Al Kooper

Soul Of A Man: Al Kooper Live (Music Masters Jazz 95) Rating: A

The career accomplishments of Al Kooper, a.k.a. "The Forrest Gump Of Rock" (or "The Zelig Of Rock" for you serious film buffs), are almost too numerous to mention. His career having taken off after his magical organ cameo on "Like A Rolling Stone" (his chart success actually started much earlier, with his group the Royal Teens securing a top 5 hit with "Short Shorts" in 1958, plus he also co-wrote the #1 hit "The Diamond Ring" for Gary Lewis and the Playboys in 1965), Al Kooper subsequently had an on and off relationship with Bob Dylan over the years, at times serving as his "musical director" most notably during his Blonde on Blonde period. He was also in the underrated '60s blues rock (primarily but not exclusively) band The Blues Project (I highly recommended their Projections album) and was the main man behind Blood, Sweat, & Tears' influential and visionary first album Child Is Father To The Man. As a record executive, he rescued The Zombies' cult classic Odessey and Oracle from obscurity, he directed and directly contributed to rock's first significant jam-based super session (with Michael Bloomfield and Stephen Stills on Super Session, then with a teenage Shuggie Otis on Kooper Session), and he also discovered and then nurtured Lynyrd Skynyrd, whose first three albums he produced. He produced many other artists as well, he had a lengthy, highly productive (if not especially commercially successful) solo career, he scored films and T.V. shows, he played on many other sessions (most famously his French horn part on The Rolling Stones' "You Can't Always Get What You Want"), he taught at the Berklee School Of Music, and oh yeah he wrote Backstage Passes and Backstabbing Bastards: Memoirs of a Rock 'N' Roll Survivor, only one of the best books about rock music ever. I present this background information to provide some context for this superb if overlooked (like much of his career in general) live album, which may be difficult to find today but which is well worth seeking out, as most of the aforementioned bands and songs are sampled from. Comprised of shows recorded at New York City's Bottom Line nightclub over three nights in 1994 in celebration of Al's 50th birthday, what makes this concert souvenir so special are the participants involved (Al reunites the Blues Project, most of Blood, Sweat, & Tears, and adds his own current band the Rekooperators, plus sidemen extraordinaires such as Chuck Berry pianist Johnnie Johnson, keyboardist and legendary producer John Simon, and former Lovin' Spoonful main man and harmonica player John Sebastian; was this guy connected or what?), the excellent performances captured (these guys may be getting up there in years but these songs, many of which actually improve on the originals, are tight, focused, and extremely energetic, helped in part by a pumped up crowed, plus Al and his assorted backup singers are all in fine voice even if maybe he can't hit the high notes like in the old days), and the phenomenal sound quality (again credit there goes to Kooper). If you like blues, rock, blue-eyed soul, a touch of jazz here and there, a hot horn section, and stellar musicianship all around (Kooper's Hammond organ sounds great as always and Danny Kalb has to be one of the all-time underrated guitar players and his current guitarist Jimmy Vivino is no slouch either), plus great songs, then you will greatly enjoy this gem of a double live album, which provides an excellent if not quite complete (I would've liked to have heard more solo songs and more songs in general) career overview. I was going to get into some song-by-song details as far as listing album highlights, such as the exciting horn dueling on "My Days Are Numbered," which enhances an already great song, but really this an album that you can just press play and listen to all the way through. Even the medleys and surprising covers work, and Al's at times cranky song introductions are generally entertaining as well. As Al himself justifiably states with pride and his typical good humor on his website: "The proudest I can be of something I recorded, this double live CD recreates the two bands I was in, and rounds it off with my current band: The Rekooperators. The Blues Project, and Blood Sweat & Tears (known as Child Is Father To The Man on this album) play their biggest numbers all under one roof. A lavishly illustrated 43 page booklet with notes by former Goldmine editor Jeff Tamarkin and myself comes in a ritzy slipcase. I slaved over the mixing on this one and it crackles with the electricity of a live show reproduced with startling digital technology. All your faves are on here plus covers of songs by Adrian Belew, Santo & Johnny, Pat McLaughlin, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and The Rolling Stones. If you have to have only one of my CDs, get these two!!!"

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