By the close of the 1960s the technology and knowhow for recording live music had improved substantially. Sure, the results were patchy on many occasions, but overall live albums had become much more listenable. Here (and in the forthcoming Part Two) we trawl through Vinyl Connection’s 1971 “Live” holding, counting ‘up’ to my favourites.
13 MILES DAVIS — LIVE-EVIL
Should this half-live, half studio album even be on this list? Who knows. But Miles is Miles and the live disc is interesting, featuring as it does the late December ’70 night at the Cellar Door where John McLaughlin sat in with Miles’ band. This was Miles starting to explore the funk, showing plenty of fire and intensity with a band substantially different from the studio outfit featured on the other disc of the set. This is best seen in the keyboard changes, with the live band featuring Keith Jarrett on organ while the studio recordings have Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock on electric pianos. Knew how to recruit pianists, did Miles. Then there is the extraordinary cover art by Mati Klarwein. Those interested in this unique and visionary artist might enjoy a VC feature that includes Live-Evil, to be found here.
12 FRANK ZAPPA—FILLMORE EAST JUNE 1971
There is some great playing from a fine band on this live Zappa set, no doubt about it. Aynsley Dunbar, Ian Underwood, Don Preston. But for me the ‘routines’ of Flo and Eddie (Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan of The Turtles) and the arrival of the limp, smutty humour wear thin very quickly. From here on, approach live Zappa albums with caution (or at least research). If you are not a Frank fan, this is not a recommended starting place.
11 NEW VIOLIN SUMMIT
Recorded during a jazz festival in Berlin in November 1971, this is an interesting double LP for several reasons. Firstly, it is an early jazz-rock album; part of the first wave, if you will. Secondly, records featuring four violinists are not exactly commonplace.
Don ‘Sugarcane’ Harris was the ‘senior’ member of the string quartet, having recorded with John Lee Hooker, Zappa, and John Mayall as well as releasing a number of solo LPs. Jean-Luc Ponty played with Zappa and toured with the Mahavishnu Orchestra (though that was after this festival). Ponty’s fame grew steadily, peaking with a series of hugely entertaining fusion albums in the mid-1970s. He toured with Return To Forever in the early 2010s (more here). Michal Urbaniak was born in Poland but migrated to the US in 1973. Urbaniak has recorded in many styles, on both violin and sax. Nipso Brantner is of Austrian gypsy heritage, and comes from the folk-jazz Django Reinhardt tradition.
Apologies if this sounds like the class list at an international school, yet still more name dropping is in order as we turn to the backing band. The guitarist is Norwegian Terje Rypdal, later a very successful ECM recording artist; German jazz experimenter Wolfgang Dauner is on keyboards, New Zealand born Neville Whitehead plays bass and the attention-grabbing drummer is none other than English National Treasure Robert Wyatt who had just left the seminal Soft Machine.
New Violin Summit is a curio, but a very entertaining one if you like jazz-rock violin.
10 B.B. King — IN LONDON
Back when Vinyl Connection was just a slip of a thing I wrote a memoir piece on this album, including a yarn about the Australian World Record Club and the dangers of sleeping on trains. I did talk about B.B. King In London too. Those who have bumped into the blog in more recent years are very welcome to read and comment; I love sharing the back catalogue.
9 KING CURTIS — LIVE AT FILLMORE WEST
The story of King Curtis’s live album from San Francisco’s famous venue is fascinating. Curtis was part of Aretha Franklin’s musical geography and a popular and respected soul figure. When Atlantic boss Jerry Wexler decided to introduce Aretha to the West Coast he cajoled Franklin into using King Curtis (and band) as her backing, and slotted Curtis’s outfit in as the opening act. This is a good-time live recording. Opening with the Curtis hit “Memphis Soul Stew” and rocketing through high energy soul arrangements of a number of hits (such as a 2:10 version of “Whole Lotta Love”!), this is fun from go to soul.
8 COLOSSEUM — COLOSSEUM LIVE
It’s a tornado of elemental progressive jazz-rock, powered by the muscular yet intricate drumming of Jon Hiseman* and Dick Heckstall-Smith’s saxes. Dave Greenslade fills out the sound (never even remotely undernourished) with vamping organ riffs while Dave Clemson handles the guitar parts brilliantly, stepping forward for a fiery solo now and then. But what really hits you are the stentorian vocals of Chris Farlowe. We’ve mentioned Farlowe’s might wind machine in these pages before (Atomic Rooster was another outfit he sang with) and how you feel about Colosseum Live will depend on your take on the singer. It’s big, it’s in-your-face, it’s not music for a hungover Sunday morning, but it’s a great document of an influential band who recorded this material in March 1971 and were no more by the end of that year.
* When Deep Purple offered Colosseum a support spot on a US tour, the contract stipulated ‘no drum solos’. Apparently Ian Paice didn’t fancy comparisons with Hiseman.
7 AZTECS — LIVE
Talking of big voices, the Aztecs had a massive one in their leader/frontman Billy Thorpe. The Aztecs played a basic blues-rock style and they played it bloody loudly. This live recording was made at the Melbourne Town Hall, home of the famous pipe organ that they somehow convinced the city officials to let Warren Morgan use. He does so to great effect on the opening “Somebody left me crying” and the closing section of “Momma”. The opening track and “Time to live” which follows are clear highlights. The band is massive, Thorpie’s singing is massive; the Aztecs set a template for much that would follow in Aus rock. The band’s tendency to blast rock chestnuts is also in evidence, as is a lengthy drum solo, but hey, those were the times. What I like about Thorpie and the Aztecs is that clearly the band are there to support the charismatic frontman/songwriter/leader. It is thunderous support, for sure, but doesn’t have that sense of competition and sonic bombast that bedevilled Chris Farlowe and Colosseum.
The marvellous Aztec Music re-issue includes a bag full of excellent bonus tracks: the three key singles (and their b-sides), plus a live track from around the same time.
6 VARIOUS—WOODSTOCK 2
The original Woodstock OST used Jimi Hendrix deconstruction of “Star Spangled Banner” medley for the closing scenes, making for a memorable ending both musically and visually. But there was much more to Jimi’s set than displayed on the triple album, and you can hear it at the beginning of Woodstock Two. There are further servings of Jefferson Airplane, Joan Baez, the Butterfield Blues Band and Crosby Stills Nash & Young, plus a couple of performers who didn’t make the first set. Melanie and Mountain could scarcely be more different but here offer two songs each, the heavy mob following the folky. If you resequenced the entire two releases into the original running order you’d have a neat slab of the most iconic rock concert ever, substantially shorter than the three day event but way cheaper than you’d pay for the 38 CD set Rhino re-issued in 2019 for the 50th anniversary. There were 1969 copies made and it currently sells for more than $6000Aus.
NEXT: 1971 LIVE [PART TWO]