Recently, we told you about that new Elvis Presley / Rick Rubin joint.
Today, we continue through the New Releases stack with a new one from a great left-hand Strat-egist, Jimi Hendrix.
Jimi Hendrix – Vertical Bridge (Anti) (available April 1st, until noon).
The long and painful road to Vertical Bridge – produced by Jeff Beck, with select string arrangements by Van Dyke Parks – has almost as many bends and distortions as a Jimi Hendrix solo. After a near-fatal overdose in his Kensington, London flat in 1970, the American-born guitar legend was in a coma for nearly five months, after which he emerged a staunch anti-drug crusader in 1972, even appearing, clean cut and sober, at a Seattle fundraiser for Richard M Nixon’s 1972 re-election campaign. Watergate, however, left him disillusioned with Nixon, and politics in general, and when he finally did re-emerge in the music world, his attention had drifted from heavy rock, which he famously called “passé, man, strictly passé,” in a May 1973, Rolling Stone interview. Egged on by his friend and mentor Miles Davis, Hendrix made his first jazz rock fusion album, Other Voices (Distant Echoes), for Columbia.
The album was not well-received, however, and for the first time in his career, Hendrix was the follower – not the leader – of progressive recordings from John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra and Davis’s own, funk-tinged On The Corner album (also featuring McLaughlin). Sensing that he’d strayed too far from his rock roots, he tried his hand at a more progressive rock sound and, in 1974, entered New York’s Secret Sound studios to begin a tumultuous session with Todd Rundgren, backed by the original six-piece lineup of Utopia.
It was clear, however, that Hendrix was using again, and despite Rundgren’s noble efforts to cover for him, writing or co-writing nine of the twelve songs, the album, Sun Voyager (Bearsville) was a disaster, mocked by Lester Bangs in Creem: “Impudent, snide and phazed to death” and only mildly praised by Cameron Crowe, who reserved his highest praise for the Rundgren in Rolling Stone: “Unfocused it is, but at least he’s on the road to Utopia, where Todd and company keep his wandering from straying too far off the melodic path.”
An ill-advised move to Los Angeles in 1978 saw him mainly composing commercial jingles and TV show themes, notably the Sanford & Son spinoff “Lamont” starring Demond Wilson. Work as a session guitarist included scores for Three’s Company, M*A*S*H and various feature films.
Fed up, he took what money he had saved and moved back to Washington state, retreating to a small cabin on his childhood refuge, Bainbridge Island, across Puget Sound from Seattle, where he has remained to this day. In 2000, after a high profile set backed by Prince and his band, at the opening of Seattle’s Experience Music Project, he signed a one-off deal with Prince’s Paisley Park label, but the album I C U B4 Me was only released for a short time and then only in Japan and today remains a highly sought after bootleg.
Cut to 2007: Guitarist and producer Jeff Beck was preparing to do a week of shows at Ronnie Scott’s jazz club when he heard that Hendrix was in town to receive a Mojo Award. Beck tried to coax Hendrix, whom he’d long admired, into joining him onstage at the live recordings at Ronnie’s, but the humble pioneer demurred, owing to a combination of shyness, rustiness and the professed fear that Beck would blow him off the stage. Hendrix politely vowed to meet up with Beck in a years time, after he’d had a chance to polish up his chops.
This past January, Hendrix made good on his promise and entered Marble Arch Studios, which is actually in Earl’s Court, to record Vertical Bridge, with Beck’s current crew of Vinnie Colaiuta on drums, Jason Rebello on keyboards and Tal Wilkenfeld on bass.
“There Is A River With Your Beautiful Name On It,” seems to take up where “Little Wing” left off, only this time Beck has provided Hendrix with a darker, synthetic ambiences and moody bass drones from Rebello, whose textures overall provide just the right amount of colour, and never seem to obfuscate the main point of the record, which is Hendrix’s return to form. Wilkenfeld and Colaiuta bring the funk, while Jimi brings the noise, on “Hey Mister Dream Killer,” the album’s only protest number: “Hey mister dream killer / I was wanderin’, wonderin’ / Are your bloody hands to no avail? / Now the master is the servant /And my dreams are not for sale.” An elegant southern gothic string section, arranged and conducted by Van Dyke Parks, lends a vaguely Dixieland backdrop to “Peace Plantation” on which Hendrix debuts on the banjo. A spirited duet with on “Freeway Jam” is a rare moment of indulgence for Jeff Beck, who is clearly having the time of his life paying tribute to Hendrix. All in all, Vertical Bridge is a triumph and a rare career resuscitation for one of the pioneers of the electric guitar aided and abetted by acolyte Beck, who just kept getting better and better himself. Hendrix is back, baby, and thankfully we won’t have to wait another ten years for more, as he will begin work on a new album with Ry Cooder, Nick Lowe and Jim Keltner (to be produced by T-Bone Burnett) next month. Of his resurrection, perhaps Hendrix describes it best on the closing song, “Echoes From A Vertical Bridge”:
“Too many are the heartaches / Like the fishes in the sea / But like morning comes tomorrow / Will you stay and wait for me?”
Yes indeed, Jimi, some things are worth waiting for…however long they take.