Chas Chandler is quite rightly regarded as the man responsible for masterminding the commercial success of Jimi Hendrix. After years playing bass with The Animals, Chandler knew better than most how to construct a potent three-minute pop song. He wasted no time imparting this knowledge to Hendrix during recording sessions for the first two Experience albums, acting as an ‘editor’ for Jimi’s over-long jamming extravaganzas.
But while Chandler provided the conciseness and focus needed to ensure Hendrix reached a mass audience, his guitarist’s more avant-garde ambitions remained unfulfilled. It was only on the Chandler-less ‘Electric Ladyland’ album, with its expansive compositions like ‘Voodoo Chile’ and ‘1983...(A Merman I Should Turn To Be)’, that Jimi began to fully express his many non-rock influences. Blues and Jazz were important touchstones for Hendrix, and only his premature demise prevented the recording of a potentially mind-blowing album with Miles Davis.
When he died on September 18 1970, Hendrix was in fact far closer to beginning work on another Jazz-related project, with Gil Evans, later that Autumn. Robbed of the opportunity to record with Hendrix, Evans instead set about writing scores for this album, laying down the tracks in June 1974.
Now repackaged and reissued, the results are by no means a substitute for those lost collaborations, but they do offer Hendrix completists a chance to hear some interesting interpretations of their idol’s most famous songs.
‘Angel’, a re-working of ‘Burning Of The Midnight Lamp’, stays faithful to the original melody, with David Sanborn’s solo saxophone filling in the vocal parts. Instrumentals work most successfully on this particular experiment. Only on two tracks (a spunky rendition of ‘Crosstown Traffic’, and ‘Little Wing’) does the voice of Marvin Peterson lamely attempt to deputise for Hendrix’s.
Considerably more adventurous is ‘1983...(A Merman I Should Turn To Be)’. Evans turns it into a complex and dramatic piece of psychedelic-funk, discovering an edgy cinematic quality which takes the track far from its rock roots. ‘Up From The Skies’ is more easily recognisable; a weird, elongated repetition of the song’s main tune, four times longer than the ‘Axis: Bold As Love’ version, it is held together by a confident swing beat and sounds like hotel lobby music on LSD.
There are beefy takes on ‘Voodoo Chile’ and ‘Gypsy Eyes’, but pride of place goes to the eleven minute medley that welds together ‘Castles Made Of Sand’ and ‘Foxey Lady’. It’s an audacious enough concept, and Evans’ orchestra give it everything they’ve got. Gradually building throughout its duration, it goes through a freeform mid-section, and ends up as a fabulously flamboyant horn wig-out. It’s possible Chas Chandler did not approve.
7Jonathan Rawcliffe's Score