It’s New Year’s Eve at the end of the year 1969 and Jimi is in New York. I had seen the Jimi Hendrix Experience a little while before at London’s Royal Festival Hall playing ‘Catfish Blues’ on a Flying V and ‘Burning Of The Midnight Lamp’ but this pair of nights would find Hendrix with a different power trio and new material AND doing two sets each evening. What this release does is present a performance in proper chronological sequence, as heard by the audience at the Fillmore East. One of the key tracks on the album release ‘Band of Gypsys’ back in was of course the funk jam and Octavia-driven ‘Who Knows’ but that song is not included here, in the first set on 31st December. It is ‘Power Of Soul’ that opens this show. On bass is Jimi’s old army mate Billy Cox – billed this very year to go out soon on the latest ‘Experience Hendrix’ tour in the US with our pal Kenny Wayne Shepherd and many others. Although in April 1970 Hendrix told a UK journalist he wasn’t that happy that the label had put out the ‘Band of Gypsys’ LP, it was a major influence on so many musicians including Randy Holden, Randy California his old sparring partner in New York in the Blue Flames, John McLaughlin, Carlos Santana, Vernon Reid of Living Colour, Anne McCue, Eddie Hazel of Funkadelic, Robin Trower then with Procol Harum, Frank Marino, of course Ernie Isley. And one Miles Davis who was intrigued by Jimi’s sonic vision and daredevil creation of tones and distorted melodies.
As for the drumming and some singing, Buddy Miles was the man at this point. As an in-built limiter of lineup lifespan, Buddy Miles did not like Mike Jeffries, Jimi’s manager. Mike Jeffries did not like Buddy Miles. So let’s run through the tracks now…
‘Power Of Soul’ bursts into life, with its twisted jazzy riff and thumping bass and drums, wah squelches and groaning lead lines. After a drum roll and playful wah solo, Jimi stops and restarts the number, settling into a groove and starting to sing at 2:55. The trio have a funk DNA which allows Hendrix to play across time, hitting trills and triads like an aural vagabond thieving licks from the air. Singing along with Miles the band outrageously slurs and wobbles its way along ; the sprightly ‘Lover Man’ keeps things rocking on a breezy 12-bar. A ghostly hammer-on starts the blues workout ‘Hear My Train A Comin’’, a song to appear on the glorious ‘Rainbow Bridge’ album later. It’s John Lee Hooker territory, mean and clipped with a steady chordal ascension and marching bassline. At 2:30 the guitar flies skywards on a vulture-like swoop through bent and whining notes. Exhilarating stuff !
‘Changes’ has a vocal by Buddy and Jimi keeps a gently skipping figure going behind him. Miles testifies and Hendrix seems to channel his experience with the Isley Brothers into his playing, Cox contributing a deep and stealthy drip-feed of notes. An exuberant drum roll quickly wraps up the tune ; ‘Izabella’ has an ominous tread of a tempo, tom toms pattering and chattering, clipped riffage.The UniVibe adds a shake to the careening solo runs. Preparing us for the caustic snarling soundscape of the mighty anti-war meisterwerk that is ‘Machine Gun’ with its deep blues metallic mantra and sound emulations of gunfire, sirens and mayhem. A song of loss and lament, highly relevant with the contemporary Vietnam conflict.
‘Stop’ has an exciting blues intro and a joint vocal. Electric Soul. The guitar solo is glorious and emotive ; ‘Ezy Ryder’ is a fine number and be sure to check out the Arthur Lee version which is a rush of sparking passion, he and Jimi were friends and recorded together. Jimi comments that they are improvising before conjuring up a sheet of wah and then a churning bass figure that defies the listener not to dance. Even this listener. This surely is a Jimi recording that deserves to be heard a lot more ? it has everything that made him a deity, to my ears. The fluid playing is a wonder, burning and spooky as only Jimi could attain. ‘Bleeding Heart’ is from the template of the Elmore James number, but the slow blues is a cruise through aching riffs and howling blue notes, a gentle Hendrix vocal icing the cake. ‘Earth Blues’ has a choppy intro and loping downward roll, crisp drumming and a pure jazz bassline. ‘Burning Desire’ is a back-alley shadow of a creation building up and settling into a heavy rock-blues excursion that seems to left itself up as it rocks along through key shifts and cartoonish tempo changes, stops and twists…
Seventy minutes of power trio heaven with the accent on funk and fun..Happy New Year, Jimi…how we miss you. Buddy too.
‘Machine Gun: Jimi Hendrix’ is out now on Sony Music. For more info maybe best head to http://bit.ly/2dkdoMf