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Sunday, March 17, 2013

Posthumous Prolificness

Jimi Hendrix - People, Hell and Angels
2013 Experience Hendrix, LLC/Sony Music Entertainment
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Jimi Hendrix just might be more popular these days than at the height of his purple reign.  The brother's never gone out of fashion.  He's an immortal, a cosmic troubadour, a young lion cut short at the height of his talents, add any due superlatives you like.  He is canonized by the masses as guitar god of the most righteous order.  By now, there's no argument Hendrix was the greatest of the great, but what's getting to be more evident these past few years now that his estate trickles out vault package after vault package is that the cat was playing (and recording, apparently) in his sleep. 

It's been both dubious as well as intoxicating to have so much Jimi Hendrix to glom onto after decades of sitting on a handful of his halcyon recordings:  Are You Experienced, Axis:  Bold as Love and Electric Ladyland plus the Band of Gypsies live album representing his figurative legacy.  For so long, Jimi Hendrix's basement tapes have remained under lock and key, even with the issue of The Cry of Love and War Heroes shortly as his death in September of 1970.

While Jimi's estate has taken up the laborious task over the years of segmenting and tuning up his vast "lost recordings," the fact so much of it has flooded the marketplace in rapid succession since Valleys of Neptune in 2010 carries an underlying reek of capitalist cash grabbing.  On the other hand, Valleys of Neptune was merely a primer for a secondhand posthumous career that will rival anyone who's picked up an instrument in his or her life and put their wares to tracking.  First Rays of the New Rising Sun, South Saturn Delta, Blues plus the Radio One and BBC Sessions live documents have not only satiated the appetites of hardcore Hendrix acolytes, it's given the world a better audile overview of the man's genius.  For the truly rabid, there's also the Dagger Records bootleg imprint set up by surviving Hendrix clan.  In effect, what Jimi Hendrix released in an official capacity during his four-year hijacking of the rock world was but three courses of an intended banquet, and just desserts for those who had the appetite.

Which leads us to People, Hell and Angels, twelve previously-unreleased tracks of Jimi noodling with schemes and external performers outside of The Jimi Hendrix Experience.  While most of the material's rawness shows beneath the otherwise sparkling overdubbing, People, Hell and Angels is served up as further insight to how much energy was clamoring for release from Jimi's aura.  You have to assume the unfitting way he checked out of this life was partially due to fatigue from his obsessive creative habit.

In a way, it is fitting that Hendrix squares off this past week in the same timeframe as David Bowie's strong rebound album, The Next Day.   As representatives of a revered era of music, it's fun to couple them in one sitdown.  What resonates about People, Hell and Angels on its own merits is its glimpse into what we audibly know about Jimi Hendrix and in a few cases, what we've not yet been treated to.  "Earth Blues," "Crash Landing," "Inside Out," "Hey Gypsy Boy," "Hear My Train a Comin'" and "Bleeding Heart" are laidback blues jams with plenty enough glue to groove to, imperfect as they may be.  Despite Jimi's intense plying for perfection, hearing these tracks along with all of this other archival material shows that he was quite human, much as many of his contemporaries might have argued he was an alien taking a prolonged vacay on planet Earth.

This album's hugest pleasure pill is Hendrix's duet with honky tonk and revival saxophonist Lonnie Youngblood on "Let Me Move You."  Gospel at its heart, "Let Me Move You" propels into sonic and organic planes with clean, rapid strumming and precise soloing.  All set against a booming wall of brass, organs and a crushing beat giving Jimi room to vibe, even if Lonnie Youngblood dominates the track with his visceral yowling and madcap tooting.  The super-funky "Mojo Man" could've been one to outshine Curtis Mayfield had people heard this secretive get-together between Jimi and a mostly unlisted funk troupe that included his longtime Harlem friend Albert Allen on vocals.

Then there's "Easy Blues," a low-key jazz instrumental which shows Jimi could hop into damned near any genre he wanted to tool with, much like his future disciple Prince would go on to do.  "Crash Landing" carries a hint of country bop beneath the primary blues drive, showing Jimi's propensity to toy with dynamics.  On "Inside Out," Hendrix was playing around with a lot of ostinato as he was exploring the homogenous relationship between cleans and statics, one of his trademarks.  "Inside Out" brings some of the traditional Hendrix principles on both guitar and bass, but it feels like he was trying to extend his ideas into a funkier vein with Mitch Mitchell riding shotgun in the interest of letting his friend helm and hone to his content.

"Hey Gypsy Boy" is one of the darker cuts Hendrix was working on between 1968 and 1970.  Inherently muddy, you can detect grander psychedelic splashes on the horizon in what comes off as a wicked demo track in which Jimi wrangles his frets and coaxes all sorts of weird, translucent tones and keys that would've been significantly monstrous in finished form. 

What People, Hell and Angels leads Jimi's fans to believe by de facto assumption is there is still far more the estate has yet to supply the listening world.  As a traveling minstrel spreading the good news of electric nirvana, Jimi Hendrix came into contact with many of his contemporaries on top of so many differing stylists and performers.  Dare we think there are Jimi and Janis tapes waiting to see the light of day?  Or perhaps Jimi and Carlos Santana? 
This isn't the end of the ride, bank on it.


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