Monday, August 20, 2012

Jimi Hendrix 4: Band Of Gypsys

Just like that, the Jimi Hendrix Experience was no more, mostly because Noel Redding was tired of being overlooked. Reprise put out the Smash Hits collection, offering a smattering of hit singles and the three “British” songs left off of Are You Experienced, with some hideous photos of the band dressed as banditos on the back. (The Brits’ own version of the album came out a year earlier, with different tracks and more rarities.)
An attempt at a larger group for the Woodstock festival had potential, but for a touring outfit, it made more sense to keep things simple. Also, with the resolution of a contract dispute dictating an exclusive recording, Jimi convened Band of Gypsys, featuring old Army buddy Billy Cox on bass and singer/drummer Buddy Miles, formerly of Electric Flag. The band played four shows at the Fillmore East over the New Year’s holiday, and six songs from the two January 1st shows would appear as Band Of Gypsys that spring.
At the risk of expressing political incorrectness, the sound is “blacker” than any of his albums to date, and something of a departure. While it’s a showcase for his guitar throughout, the songs aren’t as flashy or gimmicky as his psychedelic era had suggested. He’s simply playing, and playing well.
The band hadn’t prepared a lot of new material, and indeed, the opening and closing songs come off more like jams than compositions. “Who Knows” has a cool off-beat riff, played on one chord for nine minutes, while Buddy scats away in the middle. A similar approach drives “Machine Gun”, a mesmerizing performance, with the eponymous guitar effects never becoming tacky. A highly personal anti-war song, with a stunning harmony part, with a few post-song comments left in before the needle hits the inner groove.
“Changes” (or “Them Changes”, depending on which label you’re reading) is a Buddy Miles song, also pounding a couple of riffs into the ground, but with a few modulations to keep it unpredictable. The starts and stops of “Power Of Soul” (mistitled “Power To Love” on the LP) show just how tight this band was, continued on “Message Of Love” (also referred to as “Message To Love” from time to time), which had the potential to be a highlight of whatever album he’d record next. “We Gotta Live Together” fades in from a longer performance, Buddy singing unintelligible words while the crowd dutifully claps its hands.
Band Of Gypsys takes some getting used to if you only know Jimi from the hits. Given time, it sinks in as an excellent demonstration of his musical capabilities. Again, it was only one snapshot of that two-day residency. Occasional reissues of the album—again, complicated by label rights—purported to offer additional songs from the concerts. There was even a Band Of Gypsys 2, although half of that album featured a different band. The situation was somewhat rectified with 1999’s double-disc Live At The Fillmore East, which offered nearly two hours of additional material from those performances, with something of a chronically haphazard sequence. A complete performance was eventually released on its own in 2016 as Machine Gun: The Fillmore East First Show, in terrific sound that got fans hoping for a box containing all four shows. They only had to wait another three years, when Songs For Groovy Children: The Fillmore East Concerts delivered all the goods. While they may not have been Jimi’s ultimate dream band, thankfully the tapes were rolling when lightning struck.

Jimi Hendrix Band Of Gypsys (1970)—4

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