Saturday, November 23, 2013

Hear My Brain a Hummin'

Context - our 22 year old cat, Little Cat, who's been kinda slow and crotchety for a couple years now suddenly took a turn for the worse about 3 weeks ago and every day marked a new, obvious chapter in her decline. Working from a home office, I was her care giver. She finally died in her sleep, at home. Those two weeks were mighty sad and her passing hit hard, though it was also a relief as for 2 weeks her prowling range, and range of activities grew smaller and smaller day by day. That weekend, my son and his wife had driven up from Maryland to help my sister prep her house for sale and were staying wit us. On Sunday, we went to church, had some coffee and then went to our fave locals place for chow and libations - the latter being partaken of quite liberally. On returning home, application of the de-braining fluid continued - moving from the red wine at lunch to Freixenheit (an excellent dry Spanish sparkling wine that ya can grab for about $9 a bottle in NJ). We sat around, yapped and listened to music. Then they headed home. Mrs. W. was having a prolonged ladies-only late luncheon.

Finding myself at loose ends, I grabbed the DVD of "Hear My Train A Comin'" a new documentary on Jimi Hendrix.

Over the years I have seen a number of documentaries devoted to the man and I do own a good amount of performances on VHS and DVD, all fine enough though some have slightly weaker premises than others - one that revolved around dramatic readings of his correspondence (letters he wrote, postcards, diary entries) comes to mind as a kind of a stretch. The basic facts and chronology of his life-story are pretty well established and frankly common knowledge among most fans of rock music, both young and old, and it doesn't appear that there's any especially revelatory material left to uncover -- so the basic criteria for any new documentary on offer would be is: how much footage of the man himself, both on and offstage is there? how much hasn't been shown in previous documentaries? is the basic narrative coherent and effective? are most of the salient points in the narrative touched on. "Hear My Train A Comin'" scores well on all counts. Plenty of Hendrix being Hendrix, making music and just being his diffidently bad-ass self, the major bulk of which seem to be hitting the screen for the first time -- even the scenes from Woodstock, which has been pretty exhaustively documented in the festival film, expanded version of the festival film and then in a 2 DVD set devoted solely to Hendrix's performance, are backstage shots or camera angles not previously seen. The narrative line is handled cleanly and intelligibly, nicely illustrated not only by vintage footage but by the testimonials of various colleagues, friends and lovers -- band members like Buddy Miles, Billy Cox, Mitch Mitchell, Noel Redding; the man who launched his career and produced his first two albums, Chas Chandler; the women who befriended and championed him, Linda Keith (who famously appropriated one of Keith Richards' guitarist she had in safe keeping for Jimi's use) and Fayne Pridgeon who was his Harlem connection. All in all, a good and lively telling of the story, definitely taking a very upbeat slant.

In fact if there's any criticism I'd have of "Hear My Train A Comin'" is that it breezily overlooks many of the problems that beset Hendrix -- the basic conflict he confronted of wanting to record more and perform live less vs. the need to generate sufficient income to maintain his basic lifestyle and his artistic ambitions (composing and experimenting in the recording studio at length, and then building his own custom-designed studio, Electric Lady); the pressure he felt being a Black man performing for predominantly white audiences and initially with white backing musicians; the contradiction between his often outrageous showmanship onstage with his innate shyness, vulnerability, sensitivity and Romanticism. So it's NOT the "definitive" Hendrix documentary biography the back cover copy claims -- but it IS a good un. Utterly enjoyable and utterly truthful as far as it goes. As far as I can remember, coz -- as initially noted,I was four sheets to the wind when I watched it. And it cushioned my comedown quite admirably.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

I own a lot of Jimi Hendrix albums, all of them legit releases, all but 4 posthumous and many of them, re-workings of the same repertoire. Frankly, other than the obvious cash-ins i.e. work he'd done as a sideman, are all pretty damned good. Some ARE more essential than others - obviously the albums he completed during his lifetime, the core of the material he'd completed but not released that came out initially as "Cry of Love" and a series of lesser albums, later collated as "Voodoo Soup" initially and then "First Rays of the New Rising Sun." But even the numerous further releases that are primarily alternate takes from all the above are, at worst interesting, primarily to the diehard fan who eagerly pour over the mutliple takes thereby in circulation and wonder at the different guitar solos as well as more subtle differences 'tween said versions. But all have SOMETHING to recommend them.

Likewise the live albums - Woodstock, BBC sessions, Berkeley Community Center, at the Monterey Pop Festival, the four concerts in the "Stages" box, the L.A. Forum show in the "Lifelines" box, Fillmore East. If there's one thing this cat LOVED it was to play live and it shows throughout all these recordings. In many cases, you get the same basic repertoire over and over again -- which is why the Fillmore East concerts are among my best, largely being an airing of then-unreleased material - a lot of these songs being among the best writing of the latter part of his career.

"Miami Pop Festival" is a nice addition to the Hendrix canon. It's a pro recording helmed by his longtime engineer Eddie Kramer from 1968. The song selection is primarily from his debut outing "Are You Experienced" with a cover of "Tax Free," a song by Swedish instrumental duo "Hansson and Carlsson" and the first live recording of "Hear My Train A Coming" - a groove that I'd suggest also is the undercarriage for "Machine Gun." So - the sound is good, the performances spirited. It's a little strange that all the stage patter is at a significantly lower volume than the playing and singing -- but since you're paying for the playing and singing, the point is moo. Also, the bass is a bit low in the mix but that could be down to the circumstances of the original recording of these performances.

The packaging's nice -- all the booklet photos are taken from the occasion the music was recorded, a strategm that the Hendrix family has pursued for the past 3 live releases, which adds thematic cohesion.

Is this the BEST live Hendrix available? The most interesting? The most revelatory? I daresay that judgement is in the ears of the particular beholder and subject to their own historical and aesthetic biases. But this IS an excellent rendering of his and the Experience's post-"Are You Experienced" material plus some neat pointers as to where he was headed next.