Spectrum Road — electric guitarist Vernon Reid, bassist Jack Bruce, keyboardist John Medeski and drummer Cindy Blackman — playing high energy, high volume music at the Blue Note (NYC) this weekend inspired by the jazz-rock amalgam the late, great Tony Williams created 40 years ago, seems utterly cutting edge. Or is it just my old ears, getting deaf to quieter subtleties?
Opening night the quartet was over-the-top exciting, as Reid’s fast-fingering of long and urgent phrases, Bruce’s unfalteringly creative and propulsive bottom lines (he’s the guy who kept Cream’s long jams like the 16-minute “Spoonful” from bogging down), Medeski’s swirling, splashing organ-and-synth physicality and Blackman’s ferocious full-on attack cohered into a huge sound with a single intent: improv intense enough for headbangers, bluesy but harmonically exploratory enough to satisfy avant-jazzers.
Experiments in crossover were already occuring then. Among those leading the charge: flutist Jeremy Steig and his Satyrs; the Free Spirits with guitarist Larry Coryell, saxophonist Jim Pepper and drummer Bob Moses; the Blues Project; Paul Butterfield’s Blues Band; Blood, Sweat and Tears under the direction of Al Kooper, and Miles Davis, Tony Williams’ boss (Frank Zappa and Jimi Hendrix, too). Miles had not yet had his breakthrough with Bitches Brew — in fact, Williams left the trumpeter, who’d been his mentor, before then, because Davis had cast guitarist John McLaughlin, whom Williams had brought from England to be in Lifetime, for In A Silent Way. As if Miles could steal Williams’ thunder!
Turn It Over (Jack Bruce joining to make Lifetime a quartet) and Ego (different personnel), before getting swamped by who-knows-what for Lifetime’s least successful outing, The Old Bum’s Rush. None of these records were admired by the old-guard jazz fans of the early ’70s who mostly ruled the critical roost, but that didn’t stop Williams’ cohort — kids 25 and younger, who were open to psychedelia as well as jazz, from eating them up. Lifetime rocked. Oh yeah — Williams took a lot of heat for his wimpy vocals, but as sung by Bruce (“There Comes a Time”) especially, and Blackman (“Where”), the lyrics and songs are just fine.
bie Hancock and Wayne Shorter make for fine listening. But for the still generative big bang of jazz-rock, I recommend Spectrum – Anthology. which has most of the best of Emergency!, Turn It Over, Ego and The Old Bum’s Rush].
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Bobby Ebert says
Good article also, a great jam! I love stuff like that!!
Carlos Bill says
Hey wow man!!! From a long time I haven’t seen deep music articles like this; congratulations Mandel, congratulations…whoever wrote this show review. Great man. It is interesting…I was a young boy when I first heard Lifetime and Between Nothingness & Eternity, the live Mahavishnu McLaughlin record. Both records are masterpieces, and Vuelta Abajo…well, free jazz played by men who originally aren’t John Coltrane players from his quintet, and nothwithstanding, they play this type of music at their very best. Vernon, Jack, everyone knows how these players can produce so strong jazzy lines from the jazz-rock and it is amazing how they are playing coolly and better than never. Hope only that these performances may appear live on records, because with so much stuff coming out from music industry, it is not hard to someone else stay confused with so many styles, hip-hop, Eminem, house, so it is good to register that on records, so one can remember easily these rare encounters of veterans.
Carlos Bill, bass player, composer, Rio, Brazil.
Ryan Bergman says
you bring up a very good point about how long it has been for this jazz rock fusion movement to be at or near the forefront since its introduction. But I feel as if we need to figure out what’s coming next. Is it a throwback to the golden age, is it something more in the fusion arena, or is it something we haven’t heard yet that someone is working on right now?
HM: No telling, that’s what’s exciting about going out to hear jazz. I hear lot of music I never heard before — which doesn’t preclude aspects of the “golden age” or fusion being inspirations, influences or ingredients within what’s new.
phil allen says
I live in my car now. Even so, nothing was going to keep me from Spectrum Road’s first Thursday show at Yoshi’s/Oakland. I was hungry then,..I’m hungrier now–for a live recording I can take home and keep. And, I hadn’t seen my man Jack on stage for 18 years.
I met 3 fellows in the line, all musicians, and we sat together. As the set progressed, the 4-part personality on stage melded into one flowing river, turning upon itself to create a vortex into which we were groovily drawn.
Dang! Back in the glorious Spring of ’63, it was decided that I’d stay with Gim (my grandmother) just off Lake Merritt, also in Oakland, while finishing my 8th-grade term. Fortunately, I was tossed into Mr. Stevens’ music class, where I picked up the rudiments of bass and cello. He’d say,”Learn an instrument. You can make money on the side, playing parties, dances and such in a combo.” (Combo?) Too bad, on two counts: I had absolutely no musical guides or frames of reference; and then, such small groups looked pretty square–black tie and slacks, plaid dinner jackets, and blond buzzcuts. Had I but known, could I have but seen..
We four, meanwhile, had made the first show, thinking maybe we’d stay around for the second. Not to be..we were wrung out and exhausted and beat. And Spectrum Road had another set to perform! Cindy Blackman must eat Wheaties. I slept well.
Oh,..my point in writing: I’m curious as to just where, in the minds of the cogniscenti, Brian Auger stands in the pantheon of fusion pioneers. He’d put together Steampacket c65, and the Trinity and Oblivion Express thereafter. Yet, his name doesn’t seem to appear in the credits. Too vanilla?
HM: How can I pose as a member of the cogniscenti if I don’t have an opinion on Brian Auger? I remember his name and don’t know why I can’t think of his music. I’ll do some research. . . Other readers have a comment on him?