The CD notes for this highly experimental and audacious endeavour declare that the 4 extended tracks were laid down spontaneously without any prior regard for rhythm, key or structure “with the intention of creating a non-abstract representation of the living world”. I was a bit skeptical at first at such a reckless enunciation and said to myself “this, I gotta hear”. As it turned out I found The Whiskey Mountain Sessions to be free form improvisation at it’s finest and anything but a plug in, get in tune, go nuts, play anything and make $$$$ album. In fact, The Whiskey Mountain Sessions is an accumulation of over 100 years playing experience and musical knowledge combined with some ingenious studio know-how. Even though there was obviously a certain degree of preplanning on the technical side, all tracks were recorded straight avoiding compression with just a bit of reverb added in the final mix this is positively one of the most meticulously conceived and recorded studio jams I’ve heard. It doesn’t sound like four guys aimlessly twiddling about by any stretch and if it said on the CD notes that that it took months to get it right I would have believed it and still felt the same about these four remarkable tracks. All sorts of animated grooves and weird psychedelic expeditions that fragment into plush melodies occur here and the players do not become self indulgent as one would expect. Nobody is trying to out-play anybody here and there is a feeling of consensus. The thing that struck me after first listen though, was the prominence of the drums. Always difficult to record live or in a controlled environment, they were crystal clear and everything seemed to converge on the hypnotic jazzy rhythms of Peter Hillman on what was obviously a basic kit.
This collection of very different musical excursions immediately reminded me of John Abercrombie’s Gateway albums from the seventies and nineties with Jack De Johnette on drums. All four tracks have that raw yet connected jive. I don’t know if they are just snippets of longer explorations but individually they come off as a
“ best of ” of longer sessions due to their completeness particularly the closing track, “Summer Days” with it’s fluid flowing lines that you could be grooving to while sipping pina coladas on the beach of some tropical retreat. Hard to believe that it was completely improvised. The longest track, the appropriately titled 16 minute “The Fire Burns”, is the only piece that really comes off as a “jam session” per se rather than a set piece the center section of which recalls some of the funky grooves from Larry Coryell’s late sixties and early seventies solo work. One also can’t help but think of the Miles Davis Bitches Brew sessions especially after hearing the spaced out opener “Lights On The Bay” with it’s sick Hammond organ, twisted guitar and creepy bass that almost sounds like an instrumental section from a Tom Waits number.
Each track also features slightly different lineups and instrumentation with the core group being Peter Hillman on drums and Djam Karet members Gayle Ellett and Mike Murray on keyboards and guitar respectively so each contrived track possesses it’s own mood and destination. The extended “The Fire Burns” features binary keyboards (a Hammond organ and an acoustic piano ) which creates a curious dichotomy and makes the piece sound like more than it’s 16 minute running time. Keyboardist Gayle Ellett avails himself to the atmospheric possibilities of the Fender Rhodes piano for two tracks, the trance-like “Patio View” and upbeat “Summer Days” both of which feature the kaleidescopic acid drenched guitar meandering of Mike Murray breaking up the 43 minute set into two distinct parts.
Although I don’t fully understand their mission statement of “creating a non-abstract representation of the living world” these four very different jams definitely create some vaporous moments. The tracks don’t really swing in the jazz sense but definitely possess a jazz mindset mainly because of the drum style and sound. Jazz purists would nevertheless probably still run away from this frankenstein while those who still can’t get enough of the glory years of jazz/rock fusion will certainly revel with delight. An unusual and esoteric collection of one offs.
Lights On The Bay 8:31
The Fire Burns 16:17
Patio View 9:13
Summer Days 8:55
Total time 43:04
Peter Hillman: drums
Gayle Ellett: organ and electric piano
Mike Murray: guitars
Ralph Rivers: bass (tracks 1 & 2)
With guest musicians:
Brian Carter: acoustic piano (track 2)
Steve Re: bass (tracks 3 & 4)