I have said this before when covering any Hendrix reissues, the best thing that could have ever happened to Jimi’s work is that his family took care of it. The Hendrix family, in cooperation with MCA Records, have been reissuing a tremendous amount of the live concert recordings and entailing the history of Jimi and his two groups, “The Experience” and “Band Of Gypsys.”
While Jimi’s studio work remains as relevant today as the day it was recorded, it’s the live work that has been shedding new light upon the musical genius of the man and the people that played keyed roles in developing his stage presence and sound. This particular reworked package comes from the Universal Music Group archives.
Buddy Miles (drums) and Billy Cox (bass) were the two new members of the Hendrix camp that assisted Jimi in taking his music in new directions. Although he kept things exciting with the use of wah-wah pedals and other technical wizardry of the day, he utilized the experience of Cox and Miles to create a blend of rock, soul, and rhythm and blues that remains unrivaled to this day. This two CD set expands upon the original release. The tracks “Burning Desire” and “Izabella,” make their debut, as do alternate versions of “Power Of Soul” and “Machine Gun.”
“We Gotta Live Together,” with the lead vocals handled by Miles, who has a very powerful voice, are a welcome change to the Hendrix sound. This newly found freedom and diversity allowed Jimi’s guitar playing to push itself to new boundaries in several genres simultaneously. As it states in the revealing liner notes- “The audience didn’t know what to expect from us, but from the time we hit that first note, they were in awe.” Yes indeed, this was jaw dropping playing by the entire group. The sound is phenomenal, and it will transport you to those four historical nights with ease.
Hendrix was right on the cusp of something big in the development of his music and persona, it’s a shame that it had to end as quickly as it began.
During the weekend that ended the ’60s, Jimi Hendrix played a series of shows at the legendary Fillmore East with his new bandmates, Buddy Miles and Billy Cox. But instead of providing that turbulent decade its swansong, Jimi launched into the ’70s headfirst. The concerts elicited from Hendrix a sound distinctly removed from his work with the Jimi Hendrix Experience and the last album released during his lifetime, Band of Gypsys. Though the music created those nights would, along with the work of Stevie Wonder and Curtis Mayfield, provide the foundation for ’70s funk and soul music, Hendrix himself would be dead five short months later.
While Band of Gypsys adequately captured the stellar new material featured at those celebrated shows, Live at the Fillmore East, a two- disc set released earlier this year, expands that documentation, placing Jimi’s newer work properly alongside standards such as “Stone Free” and “Voodoo Child (Slight Return).” The result is an intriguing, newly angled look at Jimi’s last, but bright, light. The band’s performance is intricate yet emotive throughout, shifting tempos in a heartbeat and deftly playing keep- along with Hendrix’s astounding guitar work. Here, his musings, stripped of the pop pretense of his work with the Experience, combine his blues roots with the funk, soul and improvisational jazz elements floating around New York at that time. He was unpredictable throughout the weekend, exploding from tense, tentative picking to forays of sonic splendor, only to return again. As a result, his new direction is as readily apparent in the euphoric ten minutes of the aforementioned “Stone Free” as it is on the earthy “Power of Soul.”
The dawn of the ’70s also witnessed another change in Hendrix, as his writing moved more in line with his heady, spiritual playing. Tracks like the album’s lamenting masterpiece, “Machine Gun,” “Hear My Train a Comin'” and “Earth Blues” show Hendrix the Songwriter as bared of psychedelia as his guitar work. This simple union of words and music shroud the album in the overriding frustration and confidence of the times. Gone are Jimi’s coy jokes, replaced with directives, visions and cries for help.
If you have yet to hear these shows and consider yourself at least remotely attracted to the concept of the guitar as a musical instrument, I say to you: “Get your ass to the record store, directly!” Live at the Fillmore East is the rare documentation of pure musical genius creating, a work in process in the most visceral, vibrant sense of the phrase. Hendrix took everything that came before him and transformed it into everything that followed. These shows are ample evidence as to why. The only question remaining is posed to those already in possession of Band Of Gypsys: is it worth the price of admission? Well, does the prospect of another two discs of that album’s pure power and passion sound good to you? It sure does to me.
If A Equals B and B Equals C… No, the music of Jimi Hendrix can not be strictly called jazz. Since the guitarist’s death in 1970, many music pundits have opined that had Hendrix lived he would have ventured into the realm of fusion. Rhetorically, how far from fusion could he have been at the end of his life when compared to the electric guitar fireworks on Bitches Brew ? Like jazz, Hendrix’s music was blues based and highly improvisatory. It is with this support that I justify reviewing Hendrix Live at the Fillmore East in this jazz publication. Jazz is a melting pot with all Music at the fringes.
With the byline for Down Beat magazine being “Jazz, Blues, and Beyond”, if we cannot consider Jimi Hendrix’s music “Jazz, Blues, and Beyond”, I will eat my crushed pork-pie hat and rename my cat “Jaco”.
Pivotal Music/Pivotal Time. Band of Gypsys was the last recording to be released beneath the approval of Hendrix before his death. What a cool LP cover that was. A grainy Hendrix in a circle spotlight, head slightly, almost reverently bowed, as if he was aware of the history of the occasion. The original LP (and CD re-release) presented six songs gleaned from two shows at New York City’s Fillmore East Auditorium: the first on the evening of December 31, 1969 and the second on the morning of January 1, 1970. The songs were previously unreleased by Hendrix and provided a very clear and significant change in direction for the guitarist.
Also noteworthy was the venue. During its zenith, New York’s Fillmore East auditorium was the Village Vanguard of Rock music. Then manager Bill Graham hosted every major musical act from the Grateful Dead to Pete Seeger. Also like the Vanguard, many notable live recordings were made there, perhaps the most famous being The Allman Brothers Band Live at the Fillmore East. The re-release of this particular recording preceded this Hendrix re-release in assembling in one place a good part of the music played at these respective concerts that had previously been unreleased or available only on separate recordings.
The music on Hendrix Live at the Fillmore East was performed on the symbolic fulcrum of social and cultural change that had been taking place from the mid-’60s and mid-’70s. Prophetic and metaphorical, Hendrix’s music was changing also. With the Band of Gypsys, Hendrix shed his Caucasian Anglo band mates (Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell) in favor of the funky and intense Buddy Miles and Billy Cox. Together, they defined the meaning of “Power Trio”. His music moved in a decidedly funky direction while still retaining it allegiance to the blues (check out this electric “Hear My Train A Comin'”). The performance centerpiece, “Machine Gun” is presented here twice, the performance for each of the two shows. The song still oozes pure genius almost 30 years later. “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” is played a bit fast for my taste, but dovetails perfectly into “We Gotta Live Together”.
Gratitude. It is simple a gift that the compact disc was invented. The availability of previously unissued or hard to find Hendrix makes this set worth having alone. Add to that it is from the Band of Gypsys show and that makes it essential.