Mike Bloomfield, Al Kooper, Steve Stills and Others

Mike Bloomfield, Al Kooper, Steve Stills and Others

August 11, in Features

Sundazed has recently released this double play: The Bloomfield/Kooper/Stills Super Session and the related double album Live Adventures of Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper LPs. It makes eminent sense to review these together, since the live album is a natural outgrowth of the earlier studio sessions.

Super Session grew out of a working relationship between Kooper and Bloomfield forged while supporting Bob Dylan in concert and on Highway 61 Revisited. They booked some studio time with the specific intent of creating a session album. The first day of the session featured Kooper and Bloomfield, along with Barry Goldberg and Harvey Brooks. Incapacitated by his drug habit, Bloomfield could not attend the second day, so Stephen Stills sat in. On this LP, side one features Bloomfield, side two Stills.

Side one kicks off with one of the standout tracks on the album, the Kooper-Bloomfield blues instrumental, “Albert’s Shuffle”, featuring some truly virtuoso guitar work by Bloomfield and a uncredited horn section (an overdub, according to the liner notes). It is arguable that the horn section adds to the track…methinks someone at the label may have insisted on its inclusion post-studio session. “Stop” continues the influence of Bloomfield’s guitar with the horns slightly more intrusive.

The tone changes to more of a soul groove with Kooper’s vocals taking the lead from Bloomfield’s guitar on Curtis Mayfield’s “Man’s Temptation”, but the psych returns on “His Holy Modal Majesty” with an almost Byrds-like riff featuring the Theremin-like sound of Kooper’s ondioline, a vacuum tube-powered keyboard that predated the synthesizer. This track, along with “Season of the Witch”, comprises the high point of the session. One is brought solidly back to 1968 (figuratively speaking at least…I was about to start fourth grade when this LP was released), and the Byrds introduction is replaced by a more Allman Brotherish jam. The final track on the side, “Really”, reverts to a bluesy groove, highlighting Kooper’s organ.

With Steve Stills replacing Bloomfield on side two, and leading off with Dylan’s “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry”, the feeling of the LP changes dramatically, with country flavors seeping in and less reliance on instrumentals (though not on instruments). “Season of the Witch” (noted above) is a mesmerizing eleven minute ramble. Not a jam, really: Too many vocals for that. But in keeping with many Donovan compositions, the lyrics are trippy and repetitive…in a good way. Like Ravel’s Bolero, the pace and intensity grow almost imperceptibly toward the climax.

“You Don’t Love Me” almost sounds like it could have come from side one, with its distortion and groovy feel. The side ends with a cut penned by Harvey Brooks, the bass player in the session. “Harvey’s Tune” is a short, nicely crafted piece of what might have been called smooth jazz if that term had been in use 41 years ago. What it is doing on this LP is a bit of a puzzlement, but it certainly ends things on a different note.

Released in September 1968and representing three nights of concerts (two sets a night), The Live Adventures… features a somewhat more relaxed feel, not surprisingly, than the studio session. The tone is established at the outset, when Mike Bloomfield unexpectedly grabs the microphone at the Fillmore West and sets out how the session came about. It’s a marvelous inclusion on the album, highlighting as it does both the zeitgeist of the age and, much more sadly, the specter of Bloomfield’s heroin addiction that, years later, would kill him.

This live album is far from flawless. Aside from Bloomfield’s mike-grabbing introduction, Kooper himself outlines the challenges of the concert in his excellent liner notes. The players had trouble finding rehearsal space. Bloomfield was hospitalized prior to the second night of the gig, and so Elvin Bishop, Carlos Santana, Steve Miller and Dave Brown were drafted in to cover (not a bad bench, it must be said). On “Dear Mr. Fantasy” the lead vocal microphone died on the last verse, so the remaining vocal was picked up, long distance by the audience mike.

But, but, but… There really is a special something about a live album, and this one has that something. For starters, microphone mishaps notwithstanding, the sound quality is excellent. The audience is held back from the mix, and applause is limited at the end of songs. And the performance itself is wonderful, particularly on sides one and two, where Bloomfield is featured.

