean into a long, mid-tempo version of Coltrane’s jazz classic. The rhythm section gets things grooving and the band settles into a slow simmer that is simply mesmerizing. The main melody is simply gorgeous and the full line-up of horns and flute are the perfect compliment to the overall laid back nature of the groove. Solos are taken by Turrentine on sax, Benson on guitar, Hubbard on trumpet, Laws on flute, Hammond on B3 organ, and a wonderfully inventive Carter on bass. A breakdown of percussion and drums follows and the transition back into the main theme is nothing short of amazing.
2. “Fire and Rain” (11:42) – Hubert Laws’ much beloved version of James Taylor’s classic turns the studio version inside-out and back again. The intro features understated beauty and almost lullaby-like musings which are then followed by a serious groove set up by Ron Carter on bass. Laws then proceeds to tear things apart on the flute in a most jazz-like manner. His lines dart in and out of that ever growing groove with effortless transitions between pure groove and abstract musicality. Guitarist George Benson follows with a remarkably fluid solo full of gutbucket riffs. As the song heads back into the main theme the crowd is audibly stunned at what they have just experienced.
3. “Red Clay” (14:26) – Hubbard’s classic, and one of the most well revered of CTI jazz tracks, is played with a heavy dose of class and wonderful accompaniment by everyone involved. Once again a serious groove is laid down by Carter on bass and Cobham on drums. The main theme ushers in a slew of solos beginning with Hubbard’s truly exciting leads on trumpet. This is followed by a mesmerizing sax solo from Turrentine full of muscular riffing and blowing (I don’t know what he was smoking at this show but he sounds as amazing as ever throughout). Benson flies in for another fluid solo as the drums and percussion pick things up quite a bit in the groove. Hubbard dashes back in with a flurry of notes that sets the stage for a stunning Carter solo on bass. How does he play with such unwavering authority? Things reach a pin drop silence as Carter returns to the main theme and drums and organ pick up the beat. Amazing.
4. “Blues West” (20:56) – Never heard before on a studio recording, the song is full of classic late night jazz musings that sound like it could have been a CTI hit. The groove is laid down by the rhythm section as Turrentine proceeds to lay down yet another stunning solo. All of a sudden, even on that stage full of seriously heavy jazz players, Turrentine stands alone and it becomes his show. Not to be outdone however, Benson floats in with a laid back solo that just oozes pure jazz class. This is followed by exciting solos from Hubbard, Laws, and Hammond on Fender Rhodes piano, all while Carter keeps a steady walking bass line grooving in the background.
5. “So What” (7:12) – Carter lays down the classic Miles Davis riff on bass as Cobham on drums and Airto on percussion dance around him. This is strictly a show for guitarist George Benson to strut his stuff all over the stage and strut he does. The band lays it down deep while he floats over the top with amazing dexterity and the interplay between the musicians is simply astounding.
1. “Here’s That Rainy Day” (8:39) – The only real breather throughout the show is this gorgeous ballad that proves just how capable this group of musicians were at providing classic Blue Note style jazz. For a little more than 8 minutes we are watching the old record spin on the turntable as time settles back to a slower, and simpler place. All is well with the world as Hubbard plays downright beautiful notes on flugelhorn as the band provides sympathetic and nimble backing. Laws provides an equally gorgeous flute solo and the entire affair is truly, truly exceptional.
2. “It’s Too Late” (18:31)– Wow. Just wow. Just turn it up and sit back and marvel at Johnny Hammond’s amazing interpretation of this early 70s pop hit. Where the studio version – which can be found on the recent CTI Cool Revolution set – was a deep, laid back groove this is just complete pandemonium. Things start off safe enough as the band lays down the groove nice and easy. Benson comes in with a gutbucket solo full of pure funk attitude as the rhythm section, especially drummer Billy Cobham, picks up the pace and moves things along like a fiery dragon slithering across the stage. Deeper and deeper Benson goes into the groove which by now is reaching a hypnotic groove that just boils with excitement. But really, they’re just getting started…
Hammond’s turn now on B3 organ. He eases into the groove slowly, careful so as to not rupture the low smoking atmosphere. The band follows his lead and the slow simmer becomes a raging boil. The crowd, following the band’s enthusiasm, responds in kind as things reach a fever pitch. Hammond lays it all out, every trick he has, and the B3 organ sounds like it’s going to explode at any minute. Just when you think he can’t possibly take things any higher, when you think the limitations of the B3 are truly exhausted, Hammond just keeps going. The crowd is losing their minds, Hammond is just on another plane of existence, and the rhythm section just keeps hammering away.
