Al Kooper, Michael Bloomfield & Stephen Stills
Al Kooper & Michael Bloomfield
Fillmore East: The Lost Concert Tapes
First Appeared at The Music Box, June 2003, Volume 10, #6
Written by John Metzger
In mid-1968, the concept of a supergroup was a foreign one. Though free-form jams among ’60s artists were frequent, they were also quite private. So, when Al Kooper began orchestrating what became the legendary Super Session project, he had no way of knowing what it would become. For starters, Kooper simply wanted to jam with Michael Bloomfield (Paul Butterfield Blues Band and Electric Flag) and capture the moment on tape for the world to hear. The duo — along with bass player Harvey Brooks, drummer Eddie Hoh, and pianist Barry Goldberg — hunkered down in the recording studio for one magnificent, nine-hour session, and the highlights were showcased on side one of the original album. Covers of Curtis Mayfield’s Man’s Temptation and Jerry Ragovoy’s Stop demonstrated Kooper’s fondness for soul as did the later addition of a horn section to several of the other tracks. But it was the down and dirty blues of Reach and Albert’s Shuffle towards which Bloomfield so easily gravitated. His guitar gracefully glided from note to note with an economical, but formidable attack that was as effortless as it was potent. Kooper repeatedly responded with ringing reverberations of organ that gyrated amiably about the euphonic epiphanies. As for His Holy Modal Majesty — a song that for any jam band fan is well-worth the price of admission — the group fired back at John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman with a rock ’n‘ roll take on free-wheeling jazz that easily rivals the most mind-bending excursions emanating from the Grateful Dead during this period.
Kooper’s ensemble was to continue recording the following day, but Bloomfield’s battle with insomnia and heroin addiction forced him to leave. Not wanting to waste the momentum that had been building, Kooper called in Stephen Stills to complete the project. Side two of the album offered the perfect complement to Bloomfield’s blazing blues, beginning with the Simon & Garfunkel-meet-The Byrds jangle that adorned Bob Dylan’s It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry. Also included was the brief meditation of Harvey’s Tune and the odd mutation of Willie Cobb’s You Don’t Love Me into a psychedelic pop tune. The highlight of the Stills-session, however, was the way the band blew open the doors of Donovan’s Season of the Witch to find inside a superlatively funky groove that smolders with scintillating intensity.
For years, fans of Super Session have been screaming to hear the original renditions of its songs without the horn section, and with the addition of the remixed versions of Albert’s Shuffle and Season of the Witch that are tacked onto the end of the recent reissue, their wishes have been granted, at least partially. The funny thing is that on the original versions, the horns are truly unobtrusive, though they aren’t missed one bit on these new renditions either. That means that the real meat of the bonus tracks is found within the two Bloomfield-laced cuts that conclude the disc: Blues for Nothing and Fat Grey Cloud. The former is a seething blues excursion that was probably excised from the original album due to its similarity to Albert’s Shuffle, even though it’s a terrific performance. The latter is equally strong and was recorded in concert. Consequently, it features the same sense of single-minded exploration that pervaded the now-legendary studio project.
A few months after Super Session was released, Bloomfield and Kooper teamed up for a series of live performances at the Fillmore East and the Fillmore West. The Bay Area appearances were documented on The Live Adventures of Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper — albeit with several overdubs — but the Fillmore East tapes were lost for more than 30 years. Since their rediscovery, the recordings have been cleaned up significantly, and music from the December 13, 1968 concert is featured on the newly issued Fillmore East: The Lost Concert Tapes. Unlike the previous Kooper-Bloomfield projects, however, this set does not include any overdubs, and for better or for worse, one gets exactly what was played — warts and all.
Though Stephen Stills lit up Season of the Witch on Super Session, the rendition on Fillmore East: The Lost Concert Tapes is given a very different twist as Bloomfield ably dissects the funky beat with his laser beam-guided riffs. Likewise a cover of Albert King’s Don’t Throw Your Love on Me So Strong is stretched to its limit, courtesy of Bloomfield’s meritoriously stirring attack. Also notable is It’s My Own Fault, which features the introduction to the world of then-unknown guitarist Johnny Winter. He and Bloomfield shared a love of the blues, and their immediately opalescent chemistry is beautifully illustrated on this B.B. King classic.
Most assuredly, the show was not a perfect one. The struggle between drummer John Cresci and bass player Jerry Jemmott is apparent throughout the set, and sometimes one is left wondering what might have been, if only the musicians had stayed in synch. Still, it’s not such a conflict that it completely undermines the journey. Indeed, though rehearsal time was kept to a minimum, the set showcases the raw energy of musicians unearthing the intricacies of one another, thereby yielding some truly spectacular — not to mention, historical — moments.
Super Session —
Fillmore East: The Lost Concert Tapes —
Super Session is available
from Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!
Fillmore East: The Lost Concert Tapes is available
from Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2003 The Music Box