A number of successful covers stand out: You will hear a version of Paul Simon’s “59th Street Bridge Song” that you’ve never imagined in your wildest dreams (featuring Simon’s overdubbed vocals on the final verse). The mood changes with Ray Charles’s “I Wonder Who” before a jazz-inspired psychedelia returns with “Her Holy Modal Highness” (who is, no doubt, married to “His Holy Modal Majesty”). Leading off side two are more successful covers: An instrumental version of Robbie Robertson’s “The Weight”, followed by a bluesy cover of another Ray Charles tune, “Mary Ann”. Another excellent cover is of Steve Winwood’s “Dear Mr. Fantasy’.

Unusually, there are a couple of songs featuring Bloomfield on vocals: “That’s All Right” and “Don’t Throw Your Love on Me So Strong”. Though not as powerful as Kooper, Bloomfield had little for which to apologize vocally.

The second LP in this double set highlights some of the musicians who helped out when Bloomfield was unable to continue. The first track on side three is Kooper himself explaining why Bloomfield could not join. Contributions by Santana and Bishop ensue “Sonny Boy Williamson” and “No More Lonely Nights” (the longest track on the album) ensue. Call me a spoilsport, but as with theSuper Session LP, a bit of live goes out of the proceedings without Bloomfield. Not to complain too much: Carlos Santana’s biting guitar (apparently one of his first live performances) is no slouch, nor is Bishop’s blues guitar.

As alluded to above, the sound on these albums is excellent…better on the Super Session LP than on the live effort, but even the live album sounds great. Credit in great part goes to the all-analog mastering by Bob Irwin, Sundazed’s founder, using the original master tapes. The LPs were pressed at United Record Pressing in Nashville, and the quality is good. There were no problems withSuper Session, but The Live Adventures… suffered from some occasional surface noise and pops, quite intrusive for about 30 seconds on one track.

Sundazed seriously should consider replacing its paper innersleeves with plastic (c.f. Music Matters, MoFi, Analogue Productions, etc.). I am most appreciative that Sundazed offers excellent sound quality for less money than most other “audiophile” labels, but I would gladly pay a dollar more for these albums if the LPs would not emerge from their innersleeves with bits of white paper adhered to them. Graphics production is excellent: The albums are faithful copies of the 1968 originals, including the Norman Rockwell portrait (go figure…) of Bloomfield and Kooper on the cover.

If you were to buy one of these, I’d suggest going for the studio album. It features superior sound quality, and the contributions of Stills trump those of Santana and Bishop. Having said this, a strong argument can be made for picking up the two albums. Together they comprise a natural progression and a window into the rock music scene in the late sixties, a scene that no longer exists and has not existed for some time.

System Used for Review

  • Speakers: Anthony Gallo Acoustics Reference 3.1
  • Turntables: -Modified Acoustic Research XA Turntable with Linn Basik LV X Tonearm, Sumiko Blue Point Special
  • EVO III Cartridge and Hercules II Outboard Power Supply
  • -Linn Sondek LP-12 with Ittok LVIII Tonearm, Grado Reference Sonata Cartridge, Mose+Hercules II Outboard Power Supply, Cetech Carbon Fiber Subchassis and Armboard and Herbie’s Way Excellent II Turntable Mat
  • Digital Sources: Yamaha DV-S5860 SACD/DVD-A/CD Player, Toshiba SD-3950 DVD player with Vinnie Rossi mods
  • Apple iPod Classic, 160 gb
  • Amplification: Yamaha MX-D1 Stereo Power Amplifier
  • Anthony Gallo Acoustics Reference 3 Subwoofer Amplifier
  • Pre-Amplification: McIntosh C712
  • Cables: Mapleshade Speaker Wire, Blue Jeans Cable, AudioQuest, ProSolutions and AR interconnects
  • LPs reviewed were sealed, and prior to playing were cleaned with LAST Power Cleaner.

from affordableaudio, Peter D’Amario

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