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Jerry Garcia & Merl Saunders – Garcia Live Volume 18: November 2nd, 1974 Keystone Berkeley

June 26, 2022

I am a longtime fan of Jerry Garcia’s work with keyboardist Merl Saunders. Saunders brought out the jazz side of Garcia. There is lots of recorded material of this pair in various settings. The most famous Live At The Keystone.

This release is a complete & previously uncirculated two-set Jerry Garcia & Merl Saunders performance at the Keystone in Berkeley CA originally recorded to 1/4” analog reels by Betty Cantor Jackson (legendary taper of Garcia and the Grateful Dead). The band includes bassist John Kahn, drummer Paul Humphrey and saxophonist Martin Fierro (who also plays flute).

The album starts with “Neighbor, Neighbor” a cover of a ZZ Top song from their first album. Garcia and company make ZZ Top’s blues boogie unrecognizable turning it into a mellow jazzy blues with Garcia’s unmistakable vocals.

Next is Danny Hathaway’s “Valdez In The Country.” The original is an instrumental and basically jazz fusion – it could have easily been mistaken as Crusaders’ cut. Garcia and band’s version starts out as a faithful cover and then deconstructs the three minute original into a seventeen minute jazz rock freak out. This is a highlight of the album and perfect representation of the Garcia/Saunders thang.

Jimmy Cliff’s “The Harder They Come” is a track on nearly every Garcia/Saunders set list I have heard. Nothing new here, but if you have never heard these guy’s version you will be delighted.

“You Can Leave Your Hat On” is a Randy Newman song from Sail Away. In the 80s it was a hit for Joe Cocker. Merl takes the vocal lead. The band fully reveals the original’s subtle horniness by turning it into a filthy funky masterpiece.

“That’s The Touch I Like” is a Jesse Winchester cover. The band transforms the country/folk rock of the original and makes it a blues jam.

“Freedom Jazz Dance” is a jazz tune composed by tenor saxophonist Eddie Harris in 1965. Harris’ recording was hugely influential at the time, but the version by Miles Davis on Miles Smiles is better known. The Garcia/Saunders version is closer to the Harris version and more of a jazz rock take than either version.

“Tough Mama” is a Dylan song from Planet Waves, Dylan’s only studio album with The Band. Garcia/Saunders play the song pretty straight – they just jam band the hell out of it.

“Wondering Why” is a Saunders original with Saunders on vocals. The original version from Saunders’ 1974 solo album was under four minutes. This version rambles on for over twenty one minutes. Garcia solos extensively and there is a cool flute solo from Fierro. Saunders weaves in and out on electric piano.

“People Make The World Go Round” is an R&B song by the Stylistics. The original had falsetto vocals and this band subs those with Martin Fierro’s flute.

“Mystery Train” is an Elvis song and a regular on the Garcia/Saunders set list. Like the Jimmy Cliff cover nothing new for long time fans of Garcia/Saunders. Their train-like shuffle is classic – one of my favorite covers.

This is a great addition to the Garcia/Saunders catalog. There is over two hours of music and it is cool to have a complete two set show. Recording is pristine as we have come to expect from Betty Cantor Jackson. Highly recommend if you are a fan of Garcia/Saunders and a great introduction for newbies.

From → Music Reviews

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