The Butterfield Blues Band – East-West – Speakers Corner

by | Apr 2, 2021 | Jazz CD Reviews, Pop/Rock/World CD Reviews | 0 comments

The Butterfield Blues Band – East-West – Elektra Records EKS-7315 (1966)/ Speakers Corner Records (2020) 180-gram stereo vinyl, 44:21 *****:

(Mike Bloomfield – guitar; Paul Butterfield – harmonica, vocals; Elvin Bishop – guitar, vocals; Jerome Arnold – bass; Mark Naftalin – organ, piano; Billy Davenport – drums)

Paul Butterfield was one of the most influential and possibly overlooked rock pioneers of the 1960’s. A musical stalwart, he began his career in the Chicago folk blues scene. He formed a band that first garnered attention backing Bob Dylan’s infamous electric set at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival. Eventually signed to Elektra Records, the Butterfield Blues Band featured two stalwart guitarists, Mike Bloomfield and Elvin Bishop. Their self-titled debut saw limited commercial success, but became a staple of the mid 1960’s rock scene. Their rollicking translations of electric Chicago-style blues was driven by the harmonica expertise of Butterfield and the dual guitar assault of Bloomfield and Bishop. The band became regulars at Fillmore West and Fillmore East. Additionally, they played the Monterey Pop Festival and Woodstock. They were credited with advancing the psychedelic rock/blues genre. The Butterfield Blues Band reached a creative zenith in 1966 with the EastWest album. This was the last project of the core members. They intermingled jazz and soul into their repertoire, and included two extended instrumental jams. Paul Butterfield was inducted into the Blues Hall Of Fame and the band became members of the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. Sadly he passed away in 1984.

Speakers Corner Records has released a 180-gram vinyl remastering of EastWest. Joining the Butterfield/Bloomfield/Bishop triumvirate, is the rhythm section of Mark Naftalin (organ, piano) Jerome Arnold (bass) and Billy Davenport (drums). True to their roots, Side One kicks off with a Robert Johnson cover, “Walkin’ Blues”. It is classic Delta blues, cultivated with Chicago swagger. Butterfield’s earnest vocals and harp accents are framed by a steady roots pulse. Bloomfield’s scintillating guitar licks play against the band leader on harp. Switching to soul-based blues, Allen Touissant’s “Get Out Of My Life, Woman” (a r & b hit for Lee Dorsey) has a relaxed groove that features a catchy vamp on piano (Naftalin). Small touches like a tempo uptick at the end showcase the chemistry of the sextet. In what can be described as authentic, “down home” blues, “I Got A Mind To Give Up Living” distills the aching melancholy of the blues with imagery like, “shop for a tombstone” and after reading a lover’s letter, being “better off dead”. The band wraps itself around Bloomfield’s piercing guitar inflections. On “All These Blues”, the focus is on Butterfield. His rousing harmonica solo and emotional vocal delivery is timeless. EastWest is transcendental due to its pair of extended instrumental jams. Nat Adderley’s jazz classic “Work Song”  manages to combine the freewheeling aesthetics of bop jazz with the tighter structures of blues rock. Bloomfield offers the first solo, fluid with meticulous timing. Butterfield follows with crisp rawness, spurred on by Arnold’s galloping bass. Naftalin’s  unconventional tonality on organ is a nice touch. Elvin Bishop displays a variety of stylish technique with a muscular resonance. All four soloists riff in a wild, climactic exchange.

Butterfield East-WestEastWest is anything but predictable. “Mary Mary” is a vintage Sixties guitar effect-laden pop translation of a pre Monkees Michael Nesmith composition. Nesmith would cover this song with his “TV” band and surprisingly, so did RUN-D.M.C. Reverting back to basics, Muddy Waters’ “Two Trains Running” is straight up blues. This seems intuitive as the album was recorded at Chess Studios in The Windy City. All of the hooks and crisp tempo pay tribute to Muddy. Bloomfield adds yet another explosive solo. Elvin Bishop gets to sing lead on “Never Say No”. His languid, deeper-voiced singing adds to the painstaking slow-burning flow, augmented by swirling organ. The title finale is mesmerizing. In a genre-merging arrangement, this Mike Bloomfield/Nick Gravenites composition sets a high bar for acid rock. It is a precursor to Big Brother & The Holding Company, The Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane. According to lore, the LSD-fueled inspiration merged elements of free jazz to psychedelic rock. The complex motifs include Middle Eastern droning, hypnotic modality and various musical counterpoints. Drummer Billy Davenport is phenomenal, adapting a 4 beat groove pattern. He anchors this occasionally spacey instrumental with aplomb. Butterfield’s harmonica sounds like a floating saxophone, articulating exotic themes. Bloomfield and Bishop play off each other with harmony and flair. For anyone who wants to experience the auditory punch of this number, a good pair of stereo headphones is a must.

This vinyl 180-gram pressing of EastWest by Speakers Corner is outstanding. The sonic details are precise and vibrant. The mix layer is balanced with ample stereo separation. It is a veritable historical document and a valuable addition to any rock collection.    

TrackList:
Side One: Walkin’ Blues; Get Out Of My Life, Woman; I Got A Mind To Give Up Living; All These Blues; Work Song
Side Two: Mary, Mary; Two Trains Running; Never Say No; East-West   

—Robbie Gerson

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