Thursday, July 26, 2012
Musical tributes can be a tricky business. Some opt for a kind of historical re-enactment where period costumes, vintage instruments and all the notes are recreated in forensic detail. Others attempt to honour the spirit of the original without subsuming or compromising their own musical personality. Either can be tough to pull off convincingly but Spectrum Road, opting for the latter approach, do so brilliantly.
Tony Williams’ Lifetime was so bold an experiment in bolting jazz and rock together, the first two albums, Emergency and Turn It Over retain their white-hot, inventive force despite the passage of over 40 years.
Admittedly the involvement of Jack Bruce, with his direct links to Lifetime, provides something of an inside track. Yet one suspects that even without his considerable presence, Vernon Reid, Cindy Blackman and John Medeski would have done the job justice in any event.
Lifetime was often a ragged, effusive, difficult-to-control beast of a band without much in the way of smooth polish which other jazz-rock outfits who followed would increasingly apply to their music. Though Reid’s amped-up rock-out style is busier and more mobile than than anything John McLaughlin played during his tenure in Lifetime, it shares the same that thrilling degree of utter conviction.
His style is perhaps a metaphor for the ferocious immediacy of this whole recording. In their hurry to capture the performances, the almost carefree roughness of sound and texture evokes the headlong briskness to be found on early Lifetime recordings.
Nothing is polished or smooth here and that’s exactly as it should be.
At 69, and in nimble, understated form on the bass, Bruce’s soulful burr breathes life into There Comes A Time, while the haunting gaelic ballad An t-Eilan Muileach, provides a calm shelter from the tumultuous waves which gather elsewhere.
John Medeski’s constantly percolating keyboards carefully shade and subtly shape the riot around him. Those mysterious vapours emanating from Larry Young’s Hammond are here re-imagined by incandescent slurring Mellotron, adding an psych-like flavour to the turbulent melange.
Being the drummer in any band that celebrates Tony Williams is always going to be a tough gig. Yet any attempt to compare Cindy Blackman’s evident command of the brief becomes a waste of valuable time that’s better spent appreciating her ability to hone down into the groove. She takes up the spooky disembodied vocal line originally sung by Williams in 1969 on the enigmatic Where, transforming it into a tender remembrance of someone gone way before their time.