Thursday, October 1, 2015

The Blues Project - 2014 - Live At the Matrix, September 1966

The Blues Project 
Live At the Matrix, September 1966

101. Louisiana blues
102. Steve's song
103. I can't keep from crying sometimes
104. Caress me baby
105. Flute thing
106. Wake me shake me
107. The way my baby walks
108. Love will endure
109. Jelly jelly

201. Cheryl's going home
202. You can't catch me
203. Shake that thing
204. Catch the wind
205. You can't judge a book
206. Flute thing
207. Hoochie coochie man
208. If you don't come back

Al Kooper
Steve Katz
Roy Blumenfeld
Andy Kulberg
Danny Kalb

The Blues Project was a short-lived band from the Greenwich Village neighborhood of New York City that was formed in 1965 and split up in 1967. While their songs drew from a wide array of musical styles, they are most remembered as one of the earliest practitioners of psychedelic rock, as well as one of the world's first jam bands, along with the Grateful Dead.

In 1964, Elektra Records produced a compilation album of various artists entitled The Blues Project which featured several white musicians from the Greenwich Village area who played acoustic blues music in the style of black musicians. One of the featured artists on the album was a young guitarist named Danny Kalb, who was paid $75 for his two songs. Not long after the album's release, however, Kalb gave up his acoustic guitar for an electric one. The Beatles' arrival in America earlier in the year signified the end of the folk and acoustic blues movement that had swept young America in the early 1960s. The ensuing British Invasion was the nail in the coffin. Seeing the writing on the wall, Kalb gave up acoustic blues and switched to rock and roll, as did many other aspiring American musicians during this period.

Danny Kalb's first rock and roll band was formed in the spring of 1965, playing under various names at first, until finally settling on the Blues Project moniker as an allusion to Kalb's first foray on record. After a brief hiatus in the summer months of 1965 during which Kalb was visiting Europe, the band reformed in September 1965 and were almost immediately a top draw in Greenwich Village. By this time, the band included Danny Kalb on guitar, Steve Katz (having recently departed the Even Dozen Jug Band) also on guitar, Andy Kulberg on bass and flute, Roy Blumenfeld on drums and Tommy Flanders on vocals.

The band's first big break came only a few weeks later when they auditioned for Columbia Records, and failed. The audition was a success, nevertheless, as it garnered them an organist in session musician Al Kooper. Kooper had begun his career as a session guitarist, but that summer, he began playing organ when he sneaked into the "Like a Rolling Stone" recording session on Bob Dylan's seminal album Highway 61 Revisited. In order to improve his musicianship on the new instrument, Kooper joined the Blues Project and began gigging with them almost immediately.

Soon thereafter, the Blues Project gained a record contract from Verve Records, and began recording their first album live at the Cafe Au Go Go in Greenwich Village over the course of a week in November 1965. While the band was known for their lengthy interpretations of blues and traditional rock and roll songs (making them, along with the Grateful Dead, rock's first "jam band"), their first album saw them rein in these tendencies because of record company wariness as well as the time restrictions of the vinyl record.

Entitled simply Live At the Cafe Au Go-Go, the album was finished with another week of live recordings at the cafe in January 1966. By that time, vocalist Tommy Flanders had left the band and was not replaced. As a result, Flanders appears on only a few of the songs on this album.

The album was a moderate success and the band toured America to promote it. While in San Francisco in April 1966, during the height of the city's Haight-Ashbury culture, the Blues Project played at the Fillmore Auditorium to rave reviews. Seemingly New York's answer to the Grateful Dead, even members of the Grateful Dead who saw them play were impressed with their improvisational abilities. (SOURCE: "Rock Family Trees" TV show.)

Returning to New York, the band recorded their second album and first studio album in the fall of 1966, and it was released in November. Arguably better than their first album, Projections was certainly more ambitious than their first album, boasting an eclectic set of songs that ran the gamut from blues, R&B, jazz, psychedelia, and folk-rock. The centerpiece of the album was an 11-and-a-half minute version of "Two Trains Running", which, along with other songs on the album, showed off their improvisational tendencies. One such song was the instrumental, "Flute Thing", written by Kooper and featuring Kulberg.

Soon after the album was completed, though, the band began to fall apart. Al Kooper quit the band in the spring of 1967, and the band without him completed a third album, Live At Town Hall. Despite the name, only one song was recorded live at Town Hall, while the rest was made up of live recordings from other venues, or of studio outtakes with overdubbed applause to feign a live sound.

The Blues Project's last hurrah was at the Monterey International Pop Festival held in Monterey, California, in June 1967. By this time, however, half the original line-up was gone and most of their early magic was, too. Al Kooper had formed his own band and played at the festival as well, but no sort of reunion was in the offing. Guitarist Steve Katz left soon thereafter, followed by founder Danny Kalb. A fourth album, 1968's Planned Obsolescene, featured only drummer Roy Blumenfeld and bassist Andy Kulberg from the original lineup. Upon the album's completion, the Blues Project called it quits.

