The Free Spirits – Live at the Scene
In 1966, before the term jazz-rock/fusion had been coined, you had your jazz camp and your rock camp; rarely did the twain meet, let alone sit around in a circle, crack open the super-strength chamomile tea and indulge in a full-on jam session.
Unless, of course, you were New York’s own The Free Spirits, whose sole album, Out of Sight and Sound, is widely regarded as one of the first jazz-rock excursions. Live at the Scene captures the band in February 1967, tearing up the then legendary NYC venue, Steve Paul’s The Scene. Well, perhaps not “tearing up”, but giving it a jolly good seeing to, nonetheless.
Fronted by jazz-rock stalwart and veteran guitarist, Larry Coryell (responsible for pushing the embryonic Spirits in a rock direction), the band was a celebrated live phenomenon, some of the unbridled energy and passion of which Live at the Scene attempts to convey. And if it’s a raw, Mr. Sheen-free document you’re after, of possibly the first fusion band engaging in some psychedelically-charged, sonic livestock-worrying, then this release could be right up your jazz-rock boulevard.
Sound quality is not the priority here. In fact, you could say it’s virtually non-existent; such is the homemade, lo-fidelity nature of this recording. The liner notes make no secret of this. There was no fancy sound desk rigged up to filter out ambient noise and feedback; or ensure that the band benefitted from the cleanest sound reproduction possible. A home tape-recorder and its mono-directional mic, suspended above the stage, is all that was used to capture this performance; giving Live at the Scene the feel of a bootleg, complete with both audience and band chatter, sometimes manifesting higher in the mix than the song currently being played.
But hey, it’s 1967 and The Free Spirits give a spirited (what else?) account of their one and only album, including pared down versions of nifty little numbers like ‘Sunday Telephone’, ‘Cosmic Daddy Dancer’ and the lesser psychedelic rock anthem (here minus its intoxicating sitar), ‘I’m Gonna Be Free’. A fully jazzed-up rendition of Dizzy Gillespie’s ‘A Night in Tunisa’ closes the show, featuring an indefatigably corky guest trumpet from another American jazz-rock doyen, Randy Brecker. It’s an impressive example of a band playing at full strength; the musical cohesion that exists between all the members shamelessly on display for both the enraptured audience and the cheeky buggers, such as us, listening at home a full 44 years later.
Jazz fusion, fuelled by the progressive rock scene, would become a more malleable beast in the 1970s, with blends of the dual disciplines demonstrated in ever more innovative and exciting ways. The Free Spirits were there at the beginning; more a case of psychedelically-infused rock and jazz than the seamless entity that followed; and, as such, their groundbreaking, yet (in this instance) warts and all, labours deserve to be heard.
Live at the Scene by The Free Spirits is issued by Sunbeam Records and available to buy from Amazon.co.uk
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