by Perry Meisel
On a Saturday evening in July, a friend and I wandered into a club in Woodstock for a quick taste of the musical fare; we stayed for three hours. Solo by solo, tune by tune, the band amazed us more than any we had heard in years. It was Full Moon (then unnamed) recently formed, with guitarist Buzz Feiten and saxophonist Gene Dinwiddie up front; another former Butterfield band member, Philip Wilson, on drums; and Neil Larsen on piano (bassist Freddie Beckmeier wasn't there that night; a stand-in replaced him).
The music ranged from tight driving funk to lush jazz ballads to fiery swing blues, with brilliant soloing throughout. Feiten said an album was forthcoming.
The mixture of excitement and apprehension with which we awaited the album was justified. How can you compress this kind of a band into a marketable record? Answer: you can't. Add a silly (yes, silly) production job that doesn't understand the nature of the music and you have but a dim prospect of the original radiance. The "Beatsville blur" method of recording has triumphed again; the natural precision of the music is obscured by the control board while the musicians seem chilled into over-cautious deliberation.
The variety of musical styles on the album is impressive, especially when their relatedness becomes obvious after a few listenings. The opener, "The Heavy Scuffle's On," marshalls the band's voices - guitar, horn, keyboard, and a rock-solid bottom - to create a highly-woven instrumental texture, but the producers' bland wash takes the edge off what appears to be a strategy of ensemble counterpoint, like Traffic's, though not quite as structured.
Feiten's two songs sound so much like Stevie Wonder's recent tunes that it is no surprise to learn that Buzz played with him last year before forming Full Moon. "To Know," a mellow ballad with an underlay of crisp time, demonstrates the band's formidable rhythm capacities: like "Need Your Love," the combination of Feiten's amazing rhythm guitar, Wilson's drums, and Beckmeier's bass is superb. But the singing is weak, as it is throughout the album. The vocal load (and it is fair to see it that way) is divided up by Wilson, Dinwidie, and Feiten, none of whom are primarily singers at all. Especially on the Wonder-like tunes the lack is clear: though Dinwiddie's singing on his own composition, "Take This Winter Out of My Mind," is at times very rich indeed. With a fine vocalist, this band, as a recording troupe, would be much more compelling.
Neil Larsen's two tunes, "Malibu" and "Midnight Pass," are what you might call jazz tunes-instrumentals, with melody lines teasing boundary between outright lyricism and blushing subtlety. Dinwiddie's soloing, here, like Larsen's, is pale next to his capabilities in person. It is also curious that there is so little horn work on the album in the first place. What there is, though, leans heavily towards jazz styles, which shows that Dinwiddie is a searching musician, though the result is often nowhere near as spine splitting as his funky side is.
The last tune on the album, "Selfish People," works through three styles, each one better than the last. The seemingly free jazz opening is boring and dishonest, but when the ballad singing begins (along with changes), the band's delicate ensemble balance reasserts itself. With the entrance of Feiten's soaring guitar, Full Moon's status as what could be called a rock band becomes powerfully clear.
The single unchanging feature of this otherwise uneven album is Feiten's performance. There should be little question that he is literally one of the best guitarists around: imagine the distillation of almost every good guitar style and you have Feiten on the bandstand; bridle the imagination a bit and you have him on this recording.
Originally published in Rock, January 15, 1973