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Album Review: Michael Bloomfield - Blues At The Fillmore 1968 - 1969

26th June 2012

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Miles Davis once said of Michael Bloomfield that "when he plays for blacks, his shit comes out black, and that if one put (Bloomfield) with James Brown, he'd be a motherfucker". Davis would later go on to recommend Bloomfield to Woody Herman, leading to some staggering recordings with Herman's jazz orchestra.

History however is a cruel mistress, and occasionally people get lost in her vaults, ceasing to be recognised for their immeasurable impact and contribution to a particular field. Certainly in the case of modern day music, Michael Bloomfield is the epitome of this, and today his profound influence remains unknown and untold.

This has been particularly highlighted with the recent release of 'Blues At The Fillmore 1968 - 1969'. The recordings are from several different concerts at Bill Graham's Fillmore, made alongside cohorts Al Kooper (who Bloomfield and Stephen Stills had recently released Super Session with), and Nick Gravenites (previously the vocalist of Bloomfield's recently disintegrated band, The Electric Flag). This period was arguably Bloomfield's most radiant, and despite the recordings being over 43 years old, his ground-breaking musicianship is nonetheless showcased throughout.

The opening instrumental - 'Stronger than Dirt' - is perhaps the most forgettable number in the collection. Whilst it seems a strange choice to have included, it does nonetheless show Bloomfield taking centre stage, and playing with every bit of fierceness that fans would expect on a stax influenced number.

Johnny Otis's 'If I ever get lucky' features a blistering vocal performance from Taj Mahal, and certainly some of the most soulful blues playing Bloomfield ever laid down. Likewise his playing on 'Wintry Country-Side' and 'Don't Throw Your Love on Me So Strong' highlight Bloomfield's immortal phrasing and incomparable melodic sense and feel.

One seismic influence on Bloomfield was the early guitarists who played with big brass bands (especially Guitar Slim). This influence manifests itself during 'Born in Chicago', where he reworks the original Chicago style blues version (initially recorded with The Paul Butterfield Blues Band) into an extended ten minute jam. Of this collection, it is arguably the greatest number - the combination of sublime duelling between brass section and guitar, as well as his immortal tone and style is electrifying. The CD is worth buying quite simply for this mesmerising number.

'One Way Out' is perhaps his standout performance from The Fillmore East with Al Kooper, and is a timely reminder of how great a blues singer he also was - an aspect often forgotten about Bloomfield as a musician.

His sparring on the BB King number - 'It's My Own Fault' with the Texan guitarist Johnny Winter is sheer musical gold. After inviting Winter onstage, Bloomfield steps aside and plays rhythm guitar allowing the (at the time) unknown and unsigned musician to take centre stage. After some exceptional playing for about six minutes, Winter steps back for Bloomfield to solo. Within two choruses, he manages to achieve what it took Winter over six minutes to do.

Whilst six tracks out of the ten were previously available, the opening four songs were not. Indeed, 'Stronger than Dirt' and the Johnny Otis composition 'If I ever Get Lucky' were not included in the 2009 release of 'Live at Bill Graham's Fillmore West', and likewise the highlight of the album - 'Born In Chicago' and 'Work Me Lord' (written by Gravenites and Bloomfield originally for Janis Joplin) were also previously unavailable. They are thus a must have for all Bloomfield devotees.

Essentially, it is an all but too brief introduction to Bloomfield's output during this period, and certainly several numbers from previous Fillmore nights should have been included. Particularly, 'Moon Tune', 'Killing My Love', and Bloomfield's exceptional take on Otis Rush's 'It Takes Time' from The Fillmore West. These recordings are not only some of Bloomfield's finest - but also some of the greatest guitar playing ever recorded. It would therefore have made more sense to have made a double disc to have really provided an introduction to the music of Michael Bloomfield.

Despite this, Raven Records with this brief collection have managed to highlight the significance, uniqueness and electrifying musician that Michael Bloomfield was. Through releasing his transcendent musical ability and melodic sense, tone and feel from the vaults of history, they have created a great introduction to one of music's greatest forgotten heroes.

Years after his death, Buddy Miles spoke of Bloomfield as being "the main reason why every white guitarist is making it today. He was the very first who emulated and paved the way for every rock and especially blues musicians in this country (America)".

Similar praise for Bloomfield comes from a whole host of musicians. For example, Carlos Santana claimed Bloomfield literally changed his life, and Eric Clapton once spoke of how besides Bob Dylan, Bloomfield was his greatest inspiration 'as a person'. Perhaps with the release of this collection coalesced with the imminent release this year of the film If You Love These Blues: The Life and Music of Mike Bloomfield, as well as his 2012 introduction into The Blues Hall of Fame. history will cease to be a cruel mistress, and Michael Bloomfield might finally receive the recognition he truly deserves.

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