Monday, 7 September 2015

"Super Session" by BLOOMFIELD, KOOPER & STILLS (2002 Columbia/Legacy Expanded CD Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...

This Review And Hundreds More Like It Are Featured In This Superb E-Book
Over 1850-E-Pages of Quality Info and Suggestions...

"...Pick Up Every Stitch..." 

Having finished with Blood, Sweat & Tears and their debut album "Child Is Father To The Man" in 1968 – AL KOOPER found himself the in-house Producer at Columbia Records in need of a project. So he calls up ex Electric Flag and Paul Butterfield Blues band ace guitarist MIKE BLOOMFIELD and together they determine to make a 'quickie' – a Blues and Soul jam album they'll pump out in one manic session. They get down enough material for one whole side of an LP (a couple of covers and some originals) - but Kooper needs the remainder. With Bloomfield flown the coup (chasing things other than the blues) – Kooper called in ex Buffalo Springfield guitar/songwriting whizz Stephen Stills to record the rest. And out of these most unlikely of 'sessions' – history was born. Columbia CS 9701 (Stereo) peaked on the LP chart at an impressive 12 and started a run of superstar jam sessions - all trying to capture the same lighting in a bottle (common consensus agrees that few got near it).

Al Kooper's liner notes explain that he's gone back with Engineer ALLAN TUCKER to the original master tapes and 24-bit remastered the album to CD. And in keeping with fan-requests over the decades – he's taken off the 'horn' overdubs put on the long jam sessions so devotees of this iconic and cool 60ts album can finally hear Bloomfield workouts like "Albert's Shuffle" and "Season Of The Witch" 'sans horns' (see bonus tracks 10 and 11). They are magnificent and arguably up there with the best Bonus Tracks ever issued. All in all - you have to say that given what they had to work with – Kooper and Tucker have done a bang-up job. Here is the 'Man's Temptation'...

US/UK released April 2003 – "Super Session" by BLOOMFIELD, KOOPER & STILLS on Columbia/Legacy COL 508071 2 (Barcode 5099750807125) is an Expanded Edition CD with four Bonus Tracks and plays out as follows (77:14 minutes):

1. Albert's Shuffle
2. Stop
3. Man's Temptation
4. His Holy Modal Majesty
5. Really
6. It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry [Side 2]
7. Season Of The Witch
8. You Don't Love Me
9. Harvey's Tune
Tracks 1 to 9 are the album "Super Session" – released August 1968 in the USA on Columbia CS 9701 (Stereo) and September 1968 in the UK on CBS Records S 63396.

10. Albert's Shuffle (2002 Remix Without Horns)
11. Season Of The Witch (2002 Remix without Horns)
12. Blues For Nothing (Outtake from the Session – first made available on the 1995 Mastersound CD of "Super Session" on Columbia CK 64611)
13. Fat Grey Cloud (Live) – Previously Unreleased (Recorded 1968 at The Fillmore West, San Francisco, CA)

MIKE BLOOMFIELD – Guitar on Tracks 1-5, 10, 12 and 13
AL KOOPER – Vocals, Ondioline Organ, Piano, Electric and Acoustic Guitars
STEPHEN STILLS – Guitar on Tracks 6 -9 and 11

BARRY GOLDBERG – Piano on Tracks 1 and 2
"Fast" EDDIE HOH - Drums

The 12-page booklet has an opening 'Producer’s Note' from All Kooper not just explaining the recordings but the CD reissue and his 'without horns' 2002 remixes. BRUCE DICKINSON was Executive Producer for the re-release and both the Michael Thomas original LP liner notes and the David Fricke Rolling Stone Review are reproduced (four-stars from Robert who spends much of his time raving about Bloomfield when Kooper's contribution was just as big if not more in my books). There are some black and white session photos and not much else. ALLAN TUCKER did the Mastering at Foothill Digital Studios in New York and the Audio is fantastic – full of power and presence and that sense of immediacy the recordings had anyway (the Bonus Cuts are beautifully transferred too).

It opens with a Bloomfield/Kooper Instrumental called "Albert's Shuffle" – nearly nine-minutes of Shuggie Otis type Blues with Bloomfield shouting as he solos – Kooper letting loose on the keys (an organ sound most would kill to get). Next up is the uber-cool "Stop" – an instrumental cover of a Howard Tate soul tune on Verve Records from December 1967 (Verve VK 10573). I’ve loved this slinky little ditty for decades now and it still has that 60ts chug about it that utterly sends me. Next up is the first vocal by Al Kooper on their version of Curtis Mayfield's "Man's Temptation" – a song about a temptress who wants to "...ruin my happy home with man's temptation...” But then we get the magnificent band really cooking on another Bloomfield/Kooper creation "His Holy Modal Majesty" – a 9:19 minute Organ/Guitar battle that feels like Santana gone Prog by way of the Blues (and I still don’t know what the title means). Side 1 ends on the Traditional Slow Blues vibe of "Really" – 5:26 minutes of Bloomfield letting rip on the frets while Kooper puts in huge chords on the Organ (very tasty mama).

Side 2 has always been problematic for me. It opens with A Stephen Stills take on Dylan's "It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry" and to me it immediately sounds like the album has gone off the rails. The tune is OK – but thematically it comes over like poor man’s Monkees instead of the fresh Bluesy workouts we were getting on Side 1. Things are brought back from the brink big time by the stunning 11:08 minutes of "Season Of the Witch" (a Donovan cover they did on the Side 1 all-day session). Columbia and CBS edited both it and "Albert's Shuffle" down to fit on the A&B-sides of a 45 in October 1968 (CBS 3770 in the UK, Columbia 44657 in the USA) – but it did little business despite the success of the album (it's a no-show here due to time constraints). Back to weird with the Hendrix flange cover of a Willie Cobbs tune called "You Don't Love Me" which again is good – but still feels wildly out of kilter with the rest of the record. Then we enter mellow Jazz Soul territory with the saxophone-led "Harvey's Tune" – another out of step instrumental that sounds like it should be in a Blaxploitation film instead of on this album. But then you’re hit with four corkers...

While the album has its incongruous moments – the bonus tracks act as an impossibly brilliant counterpoint – the first three sounding like the powerhouse Blues Session that should have been released. Why "Blues For Nothing" was left off the album and mediocrity like "Harvey's Tune" left on is a total mystery (4:15 minutes) and the two album cuts minus-the-horns actually seem to free the songs and focus you completely on the dynamic duo – Al Kooper on Organ and Mike Bloomfield on Guitar. "Season Of The Witch" is the prize here and stretches to its full 11:08 minutes - stripped and raw - it has a renewed power that's thrilling. As if this is not satisfying enough – the live Instrumental Blues of "Fat Grey Cloud" is fantastic – Bloomfield joking first about 'tuning' then letting rip – wild one second – Soulful Bluesy the next – with Kooper following after - pumping out an Organ Sound that is huge (4:39 minutes).

In truth the original album is probably more four-stars than five - but this genius CD reissue with those stunning bonus tracks bumps it up again.

"...You've got to pick up every stitch..." – Kooper sings in their funky cover of Donovan's Sixties-sinister "Season Of The Witch". And it seems that anything from that incredible 'super session' was indeed worth picking up...

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