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The Tony Williams Lifetime: Spectrum: The Anthology

Douglas Payne By

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Tony Williams's pioneering electric trio Lifetime made two stunning, yet imperfect records in the early 1970s in Emergency! and Turn It Over. A reflection of the turbulence of its times and the new attitudes that were being shaped, Lifetime began life as one of jazz's first all-star power trios: the brilliant Larry Young on organ, the multitalented John McLaughlin on guitar and Williams, a complete arsenal of one on drums. Some of the music this group made was powerful and breathtaking. Some of it was downright pretentious and amateurish (especially whenever someone started singing). But even so, jazz audiences hated the group; it was rock listeners who were intuitive enough to pick up on this trio's amazing musical integrity.

Spectrum represents what could be amazing about Lifetime — and, unfortunately, what could make it unbearable. But whatever your expectations about Spectrum , don't count on it being a complete chronicle of Lifetime's Polydor output (1969-73). It leaves out "Beyond Games," "Via the Spectrum Road" and "Something Spiritual" from Emergency! and "This Night This Song" and "Once I Loved" from Turn It Over. Both these records deserve to be heard in their entirety (both volumes of Emergency! were issued as one CD a couple years back). And it wouldn't hurt to hear lesser achievements like Ego (from 1971, without McLaughlin) and the more pop-oriented The Old Bum's Rush (from 1973, without Young) in full either.

Verve, instead of adding the unnecessary and seemingly costly decorative plastic sleeve to this set, could have added a third disc and put out all of Lifetime's Polydor material. The one bonus track here, a formerly unreleased version of "One Word" (the Mahavishnu tune with Jack Bruce's terrible vocals), should have remained unreleased.

Spectrum , which was released the same week the drummer died in February, is an unnecessarily incomplete retrospective. Even though the packaging does not claim it is complete, it is certainly implied. Release dates of the records are listed, but not the more useful recording dates. And John McDermott's liner notes seem to slip a few times in its chronology. For a better, more useful sample of Lifetime's achievements, pick up on the Emergency! two-fer CD instead.


Title: Spectrum: The Anthology | Year Released: 1997 | Record Label: Verve Music Group


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