It is by far one of the most exciting live jazz moments of all time. Seriously, I’m listening as I write this and I am covered in goosebumps and can’t stop grooving my entire body. This is serious business. Jeez…Cobham takes a drum solo that loses none of the preceding electricity and when the band comes back into the fold the emcee is so excited he can’t help but yell “How ’bout that?!” into the mic. The crowd loses their heads and the whole place erupts with group mind appreciation. No, more than appreciation, it’s simply downright and utter disbelief.
3. “Sugar” (13:32) – Speaking of the crowd going nuts, it’s hard to really describe the complete enthusiasm that is heard when the opening notes of Stanley Turrentine’s stone cold jazz classic is introduced. One of my favorite jazz riffs of all time and it’s played perfectly by the band in a stunning live atmosphere. Turrentine’s solo is perfect in every way and full of that deep blue sound of his. Hubbard flies in to help out the jam and is then followed by Benson on guitar. Carter takes a deep solo that hits some of the lowest notes known to man while the band slinks back into the main riff.
4. “Leaving West” (15:52) – Another stunning Turrentine led jam that takes a late night blues riff and gives it a Latin bossa nova kind of feel. Turrentine’s solo is once again a benchmark of time and rhythm, full of deeply played blues leanings and that trademark breathy sound of his. It may just be his best solo of the night as he lays deep in the pocket coming up with riff after riff of pure back alley jazz. What’s most stunning about this track is the rhythm section of Carter, Cobham, and Airto. They play with a tight but loose feel as they all lock into one another in a stop/start funk groove that never wavers. Their timing is impeccable and allows everyone who solos overtop to sound even better. Their breakdown in the middle of the jam is truly an exciting moment that somehow goes outside the groove without ever really leaving too far. The blend of Airto’s percussion with Cobham’s cymbal heavy drumming is the perfect compliment to Carter’s solid bass.
5. “Straight Life” (19:33) – What an excellent way to end the show, with a straight ahead monster groove that is as classy as it is awesome. Hubbard’s title track from his follow-up to the Red Clay album comes to life in this stunning version full of excellent solos from Hubbard, an especially animated Benson, a riff heavy Turrentine, Hammond on organ and Cobham on drums. There is a true group mind at work and the live context of the song really gives it an exciting lift. Indeed, when the final notes have rung and the announcer lets you know the musicians one last time, it is a truly spellbinding experience.
So there you have it, one incredible live album by one incredible group of musicians. You may need some serious time on your hands to take it all in but man, when you do, it is just awesome. Highly recommended!
That’s right, the good people over at dead.net are preparing a box of truly epic proportions that centers solely on the Dead’s legendary tour of Europe in the spring of 1972. These are the same shows that produced the classic Europe ’72 live album, in addition to more recent vault releases such as the always rocking Stepping Out with the Grateful Dead (reviewed here), the near perfect Hundred Year Hall, and the only complete show from the tour Rockin’ the Rhein.
Details are still a bit sketchy at the moment but they are taking reservations for this limited edition release. You can read all about it over at dead.net!
Now available for pre-order over at dead.net is the latest release in the increasingly huge Grateful Dead Road Trips series. Road Trips Vol.4 No.2 features their complete show from the Brendan Byrne Arena (Meadowlands) in East Rutherford, NJ on April 1, 1988, plus the entire second set from the night before on March 31. This release also marks the very first release of the 2011 Road Trips Subscription program which we mentioned here.
Release date is listed as February 1, 2011. More info can be found here!