Jimi Hendrix - guitar, vocals; Billy Cox - bass; Buddy Miles - drums, vocals
The only album of completely live Jimi Hendrix recordings to be released during his lifetime, Band Of Gypsys found the iconoclastic guitarist with a new rhythm section and soaring to new creative heights. Presented here is a good portion of the group's public debut, recorded on opening night of a New Year's Eve and New Year's Day engagement at Fillmore East. These performances gave Hendrix the opportunity to showcase new material and fulfill a contractual obligation simultaneously. The circumstances surrounding these shows are now well known; Hendrix had just successfully defended himself against drug possession charges in Toronto and now, due to a contract signed before he was known, was being forced to deliver an album of original material to Ed Chalpin, an entrepreneur determined to exploit Hendrix's success.
Despite the troubling circumstances, the Band Of Gypsys performances would go down in history as some of the greatest of Hendrix's career. Featuring new material that he had been developing in the studio and featuring an abundance of spontaneous jamming, this new music found Hendrix inspired by the solid funky bass of his old friend Billy Cox and the extraordinary gut-bucket drumming of Buddy Miles. This new rhythm section, which had been working in the studio with Hendrix for several months, contributed hard funk and R&B elements to Hendrix's groundbreaking style. The lyric direction was also changing, displaying a social consciousness previously unexplored. Hendrix was clearly pushing the boundaries of his music and his newest blues-based numbers like "Machine Gun," and "Hear My Train A Comin'," was hitting emotional heights in his guitar playing that would never quite be duplicated again.
This composite is assembled from several different recordings made during the first of two Fillmore East concerts on New Years Eve, none of which were included on the original album release. Following the introduction, the Band Of Gypsys take the stage for the first time. They kick things off with the debut performance of "Power Of Soul," a prime example of Hendrix's new direction. Despite the vocals being muted during this and the following song, this is a powerful opening number, containing a deep funky groove previously unexplored with The Experience. Unlike anything Hendrix had written before, this song reflected a social and spiritual awareness in the lyrics. For the Fillmore East audience (who heard the vocals loud and clear), this song was in direct contrast to the psychedelic rock and enigmatic imagery that defined his songs with The Experience. Like much of the material Hendrix was now working on, this is a hard-edged funk anthem conveying the need for love and compassion during turbulent times.
The next two numbers represent new approaches to songs Hendrix had already been performing. Both take on a new vigor with this rhythm section. The first of these, "Lover Man," is essentially a variation on B. B. King's "Rock Me Baby." This is a fascinating listen for its lack of vocal, as it facilitates undistracted listening to the intense instrumental interaction between these three musicians. It also serves as a good bridge between the funky opening number and the pure blues to follow with "Hear My Train A Comin." At this point the vocals are now mixed in and the recording goes from mono to stereo, greatly improving the listening experience. Perhaps better than anything else featured here, "Here My Train A Comin'" displays why Hendrix was a peerless guitarist. The searing emotional wallop of the improvisations, the sophisticated technique and the sheer spontaneous artistry that Hendrix displays here is quite compelling.
Next up is the Band of Gypsys debut performance of Buddy Miles' biggest hit, "Them Changes." A bit looser and featuring more jamming and Buddy Miles spontaneous rapping than the officially issued album version (sourced from the following night), this is just as infectious. The recording concludes with "Izabella," which Hendrix dedicates to the soldiers fighting in Vietnam. This dedication makes more sense since this number segued directly into "Machine Gun," which like the remainder of this performance, is unfortunately unavailable from the direct recording sources. "Izabella" would first see the light of day on the Woodstock 2 album, which is considerably looser and less focused than the version performed here.
Despite being an incomplete recording, presented here is the first half hour of the debut performance of one of Jimi Hendrix's most exciting and unfortunately, short lived projects. Although the Band Of Gypsys were doomed in terms of longevity, their influence remains strong nearly half a century later. (Bershaw)