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Tony Williams Lifetime

Jazz Rock/Fusion

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Tony Williams Lifetime Emergency ! album cover
3.91 | 46 ratings | 7 reviews | 33% 5 stars

Excellent addition to any
prog rock music collection

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Studio Album, released in 1969

Songs / Tracks Listing

Volume One (35:01)
1. Emergency (9:35)
2. Beyond Games (8:17)
3. Where (12:10)
4. Vashkar (4:59)

Volume Two (36:28)
5. Via The Spectrum Road (7:50)
6. Spectrum (9:52)
7. Sangria For Three (13:08)
8. Something Spiritual (5:38)

Total time 71:29

Line-up / Musicians

- Tony Williams/ drums, vocals (2,3,5)
- John McLaughlin / electric & acoustic guitars
- Larry Young / organ

Releases information

Recorded at Olmsted Sound Studios, New York City May 26 & 28, 1969

Artwork: Sid Maurer (photo and art direction)

LP Polydor - 24-4017 (1969, US) Volume one
LP Polydor - 24-4018 (1969, US) Volume two, different cover art
2xLP Polydor - 25-3001 (1969, US) Including the two volumes

CD Polydor - 849 068-2 (1991, US) Restored & remastered by Phil Schaap
CD Verve Records ‎- 5184394 (1997, US) Remastered by Gary Mayo
CD Esoteric Recordings ‎- ECLEC 2256 (2011, Europe) 24-bit remaster by Ben Wiseman

Thanks to micky for the addition
and to Quinino for the last updates
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TONY WILLIAMS LIFETIME Emergency ! ratings distribution

(46 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(33%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(43%)
Good, but non-essential (22%)
Collectors/fans only (2%)
Poor. Only for completionists (0%)

TONY WILLIAMS LIFETIME Emergency ! reviews

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Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by Atavachron
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars When we are witness to a new kind of art, it should be noted. And though the first glimpses of an unproven form are sometimes raw, the impact is usually undeniable. This is the case with 'Emergency!'. Sometimes ugly but always real, this little record is very likely the first true and fully blended mix of modern jazz with electric rock in all its manic glory. There had been hints at it, experiments and false starts that often lacked total vision, like Cannonball Adderly's use of pop stylings in jazz. As well, Miles Davis is most often credited with being the 'father' of jazz-rock but on closer inspection, Davis is, at best, its grandfather whose 'In a Silent Way' (1969) was more a flirtation between styles than an infusion of musics. There were superior and better-realized fusion projects to come, such as John McLaughlin's Mahavishnu and the later symphonic aspirations of Chick Corea and Al Di Meola. But in hindsight, this rough, tainted and trance-induced set, deeply intuitive on a level not before heard, is the first recording of jazz artists doing what the heavy blues and psych scenes had been doing for years. And while there had been those who progressed jazz itself, such as Jimmy Giuffre, Dave Brubeck or Gunther Schuller, no one had brought together the hot bop of Coltrane with the howling rock spirit of Jimi Hendrix in the same room at the same time. Finally... Fusion with a capital 'F' had arrived, kicking and screaming but alive and well.

This session, not to be confused with Williams' first album as leader in 1964 titled 'Lifetime', had all the makings for explosive creativity and boundary- wrecking; John McLaughlin's guitar sounding more urgent and other-worldly than ever, Larry Young's irrepressible organ, and Williams' ridiculously confident charge on drums. If one didn't know better, the nine-minute title cut could just be the sound of another crazy jazz band bopping their way into the 1970's with drug-induced abandon. But the unmistakable sounds of riff rock can be heard fighting to break on through, Larry Young's insistent organ- grind, McLaughlin's lead, and the whole thing coming alive with Williams' crashes and acrobatic backbeat. Some acid mud follows, as well as passages of sheer spontaneity. 'Beyond Games' is hideous and nervous freeform featuring Williams' bizarre vocals and the 12-minute 'Where' is a troubled dervish of a jam, dizzying and sweaty with odd rhythms, sudden changes of mood and semi-classical lines running between guitar and organ. But it's the fourth, 'Vashkar', where we begin to hear the first clearly-cut form of jazz rock with all of its facets, finally gelling in the way we would become familiar with in later years showing intelligent melodics, tight dynamics, and plenty of fire. 'Via the Spectrum Road' is the requisite weird pop-psych tune, but luckily the firecracking jam 'Spectrum' wakes things up again with pure hot jazz and wild soloing from everyone. It would be the highlight of the set if not for the 13- minute 'Sangria For Three', a beautifully messy explosion of jazz rock at its most pure. 'Something Special' finishes with unsettled dissonance and closes out a musical statement so bold and irreverent that it was, in the truest sense, revolutionary. A mad experiment gone out of control and one of the most important records you will ever hear.

