Fringes of Jazz
. This disc warrants a few words among these electrons for no other reason than it covers Mongo Santamaria’s “Afro-Blue”. But this is not the only reason. Gov’t Mule (comprised of Allman Brothers Warren Haynes and Allen Woody with the addition of drummer Matt Abts) carries on a tradition that was begun by the Allman Brothers, one involving music deep-fried in the blues, characterized by lengthy, often excessive, improvisational jams, and often resembling jazz gumbo. Musicians and critics alike often call the Allman’s instrumentals “jazz tinged” (consider “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” and “Kind of Bird”). Is it jazz? You decide.
What’s Wrong. Live... is an unwelcome return to the endless jam of the middle to late 1970s. The Mule originals tend to be bores, though well played ones. Warren Haynes has all kinds of chops to burn on standard lead and bottleneck guitar, but as a singer he is no Bob Dylan. On the other hand, his vocals might be just right for what he is performing. The overall sound is a first-rate Allman’s sound, but it is still the Allman’s sound.
What’s Right. At the heart of jazz is covering standard tunes with improvisation. Live... has seven covers out of 12 songs. Excepting Elmore James’ “Look on Yonder Wall”, the covers are squealing surprises. The Mule addresses Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs”, Bad Company’s “Mr. Big”, Humble Pie’s “Thirty Days in the Whole, and Dave Mason’s “Sad and Deep as You”. The latter contains some svelte soprano saxophone playing by old head Randall Bramblett. While one dimensional because of Haynes’ limited vocals, the renditions are interesting nevertheless. Haynes’ slide guitar on “Yonder Wall” comes closer to Duane Allman at the Fillmore than any other I have heard. Haynes’ quotes both “One Way Out” and “Statesboro Blues” in the workout.
Afro-Blue. The centerpiece of the two-disc set is the cover of “Afro-Blue”. Immediately this piece reminds one of “Mountain Jam” on Eat A Peach (and later The Complete Fillmore Concerts ) with its improvisational meandering. It also would remind one of any of a dozen Grateful Dead performances on two chords. Haynes is joined by guitarist Derek Trucks (Butch’s son) and Jimmy Herring. Bramblett has switched to tenor and Bernie Worrell is playing the organ. The results are a mixed blessing. The piece is 23 minutes long and a bit self indulgent, but it is always interesting. Truck plays a great deal of exciting slide guitar and Bramblett has a change to show his chops. The playing is complex and off the cuff. Just like jazz is supposed to be.
Jazz strict constructionists should avoid this disc. For those of us that acknowledge The Allman Brothers Live at the Fillmore East as one of the greatest rock-blues recordings ever made, this is almost a must have. You have been warned.
Personnel: Warren Haynes: Guitar, Vocals; Allen Woody: Bass; Matt Abts: Drums; Chuck Leavell: Keyboards; Bernie Worrell: Organ; Marc Ford: Guitar; Randell Bramblett: Tenor and Soprano Saxophones; Derek Trucks: Guitar; Jimmy Herring: Guitar; Yonrico Scott: Percussion.