Album Review


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.

Neil Lieberman, December 31, 1999


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