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Next up in the series is some Jimi Hendrix. I’ve been listening to a lot of Hendrix lately, and I think his final album, “Band Of Gypsies,” is the best choice for Album of the Week. I cannot believe how incredible this record is. Every time I listen to it I am inspired.
In 1965, before he was famous, Hendrix signed a vague contract with Capitol Records that was never fulfilled. In 1969, at the height of Hendrix’s career, the people at Capitol figured out that they still had some contractual obligation from Hendrix (who was on MCA records at the time), and they approached him about doing an album. In an attempt to quickly follow through on the Capital contract and get it out of the way, Hendrix called in some friends for a new band under a different name and planned a two-night stand at The Fillmore for New Year’s Eve. The “Band Of Gypsies” recording is the result of those performances, comprised of six live tracks taken from the two nights, and featuring Hendrix on guitar/vocals, Billy Cox on bass, and Buddy Miles on drums/vocals.
From top to bottom the album is the perfect blend of groove, creativity, passion, and energy. I will go to the mat defending “Machine Gun” as the most emotional guitar solo in rock history. “Who Knows” features and incredibly musical vocal solo by Buddy Miles, made even more incredible by the fat groove that Miles is laying down while singing the solo. “Power Of Love” is the most killing bass line I have ever heard (which happens to be quoted on the latest John Mayer release).
This album is also a great example of improvisation in a rock context. Due to the abrupt nature of the decision to make the record, the band was not afforded much rehearsal time. They rely on improvisation for at least 70% of the performances, and they display impressive maturity and musicality in doing so. It’s worth noting here that there are some “sloppy” sections… meaning, the improvised nature of the music is not conducive to the “perfect” production quality of, for instance, the previous Album of the Week. However, this sloppiness is far outweighed by the emotional power of music that is (successfully) spontaneously composed. I believe musicians who are listening to one another and responding accordingly in the heat of the moment are able to reach a deeper artistic realm than calculated, pre-meditated music. The Band of Gypsies recording is my proof.
For drummers, Buddy Miles’ playing on this record is a lesson in itself. He is so patient, understanding that the trio revolves around Hendrix and not his own drumming. His grooves are so deep, and his improvising is very supportive of the trio’s sound. I especially love his snare tone… high and tight, but with a substance to the crack that you don’t normally find in drums that are cranked up.