Jimi Hendrix: More to Experience
In the near half-century since Jimi Hendrix's death, the passion the late guitarist's music elicits includes deep feelings about how his art has been presented posthumously. Accordingly, the reaction to the release of the four-CD Winterland box set, in combination with an expanded edition of one the earliest (and most sought after out-of-circulation) posthumous titles, In The West, threatens to dampen what otherwise might be unbridled enthusiasm.
Those familiar with the history of titles following Hendrix's untimely passing, in September of 1970, probably can't help but look with some scepticism at the re-release of In The West, if only due to fear this heralds another litany of rejiggered collections such as the execrable Midnight Lightning (Warner Bros., 1975). And that's not to mention the 2011 marketing of this new box with Amazon-only exclusives that undermine the arguably comprehensive scope of the project.
In The West
Legacy Recordings/Experience Hendrix
In 2011, multiple generations now removed from Hendrix' astonishingly brief solo career, more than one new audience is ripe and ready for an introduction and investigation of the groundbreaking musician. At least In The West has its own intrinsic concept as a collection of live performances, which the five newly-added tracks brings to logical fruition.
Proceeding from the introductory call to instrumental arms that is "The Queen," like the snippet of The Beatles' "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," a gesture of gratitude to the British home of his fame, through the exorcism by blues that is "Red House," and a jubilant piece of deliverance in the form of a frantic run through Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode," the dramatic climax of "Voodoo Chile (Slight Return), not present on the original release, has a palpable, visceral impact.
Perhaps Hendrix's greatest riffand arguably the prototype of metal music to come at the time of its inclusion on Electric Ladyland (Warner Bros., 1968)the song and its authoritative performance by the Experience (including drummer Mitch Mitchell and bassist Noel Redding) becomes an ever so emphatic punctuation to what easily passes for a facsimile of a setlist by the band in the later stages of its evolution. Combined with additional graphics in line with the iconic cover image, it is the definition of astute archiving.
Legacy Recordings-Experience Hendrix
Winterland is perhaps slightly less impressive, as recordings have been available in a variety of forms for years now, including those passages of subpar sonics and performance that arguably damage Hendrix's reputation. Yet this carefully compiled, four-CD edition (like its counterpart also available on vinyl), should nevertheless constitute a revelation even for those Hendrix fans jaded and/or resentful at the handling of the man's archive.
A cursory glance at the setlists will not prepare for the improvisational takes Hendrix and company bring to their performances on the first disc alone. Formally introduced on the subsequent CD, "Tax Free" mutates constantly in the course of its duration, allowing Redding a prominence he has to sacrifice for the sake of the Hendrix/Mitchell dynamic through much of the other performance content.
An intentional means of disarming the boredom that might have otherwise set in from playing so many of the same tunes over the course of a year (selections from the aforementioned just released studio album are noticeably absent), this is a means of rediscovering Hendrix's imagination in the moment. Savor, for instance, these early versions of the now famous segue from "Star Spangled Banner"/"Purple Haze," eventually immortalized via the 1969 Woodstock performance.
Though sound quality too is subject to debate, the mixing and mastering, the former thankfully at the hands of original studio collaborator Eddie Kramer, the latter by the redoubtable George Marino, brings a virtue of its own to Winterland. With an almost tactile presence, the sonic onslaught of the guitar arrives accompanied by the almost equally furious approach drummer Mitch Mitchell brings to the music on "Killing Floor" to name just one.
A bond forged over months of playing togetherthe final night marks the two- year anniversary of the triobears fruit in various forms, via the freewheeling take on Cream's "Sunshine of Your Love," respectfully offered in instrumental form, or the more straightforward blues arrangement of "Hear My Train A Comin,'" which was already evincing a ghostly air early in its regular rotation in th repertoire.
No doubt fostered by the comparative luxury of the three night stand, there's a sense of playful relaxation underlying this musicianship, in the casual curious exploration of material as well as the welcoming of guests including Jefferson Airplane's bassist Jack Casady, among others. Then there are the fleeting teases of tunes that arise and depart in matters of seconds (a well-established phenomenon of Hendrix's approach to live performing represented on In the West with a smattering of "Flight of the Bumblebee" during "Lover Man."
The deliberate pace of this 10/12 rendition of Bob Dylan's "Like A Rolling Stone" gives a special authority to the statement Hendrix is making: at this point in his career, he had attained the confidence he strove for when he played this tune in June 1967 at the Monterey Pop Festival. His introduction is offhand and almost shy, as was the nature of most of his between-song patter. It's in marked contrast to the cryptic but nonetheless lucid observations he offers during the Boston Garden interview included on disc four.
The fourth CD recapitulates the salient elements of its package with selections from each night. Though not with all the clarity of sound and stereo separation of the recordings from two years later, this version of "Are You Experienced?" documents how, given the separate but complementary factors of his technical expertise and ingenuity of technique, Jimi Hendrix's live performances usually did not suffer in comparison to his studio work. Still, he remained staunch in his unwillingness to merely replicate recordings or previous live takes: the leisurely "Red House" taken from the same night is anything but desultory.
Taken solely on their own terms, Winterland and In The West constitute affirmation, if indeed one is necessary, of the source of Jimi Hendrix's genius. His pure and unadulterated love of playing gives lift to performance staples such as "Fire," simultaneously maintaining a strong camaraderie with Mitchell and Redding. Following the ever-so-sincere expression of gratitude to the audience at one performance, this reading of "Purple Haze" sounds less than a concession to attendees hoping for "hits" than an expression of the artist's mind and heart.
Tracks and Personnel
In The West
Tracks: The Queen; Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band; Little Wing; Fire; I Don't Live Today; Spanish Castle Magic; Red House; Johnny B. Goode; Lover Man; Blue Suede Shoes; Voodo Child (Slight Return).
Personnel: Jimi Hendrix: guitar, vocals; Noel Redding: bass, vocals; Mitch Mitchell: drums.
Tracks: CD1: Tax Free; Lover Man; Sunshine of Your Love; Hear My Train A Comin'; Killing Floor; Foxey Lady; Hey Joe; Star Spangled Banner; Purple Haze. CD2: Tax Free; Like a Rolling Stone; Lover Man; Hey Joe; Fire; Foxey Lady; Are You Experienced; Red House; Purple Haze. CD3: Fire; Lover Man; Like a Rolling Stone; Manic Depression; Sunshine of Your Love; Little Wing; Spanish Castle Magic; Red House; Hey Joe; Purple Haze;Wild Thing. CD4: Winterland Ballroom, San Francisco: Foxey Lady; Are You Experienced?; Voodoo Child (Slight Return); Red House; Star Spangled Banner; Purple Haze; Boston Garden Backstage Interview.
Personnel: Jimi Hendrix: guitar, vocals; Noel Redding: bass, vocals; Jack Casady: bass; Mitch Mitchell: drums; Virgil Gonsalves: flute; Herbie Rich: organ.