Review by Kazuhiro
4 stars It made the excavation of Miles Davis of Tony 17-year-old and their contribution to the recording of "Four & More" and "My Funny Valentine" and the fact that Tony developed a marvelous performance in "Sorcerer" and "Nefertitti" 21-year-old surprised people. This time became a group that had been especially called five person gold in the history of the music of Miles. The rhythm that this young drummer begins to beat especially might be a genius who has them revolutionize the rhythm of Jazz from the basis. It is taken to space where he still creates we listeners to change the air of the "Place" by the rhythm that deviates from the normal course.

And, he will create the world from the group of Miles in 1968. He forms the band with the highest musician who can trust it as a weapon my knowledge, technology, and youth. It is this band. He often said, "He is Rock Drummer". It is known that he performed various musicians and Rock. This remark is proportional to expanding the width of music by an honest opinion and not making the limitation.

Two musicians support Tony in this band (Trio). It was John McLaughlin to receive the telephone directly from Tony. John also had already digested various music at this time and the reaction was tested. And, Larry Young of Organ is also famous for the performance with Blue Note. It is said by these two people who support Tony that it has the phrase and the sensibility that looks like "John Coltrane". The element is full loading of a more psychedelic element and space in the album to feel.

The song of psychedelic "Emergency' that each musician hits the peak dashing from the beginning invents it, and explosive tune "Vashkar" that "Where" Carla Bley of the impression composed feels this age and invents the anacatesthesia. 「Something Special」

This album cannot learn be a little more progressive than Jazz. I can feel the distorted sound and ..drinking.. noise pleasant.

Review by Sean Trane
4 stars Certainly one of the most groundbreaking albums in the PA database, along with The Nice's debut and a few others, many people signal this album as the birth of jazz-rock, although some will point out that if it was released before Bitches Brew, it was released after In A Slilent Way, where Tony Williams and McL met. And to be truthful, I'm not sure we can actually call this album jazz-rock, but more something like psych-jazz. It also has the reputation of being one of the worst & amateurly recorded albums ever, and even a semi- recent remastering job can't help that much has to erase some almost unforgivable errors as buzzing amps and other noises, but it's also part of the legendary rawness of this project that was about breaking new grounds and uncharted musical continents. So there is plenty of risk-taking and this inevitably leads to some lesser moments or even flawed ventures. So if we have here one of the most adventurous album around that time, and despite it's historical importance, we must be indulgent on its negative sides, which can be hard to ignore at times.

Although IASW was not Williams' last album with Miles (he would appear on one track in BB), Tony felt it was time to fly on his own and he took with him still unknown (despite also playing on IASW) McL and organist Larry Young to found the raw trio of Lifetime. In take it that the bass is played on pedals or Young's organ. As awfully recorded Emergency was, the album was critically acclaimed by the press, despite the horrible sound, and while the latest Cd reissue is an improvement over the vinyl and the first Cd issue, but there is plenty that simply couldn't be dealt with, especially Young's malfunctioning organ (actually the studio's organ).

If the title track starts out the album jazz enough it digresses often into weird psych phrases, without referring to rock, while the following Beyond Games (sung "iffily" by Tony) does have a rockier background, mostly due to McL's electric guitar, but overall the dominant aspect interfering with the jazz is the psychedelic spirit, more than rock or psych rock. . There are some real lengths and indulgences on this album (much more than in the next two) that are making you wonder if they shouldn't have tried for a single crammed to the brim disc.. I am aiming here at the 12-mins Where and Sangria For Three. Don't get me wrong, there are some real tracks, as in songs, on the album: the Carla Bley's Vashkar immediately preceding the impressive Spectrum Road track, but they never seem in a hurry to close, always looking for an occasion to improvise or jam.

Certainly a groundbreaking album, but when listened to in the wrong context, it can also be couple-breaking if you insist playing it during mating sessions or lunch-heaving if you did your mayonnaise during the spinning of Emergency!! It had been roughly 15 years since I'd heard Emergency prior to writing this review and after these three listen, let's bet it'll be another 15 years before I go back and spin it. This first "dirty" album is a bit the anti-thesis of what is usually thought as a very slick and clean jazz-rock of what was to come in Weather report, RTF or even with McL's next project, MO.

Review by Mellotron Storm
3 stars There's no denying how innovative and groundbreaking this album was. I can just imagine the disdain shown by Jazz traditionalists back then. And as if to make an exclamation point Tony made it a double album. What a trio though with Williams on drums, McLaughlin on guitar and Young on organ. The sound quality is brutal though. This is more like bootleg quality sound, very muddy. So much so that it reflects in my rating because I can't really enjoy it at all. Even Tony's follow up "Turn It Over" sounds bad. Check out "Believe It" with Holdsworth on guitar if you want great sound quality and amazing playing. Gnosis even rates it higher than the first two.