In 1968, Al Kooper and Steve Katz joined forces once again to fulfill a desire of Al Kooper's to form a rock band with a horn section. The resulting band was Blood, Sweat & Tears. While Kooper led the band on its first album, Child Is Father to the Man, he did not stick around for any subsequent releases. Katz, on the other hand, remained with the band into the 1970s.

The Blues Project, with a modified lineup, reformed briefly in the early 1970s, releasing three further albums: 1971's Lazarus, 1972's The Blues Project, and 1973's The Original Blues Project Reunion In Central Park (which featured Al Kooper but not Tommy Flanders). These albums did little to excite the public, however. Since then, the group's activity has been confined to a few sporadic reunion concerts.

"They play through the hugest amplifiers we've ever seen, and their music makes your ears ring for two days after. Oh, yes--they swing like mad and drive their audiences insane." Hit Parader Magazine.

For people who were around in the '60s, The Blues Project (TBP) were one of the most exciting and innovative groups around. They combined folk, blues, rock, jazz, r&b, and even a smidgen of classical music styles into one new kind (at the time) of music that was unheard of before. Other American bands (like Butterfield's) were beginning to look past musical borders and combining different types of music, but TBP was one of the first--and one of the most exciting--to consistently blend their music into something new. I can still recall listening to the band's albums when they were released and thinking that this is something new and different--and very exciting. This set from The Matrix in 1966, (which has been issued before) is a good example of how exciting the band was live. The sound is very decent across this reissue--fairly clean and very immediate sounding. The booklet has a portion of an interview from Hit Parader Magazine from 1966, which helps give more of a period feel to those times, but doesn't give newcomers any real background on the band's career. Fans of course know about the very fine 2 CD set "Anthology" that came out a few yeas back, which is the best way to hear TBP in the studio and live, plus the booklet is very informative.

But if you're a fan of this band (and if you like '60s music you should definitely know about TBP) and haven't heard this great set, you need to pry a few bucks out of your pocket and get this set sooner rather than later. At one time TBP was heralded as possibly the most exciting and innovative band in the country. And listening to this set it's easy to hear why they deserved that title. Remember, 1966 was a time before many bands had become known for incorporating different genres of music into one sound, and then stretching out into long jams, both on their albums and on stage. Included are blues tunes like "Hoochie Coochie Man", folk songs ("Love Will Endure"), jazz things ("Flute Thing"), r'n'r ("You Can't Catch Me"), and several tunes that incorporate different musical genres. The band sounded best on tunes like "Steve's Song", "I Can't Keep From Crying Sometimes", "Wake Me Shake Me", "Cheryl's Going Home" (all included here), and other similar songs that gave the band a chance to show their musical influences.

With Danny Kalb you had one of the most exciting electric guitarists of the period. Steve Katz too was a fine guitar player, and his harmonica playing was very good for the times. Al Kooper's jazzy, bluesy organ sound was new and exciting, and set the sound for other bands to follow. But one of the identifying sounds of TBP was Andy Kulberg's (who also played bass) flute work. His jazzy sound was extremely innovative for the era. He also had a slight classical sound that blended well with his jazzier playing style. It's not well known except by fans, but the band was heavily influenced by the music of John Coltrane (among others in both jazz and blues), and it shows in Kulberg's musical flights, and when he and Kalb would get going together in long winding solos, the music was very advanced sounding. Holding everything together on drums was Roy Blumenfield (who gets a short solo on "Flute Thing") that is of the times.

The only flaw (to some fans) is the lack of a good vocalist. By this set their original vocalist, Tommy Flanders (who released a pretty decent album, "The Moonstone"), had left. In some ways he was the ingredient that helped elevate the band to the top of the heap of then emerging bands. Kalb, Katz, and Kooper handled the vocals after he left, and you'll hear why they never really wanted the job. Kalb handled the blues tunes, Katz the folk stuff, and Kooper the more rock arranged songs. But taken altogether the band was one of the best to ever come out of that whole '60s era.

So if you already own "Anthology", or the individual albums (the two studio and two live sets--one of which isn't actually live), you need to add this exciting set to your shelf. Be aware that some of these tunes are (quite possibly) taken from one of the band's live albums, but that's a minor complaint. When taken as a live set this is one of the more exciting and "new" sounding live albums from a band that knew how to blend genres and stretch then out into awesome workouts. And it's a good example of just how exciting music was becoming in the late '60s.

It's good to have this set easily available once again. It's a perfect example of how new and exciting music was becoming in the '60s. It's too bad TBP fell apart when they did. But the music they left behind is some of the period's best.

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