Live at Keystone Korner
Jerry Garcia may embody the essence of non-conformism, but he honored musical tradition like perhaps no other musicians of his generation. Flaunt it as he might've with the Grateful Dead, when he took respite from that band's improvisational gestalt, he could go in any number of directions. Two releases form the Pure Jerry series document opposite ends of the spectrum
1989 was a good year for Jerry Garcia on his own and with the Grateful Dead, one of the few instances when those two states existed simultaneously. The founder of the band had regained his health over that previous two years, the Dead were luxuriating in the mass success afforded by "Touch of Gray (opting even to play a date billed as the Warlocks where they exhumed rarely played material from the early '70s), while the guitarist/ sing/songwriter himself was touring with a lineup of the Jerry Garcia Band that had essentially been playing together for years. Their familiarity with each other showed in the post-positive sense, demonstrating in no uncertain terms the vast difference between comfort and complacency
The fourth release in a series of live recordings overseen by the estate of the late musician offers the entire set list from two nights at Maryland's Merriweather Post Pavilion in September of this very good year. The music resonates with a delicious simplicity, as Garcia nails the solo on "I'll Take A Melody, is such a straightforward unadorned style both George Harrison and Scotty Moore would be proud. The quintet, including Melvin Seals, on organ had no predilections to experiment wildly, but rather slipped almost indiscernibly into grooves from a wide range of material including selections from Bob Dylan, Van Morrison and awealth of Hunter/Garcia compositions. such as "Run for the Roses, where Jerry peels notes from his guitar in such a sweet way you recall Chuck Berry's description of Johnny B. Goode as "playing guitar like ringin' a bell."
In good, strong voice Garcia sings as if all the songs meant something to him - "Get Out of My Life Woman sounds as autobiographical in one sense as "How Sweet It Does in another. "Lucky Old Sun tastes bittersweet in the best way as does " Knockin' On Heaven's Door, an extended take of over 10 minutes that illustrates the experience that derived from years of playing together was a tremendous benefit to JGB (not to mention how the reggae arrangement points out how the presence of female singers recalls Bob Marley's I-three's vocal ensemble). Unlike some of Garcia's solo stands, released last fall in the form of Theatre 1989, for instance, that sound like nothing so much as a musicians too anxious to do something new and different, Merriweather-Post glows with the inspiration of a musicians with much to say. That Garcia seems in no particular hurry to say it may rankle the uninitiated and even some fans.
Likewise, the novelty of Garcia's interaction with Merl Saunders, et all, when he playing the tiny Keystone Korner club in Berkley, Calif., was the basis for music unlike anything else in the Garcia canon; it's a further demonstration of Jerry's adventuresome sprit that, at some junctures with the Dead, was severely lacking. Beautifully relaxed and rootsy in a way the Dead rarely allowed themselves to be after a certain point in the late '70s, Keystone Korner's music is the sound of skilled musicians playing just to see what happens, calling to mind more often the cross between blues and jazz emanating from Texas than anything remotely psychedelic from the West coast. Comparisons to Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble leap to mind, but not so quickly as how reminiscent is this ensemble to Doug Sahm's work once he moved beyond the Quintet into a more natural setting.
The presence of Martin Fierro on saxophone, who worked extensively with the Texas Tornado, is only a literal reference, though his fluid soloing is what allowed this band to remain almost purely instrumental (but no doubt got him into the Dead's Wake of the Flood sessions). Delightfully compact, Garcia/Saunders & Co. feature a crisp quality of interplay seasoned by the keyboardist's electric piano, while the soulful Hammond organ further removing this group of Jerry's from any comparisons to his "other" band by recalling he great tradition of the instrument in jazz.
None of this is to ignore the importance of the rhythm section, especially as John Kahn's bass bubbling up through the tricky rhythm arrangement brings new life to a staple of Garcia's solo career, Jimmy Cliff's "The Harder They Fall. Listening to Kahn and drummer Paul Humphrey work underneath Garcia's pungent guitar is the best means of appreciating the sterling sound of this three-disc set: it literally booms with clarity from the speakers, each instrument as distinct as the man who plays it. Jerry the guitarist is among equals here, utilizing his deeply-schooled roots in folk music and bluegrass playing banjo as well as acoustic guitar, transposed to electric guitar: he initiates solos with an eminently light touch, graceful and quick (as opposed to fast - there's a difference). Plus there's no flash whatsoever - the rest of the group wouldn't allow it - which is perhaps by the billing is "The Jerry-Garcia- Merl Saunders Band."
Moving from "Roadrunner, so often a tired cliché and here just the spirited opposite then to Van Morrison's "And It Stoned Me, then on to Dylan's "Going Going Gone (a novel choice indeed from Planet Waves a true Bob fan Jerry) to "I Second that Emotion from the Miracles is the kind of gene-bending stuff of which a truly great jazz band is renowned. If your preconceptions about Jerry Garcia impede a sampling of Live at Keystone Korner, try by all means to rise above them - you will be pleasantly surprised and deeply gratified all the more so the more you play it. And the easy joy of throwing this one and digging right into it is one of its greatest virtues.
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Tracks and Personnel
Tracks: (September 1, 1989) Disc 1: How Sweet It Is; Stop That Train; Get Out Of My Life Woman; Run For The Roses; Like A Road; Sisters And Brothers; Deal. Disc 2: The Harder They Come; Mission In The Rain; Band Introduction; Think; Mississippi Moon; Waiting For A Miracle; Lucky Old Sun; Tangled Up In Blue. (September 2, 1989) Disc 3: I'll Take A Melody; They Love Each Other; Forever Young; That's What Love Will Make You Do; Knockin' On Heaven's Door; And It Stoned Me; Midnight Moonlight. Disc 4: Cats Under The Stars; Waiting For A Miracle; Simple Twist Of Fate; Evangeline; The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down; Don't Let Go.
Personnel: Jerry Garcia: guitar, vocals; John Kahn: bass; David Kemper: drums; Melvin Seals: organ; Gloria Jones: vocals; Jaclyn LaBranch: vocals.
Tracks: Disc 1: Neighbor, Neighbor; Keepers; Sitting In Limbo; Favela; Tough Mama; La La. Disc 2: Someday Baby; Think; Roadrunner; The Harder They Come; I Second That Emotion; Going, Going, Gone. Disc 3: Soul Roach; Mystery Train; Wondering Why; People Make The World Go Round; Keystone Jam; It's Too Late; The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.
Personnel: Jerry Garcia: guitar and vocals; Merl Saunders: keyboards and vocals; John Kahn: bass; Martin Fierro: sax, flute and percussion; Paul Humphrey: drums; Mystery Guest: trumpet.