"Emergency" opens with drums and organ before McLaughlin comes in lighting it up. It turns jazzy then settles before 5 minutes. It's intense again late. "Beyond Games" has these silly spoken lyrics. Not a fan of this one although the guitar is great at times. "Where" has no real melody at first and Tony again half sings the lyrics. It kicks in before 2 minutes and the tempo picks up 3 1/2 minutes in. An impressive instrumental display here. A calm follows with more spoken words.Themes are repeated.

"Vashkar" rocks out pretty good with the guitar and drums showing off early before the organ takes a turn. "Via The Spectrum Road" almost sounds like Wyatt singing (haha). No it's not that good. It picks up before 1 1/2 minutes. Contrasts continue. "Spectrum" is uptempo with the guitar leading the way. Young's turn after 3 minutes and the guitar returns later. "Sangria For Three" is kind of funky at first then it changes a minute in.The guitar and drums are great as the tempo picks up.The tempo continues to shift. "Something Special" has some excellent drum work on it.

Probably 4.5 stars if it sounded good, but sadly I can't even enjoy it.

Review by Bonnek
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
3 stars After Tony Williams met with John McLaughnin during the recording of Miles Davis' In A Silent Way, they teamed-up with Larry Young to record this ground-breaking jazz album. It's one of the first albums by jazz musicians where the aggression and psychedelic influences from contemporary rock were incorporated so extensively. At least much more so then Davis did on his 1969-1970 albums. John McLaughnin's style is instantly recognizable here and much more prominent and frantic then on his Davis contributions.

Previous reviewers have pointed to the muddy recording quality of this album, but this harsh and trebly "in your face sound" fits the music rather well. It doesn't sound all that different from Jimi Hendrix' recordings or an early Can album like Monster Movie and it's not difficult to see that it must have served as a huge inspiration for Germany's kraut rock movement of the early 70s.

The music is loose and improvised, sometimes revealing post-bop and free jazz roots, sometimes spacey, sometimes aggressive and chaotic, sometimes riff-based and jammy, sometimes doped and over-indulgent. It won't please you if you look for structure, composition and melody, but it is sure enjoyable for its uncompromising energy and unaffected directness. Some of the tracks have vocals that are very hazy and psychedelic, not unlike the early Soft Machine actually. I'd guess that some hallucinatory aids won't harm to enjoy it.

Emergency is a remarkable album that you should sure pick up if it crosses your path in a library, but it lacks the improvisational mastership and the emotional impact of Davis' contemporary recordings. It also can't offer the compositional quality of MO's later albums, and I believe the kraut rock movement and bands like Soft Machine have more engaging executions of this type of loose, psych-rock experimentation. In short, a ground-breaking album that got surpassed in execution by the bands that took inspiration from it. 3.5 stars.

Review by Neu!mann
4 stars A good argument could be made that Jazz Rock Fusion began right here, when ace drummer Tony Williams, the backbone of the so-called Second Great Miles Davis Quintet, enlisted Larry Young and John McLaughlin for a plugged-in jazz power trio, charged with genuine power. The embryonic crossover was still discernibly jazz, configured around an unusual instrumental line-up of drums, guitar, and organ (no bass, no horns). But it was jazz played loud and electrified, with an abrasive edge unusual even in rock albums of the same era.

How rough is the recording? The entire twin-LP, with over 70-minutes of music, was finished in just two days, and sounds like it. The production isn't far removed from a crudely bootlegged live concert, but the raw vitality of the music itself can't be ignored...nor, unfortunately, can the awful '60s poetry, heard in "Beyond Games" and elsewhere ("You know everything is the bed / And it shouldn't change...just 'cause you're wed!")

Concentrate instead on the white-hot performances surrounding those occasional spoken word digressions. The controlled fury of Williams' drumming would exert an undeniable influence on a generation of young rock percussionists (Michael Giles, Bill Bruford, etc.) The texture of Larry Young's electric organ is the aural equivalent of extra-coarse sandpaper. And no fan of John McLaughlin can afford to miss this set, which includes some of his most incendiary playing on record, approaching an almost Post-Punk level of abstraction in tracks like "Sangria For Three".

Maybe the emergency of the album's title was the inevitable crisis in the middle-1960's that saw a cross-fertilization of musical styles, with rockers looking to jazz for permission to break the rules, and fearless jazzers like Williams and Miles Davis drawn to the power and popularity of Rock 'n' Roll. Davis would of course take the hybrid style to a whole new level, but the epiphany of "Bitches Brew" would have been stillborn without the midwife of this album in attendance (after hearing it, Davis tried unsuccessfully to hire the Lifetime trio as his backing band). The song "Via the Spectrum Road" in particular functions as an unofficial prologue to the groovy Brew title "Miles Runs the Voodoo Down".

The album is primitive, no doubt. But it was fusions like this that eventually blossomed into the glorious Hydra called Progressive Rock, where no musical boundary was safe.

Review by BrufordFreak
COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
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.

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