Michael Bloomfield, Al Kooper, & Stephen Stills

Super Session (Columbia '68, '03) Rating: A-
This is an album that reeks of a bygone era but is still eminently listenable today. The brainchild of multi-instrumentalist Al Kooper, fresh from leading the first incarnation of Blood, Sweat & Tears, Super Session came about when he booked some studio time and invited some friends over to jam. Among those who played on side one were studio drummer "Fast" Eddie Hoh, and keyboardist Barry Goldberg and bassist Harvey Brooks, both of the Electric Flag. Of course, the key member was guitarist Michael Bloomfield, who had recently been booted from the Electric Flag and who went back a ways with Kooper, with both of them playing crucial supporting roles during Bob Dylan's mid-60s prime. Anyway, what Kooper got on tape from the original 9-hour session is quite impressive, with a pair of originals, "Albert's Shuffle" and "Really," in particular showing Bloomfield at the top of his game as a brilliant blues guitarist. He's also "on" on their soulful take on Jerry Ragavoy's "Stop," which also has a heavy keyboard presence, while Curtis Mayfield's "Man's Temptation" is very BS&T-like and is the lone song on side one to feature vocals. Along with Bloomfield, the rest of the band really shines on the superb 9-minute "His Holy Modal Majesty," starting with Kooper on ondioline, an electric keyboard that gives the beginning of the song an otherworldly psychedelic ambiance before it veers into jazzier territory, with the rhythm section supplying a good head-bobbin' groove as Bloomfield solos. Unfortunately, Bloomfield's heroin addiction and insomnia troubles led to his departure before the album was finished, so Kooper made do by recruiting Stephen Stills, fresh from Buffalo Springfield's breakup and before his rise to superstar status with Crosby, Stills & Nash. Unsurprisingly, side two is much different than side one (if ever an album was meant to be played as a record with a distinct side one and side two this is it), as Stills' skills were more in a folk and psychedelic rock direction whereas Bloomfield was more tethered to the blues. Stills takes the lead vocal and plays a tasty solo on a good country rock update of Dylan's "It Takes A Lot to Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry," but Kooper then sings the centerpiece song of the Stills' set, that being an 11-minute version of Donovan's "Season Of The Witch" that's a bit on the long side for sure but whose swampy psychedelic groove I like a lot. I'm also partial to the Kooper sung "You Don't Love Me," another psychedelic effort that's surprisingly heavy, with Hoh's performance really standing out, before "Harvey's Tune" ends the album with a short, pleasant supper club instrumental fadeout. On the whole, though this spontaneously recorded album is very much a disjointed hodgepodge (how could it not be given the circumstances?), it nevertheless is highly enjoyable to listen to today, all these years later. Frankly, I think that this was the last studio recording where Bloomfield was really at his best (his subsequent solo career was disappointing due to his ongoing drug issues), and Stills also acquits himself quite well. Also, the album was revolutionary in that, though the concept of the studio "jam session" was common in jazz circles, I believe that this was the first time that such a concept was applied by American rock players (there were precedents in British circles; the "Powerhouse" sessions with Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, and Steve Winwood just before Cream was formed in the spring of '66 was the first rock supersession, but those recordings ended up on some type of compilation for Elektra that year. Jeff Beck's "Beck's Bolero" in late '66 was also the result of a supersession with Jimmy Page on guitar, John Paul Jones on bass, Nicky Hopkins on piano, and Keith Moon on drums.) Another thing I'd like to point out is that, though these are largely improvised, mostly instrumental songs, they are in fact actual songs, not merely directionless wanking, though many reviewers of the day disagreed, though the albums bad reviews at the time didn't stop it from being a surprise hit (#11 on Billboard). Also worth noting is the fine performances of the support players, including the horn section that Kooper added after the fact on several songs (the reissue features horn-less versions of "Albert's Shuffle" and "Season Of The Witch" but I rather like the horns). All in all, though it has its indulgent moments and really plays more like two EPs than a proper LP, Super Session is fully deserving of its semi-legendary status as a '60s rock gem.

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