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Review: Jimi Hendrix, “South Saturn Delta” and “Band of Gypsys: Live at the Fillmore East”

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When Jimi Hendrix wrote the lyrics, “Well, she’s walking through the clouds, with a circus mind that’s running ’round?,” is it possible that he was writing about himself? Hendrix isn’t generally considered part of the school of autobiographical singer/songwriters, and appreciation of his lyrical and melodic craft usually takes a backseat to his dazzling virtuosity as a musician. So while “Little Wing” isn’t precisely about Hendrix, the vivid lyrical imagery of a dreamer with a “circus mind” applies to the restless, creative young man who recorded more music in his 27 years than many artists do in a natural lifetime.

Legacy and Experience Hendrix kicked off their third wave of releases with three reissues of titles previously available under the Universal Music Group imprimatur: South Saturn Delta, Power of Soul: A Tribute to Jimi Hendrix and Band of Gypsys: Live at Fillmore East, a DVD. Mike will tackle Power of Soul in a future review, but for now it’s time to crank up South Saturn Delta and Band of Gypsys. While these titles offer no new material for those collectors who purchased the previous editions, both are essential purchases for those just getting interested in Hendrix.  After all, his catalogue can be daunting. For newbies, where to start? As for old-timers, some might wonder what happened to the collections they grew up on, titles like Rainbow Bridge and War Heroes. For either generation of fan, South Saturn Delta is worthwhile.  The Experience Hendrix-curated collection, originally from 1997, features once-unissued material and is a celebration of Hendrix as both musician and songwriter.

The 15-track South Saturn Delta (Legacy/Experience Hendrix 88697 62773 2) features Hendrix alongside a number of collaborators in both incarnations of The Jimi Hendrix Experience, his Woodstock group Gypsy Sun and Rainbows and the Band of Gypsys. Each ensemble brings out a different side of the artist as he traversed rock, soul, blues, pop and jazz with a seemingly endless amount of imagination and courage. At the time of its initial release in 1997, every track was unreleased.

After one gets over the initial shock of just how much good stuff was left in the Hendrix vaults, it’s easy to appreciate the wide variety of music on South Saturn Delta.  Blistering guitar is de rigeur; the propulsive “Look Over Yonder” has been rescued from the now out-of-print 1971 LP Rainbow Bridge and doesn’t disappoint.  “Pali Gap” is another track from that set, and it originally began life as the jam immediately following the master take of “Dolly Dagger.”  There are other such transformations on display here.  It’s fascinating to hear the driving, up-tempo track “Little Wing [Angel],” aspects of which informed two eventual ballads, “Little Wing” and “Angel.”  From 1972’s War Heroes comes two more scorching instrumentals, “Tax Free” and “Midnight,” both with Hendrix, Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding as personnel.

“Power of Soul” is one of the funkiest tracks ever cut by Hendrix, and it’s the song that inspired the title of the tribute disc reissued alongside South Saturn Delta.  “Power of Soul” was cut just three weeks after the Band of Gypsys’ stand at the Fillmore East in 1970, but it didn’t see release until 1975’s controversial Crash Landing.  For that release, producer Alan Douglas applied various overdubs to a truncated version which was retitled “With the Power.”  The overdubs have been scrapped and the original introduction and two guitar solos have been reinstated.  “Bleeding Heart,” originally issued on War Heroes, is another funky track; it began life as a 12-bar blues before morphing into something else entirely.

There are two Bob Dylan covers on South Saturn Delta; “All Along the Watchtower” is heard in an early mix by Chas Chandler, which is perhaps more conventional than the finished song but no less classic.  Dave Mason and Brian Jones both join Hendrix and Mitchell for this track.  “Drifter’s Escape” is heard on a new mix which differs from the version introduced on 1974’s U.K.-only Loose Ends.  Hendrix’s is a more visceral interpretation than Dylan’s, emphasizing music over lyrics in a change of pace from the original.  Carried over from that collection is “The Stars That Play with Laughing Sam’s Dice,” as remixed by Eddie Kramer and John Jensen in 1972.  This track showcases the guitarist’s offbeat humor and was originally issued as the B-side of Track Records’ 1967 “Burning of the Midnight Lamp” U.K. single.

Of course with any posthumous Hendrix release, one always ponders what might have been!  The title song offers one intriguing insight.  “South Saturn Delta” has a pronounced jazz underpinning and a great horn arrangement by Larry Fallon whose credits ranged from Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks to Cy Coleman’s Broadway musical Seesaw.  Listening to this track it’s not hard to see why Hendrix took a liking to Terry Kath, the unmistakable guitarist of the band then known as Chicago Transit Authority.  1967’s “Sweet Angel” is unconventional only for its mellow quality, though Hendrix did record his share of beautiful ballads.  It’s straightforward, melodic and a wonderful find.  There’s more after the jump.

South Saturn Delta has a surprisingly consistent sound despite the various line-ups of musicians, with only Hendrix’s fluid, always-surprising guitar a constant.  The Band of Gypsys was formed by Hendrix, bassist Billy Cox and drummer Buddy Miles in 1969 after the dissolution of The Jimi Hendrix Experience and Gypsy Sun and Rainbows.  The music recorded by the band was a step away from the psychedelic rock of The Experience towards a soul/funk blend.  Legacy and Experience Hendrix have reissued the 1999 documentary Band of Gypsys: Live at Fillmore East on DVD (88697 86944 9), and the 83-minute film incorporates both the only known footage of the group in concert and interviews  with Hendrix, Mitchell, Redding, Cox and Miles.  Lenny Kravitz and Slash also contribute.  Legacy’s new edition premieres bonus material not found on the previous version, including black-and-white video footage and stereo and 5.1 mixes of the performance on January 1, 1970.  This footage includes renditions of “Power of Soul” from South Saturn Delta as well as “Foxey Lady,” “Stepping Stone” and “Who Knows.”  Bob Smeaton’s film picked up the 1999 Grammy Award for Best Long-Form Music Video, and it’s required watching for anyone who’s gotten this far reading this!

Experience Hendrix’s partnership with Legacy is ongoing, and new packages of yet more unreleased material are inevitable.  But last year’s box set West Coast Seattle Boy: The Jimi Hendrix Anthology proved that there’s still plenty of top-notch material in the Experience Hendrix vaults, and any release as diverse and well-crafted as South Saturn Delta will be another electrifying reminder of an artist who left us too soon, still with plenty of avenues to explore.

Written by Joe Marchese

May 16, 2011 at 13:54

Posted in Jimi Hendrix, Reissues, Reviews

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