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Tony Williams Lifetime - Emergency ! CD (album) cover


Tony Williams Lifetime


Jazz Rock/Fusion

3.91 | 46 ratings

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5 stars "The loudest stuff I ever heard in my life," recalled Herbie Hancock of a Tony Williams Lifetime concert that he attended in the fall of 1969. Knowing that he was probably risking his hearing later in life, he stayed for the entire show. "It was ... new. It was exciting and very arresting."

Miles Davis heard the trio perform their amped up set at a club in Harlem in the early winter. John McLaughlin had only been in the US for two weeks (he had come to New York specifically to join Tony Williams' Lifetime project) when he got a call from Miles asking if he would join him in the studio on February 18. This single day of recording would result in the July release of Miles' landmark fusion album, In a Silent Way.

Volume One (35:01) 1. "Emergency" (9:35) power drumming with loud, distorted electric guitar power chords open this one with Larry Young's organ providing the low and middle ground including all of the bass lines. John McLaughlin's guitar playing moves easily between runs that exude smoke and fire and those that evoke comfort and supplicating beauty, while his chord play in support are often jagged, angular, and confusing in their complex intention. Meanwhile, Larry Young gets some time to come out from his cave beneath the bridge (which is exactly when John gets his most ambigous: is he trying to be mean or just provocative?). While some of the sound is a bit muddied (especially in the higher end), the jamming is so focused, so tight, so intertwined. and then it just ends! Probably my favorite song on the album. (19/20) 2. "Beyond Games" (8:17) built over a blues progression, Tony uses his speaking voice to recite some pre-Gil Scott- Heron poetic social commentary. (He sounds so young--like the lead singer of the Brighter Side of Darkness: just sitting in his high school classroom wishing he could say his thoughts out loud. John's guitar is ominous in its support while Larry's organ (and bass line) is almost Timmy Thomas gospel-like. You can tell that this song was recorded on the same take as the previous one--two songs on the same tape continuously--as all of the sounds and levels are the exact same. after six minutes the repetitive four bar four-chord progression gets a little old--which is right when Tony returns to speaking his quotidian poetry advice. (17.5/20)

3. "Where" (12:10) a very-sparsely populated opening is where Tony chooses to start singing his philosophical musings. In the third minute John begins to solo cerebrally while Tony's drums provide steady yet-minimal support and Larry's organ is so quiet it's almost non-existent Then in the fifth minute John begins to go to a higher gear and Larry's right hand and Tony's prowess begin to show--but then all this is cut off at the five-minute mark for a quiet section in which Tony sings his ambigous mult-level questions. This then ends after which Tony's cymbal play and John's small repetive blues chords provide support for a two-minute organ solo. There is a very basic hard-bop motif shifted into in the ninth minute while Larry resumes soloing. This is not the fire and ice that I was expecting to hear from these practitioners of scorched-Earth tactics. (Nor was I expecting lyrics or singing.) (21.5/25)

4. "Vashkar" (4:59) the signatory song of this album, here we have the fiery interplay between drummer and guitarist with the organ providing the glue between them. Lots of stop and start, loud and soft alternations. Great skill that would be better if there was a more pleasing melodic hook. Another favorite. (9/10)

Volume Two (36:28) 5. "Via The Spectrum Road" (7:50) like southern blues swamp rock--and acoustic guitar and not one but two vocalists singing. John's blues-rock lead guitar is purposely placed in the background--sounds as if it's coming from a different room. The nuances are numerous and delightful. Too bad Larry is relegated to being pretty much the bass player. Sounds like something from the Sixties--especially John's raunchy guitar play. Larry's distant and sparse injections of organ chords have an other-worldly spacey feel to them and Tony's drumming is marvellous but overall this is not really something that a musician would really get into. I know this one is considered revolutionary, but it is far from my favorite. (13/15)

6. "Spectrum" (9:52) Wow! What a ride Tony, John and Larry take us on. There is no let-up or break to the break-neck speed that these musicians hurl through space and time--and Larry even gets some lead organ time despite having some very demanding bass lines to keep going. Quite a stunning (and exhausting) ten minutes of hard-bop-based power fusion. John's lead and rhythm play are both quite often abrasive--and unapologetically so as he keeps doing the irritating, angular things he just seemed to temper with bridges of more-classic and familiar (and softer, more melodic) riffs. A very impressive song. (18.25/20)

7. "Sangria For Three" (13:08) another barn-burner, this song has some very experimental passages (like the fifth minute and the 11th and 12th minutes) as well as some that are very hard-driving rock and others that are very Hendrix-like in their powerful blues-rock. This is my other top three song: I just love all of the shifts and turns, the high speed chases and the stuck-in-the-mud experimental passages, and the powerful Hendrix-like passages. (23.5/25)

8. "Something Spiritual" (5:38) not one of the timeless beauties that John would pump out with great regularity over the course of the rest of his career, more a testament to the challenging and repetitive work required to establish a spiritual practice and then keep it going. Great drumming beneath the very repetitious four chords played by John and Larry to mind-numbing nauseum. But I get it! (8.75/10)

Total time 71:29

I can see why this is such an important and, yes, seminal album--especially for the rise and notice of the fusion of jazz and rock 'n' roll musics, but it's really not a an album of great songs: ground-breaking and often great performances, but often so raw and under-developed, rarely enjoyable or "finished" feeling.

A-/five stars; a minor-masterpiece of genre-busting rock- and avant-infused jazz music that would open the doors for all other jazz-rock fusion ideas and bands to come flooding into the fold. Definitely one of THE landmark albums of the J-R Fusion movement.

BrufordFreak | 5/5 |


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