NEW

"The Feudal Unconscious:
Capitalism and the Family Romance"

October 159 (Winter 2017)
MIT Press


Now Available

Portuguese translation of THE MYTH OF POPULAR CULTURE (Blackwell Manifestos, 2010) now available from Tinta Negra (Rio de Janeiro, 2015)



OS MITOS DA CULTURA POP: DE DANTE A DYLAN

O renomado crítico cultural americano Perry Meisel detona as noções convencionais sobre a divisão entre “alta” e “baixa” cultura.

O autor transita pela provocante teoria de que a cultura pop experimentou ritmos dialéticos. A hábil análise que o livro apresenta de três tradições culturais duradouras – o romance norte-americano, Hollywood, e o rock inglês e americano – nos leva a um ciclo histórico da cultura pop que tem Dante como ponto de partida e revisita ícones como Wahrol, Melville, Hemingway, Twain, Eisenstein, Benjamin, Scorsese e Sinatra.



THE MYTH OF POPULAR CULTURE: FROM DANTE TO DYLAN

The Myth of Popular Culture discusses the dialectic of "highbrow" and "lowbrow" in popular culture through an examination of literature, film, and popular music. With topics ranging from John Keats to John Ford, the book responds to Adorno's theory that popular culture is not dialectical by showing that it is.

Available as eBooks

COURSE IN GENERAL LINGUISTICS. Trans. Wade Baskin. Co-ed. with Haun Saussy. By Ferdinand de Saussure (Columbia University Press, 2011)

THE LITERARY FREUD (Routledge, 2007)

THE COWBOY AND THE DANDY: CROSSING OVER FROM ROMANTICISM TO ROCK AND ROLL (Oxford University Press, 1998)

FREUD: A COLLECTION OF CRITICAL ESSAYS (Prentice-Hall, 1981)




3/30/10

Labelle: Pressure Cookin'

by Perry Meisel

It's amazing how easily even the best intentions can become mistakes in the seemingly simple shift from idea to execution. Witness what appears to have been Labelle's decision to sue the rhythm section from Maxayn, an edgy Bay Area R&B unit, for the sake of having a consistent core band throughout their new album. Labelle usually marshalled personnel by the tune on their first two recordings, producing with selected sidemen an even, clean sizzle at once light and powerful. What was lost in studio efficiency in the past has now been sacrificed in musicianship and arranging. The group's taste is somewhat redeemed, though, by the occasional presence of guitarist Buzzy Feiten, along with a mysterious 'friend' (according to the liner) who might well be - dare we even whisper the name? - Stevie Wonder.
Patti Labelle sings with the same soulful grace as ever. Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash's lush backing harmonies weave a silky medium between Patti's soaring voice and the band, a medium that, on previous records, simply heightened the sense of texture already suggested instrumentally. Here, though, the singers must combat unduly tense rhythms, not to mention bear the entire burden of creating dimension and tonal depth, to produce the supple textures integral to their music.
Hendryx Labelle's songwriter, is responsible for all but two of the tunes (each of the three albums, incidentally, has featured more and more original material). Though relatively undistinguished if judged in the highest terms (and who these days would dare such a thing?), all the songs are rich enough to serve as effective springboards for harmonic embellishment and vocal improvisation. At least two tunes stand out as respectable writing achievements on their own: "Sunshine," a moody ballad, and "Goin' On a Holiday," which is cool, dipping funk. The title cut, "Pressure Cookin," like "Mr. Music Man," is a curiosity in the context of Labelle's usually pure style of rhythm and blues. Both are nerve-rockers akin to the brand of so-called boogie practiced by, say, Joplin's Full-Tilt Boogie Band or - unbelievably enough - J. Geils.
Drummer Emry Thomas is hardly the leading culprit in the rhythm section, though he makes his share of outright mistakes in spite of his basic strength. The real villains in this allegory of how not to play are the bassists, Maxayn's Andre Lewis and Carmine Rojas. Though Rojas replaces Lewis for only two songs, the result is infinitely more disastrous than even Lewis himself could have managed. Rojas's swampy tone is outdone only by his inability to restrain advertisements for a purely fabled virtuosity. Lewis's bass at least has the pretensions of a tone acceptable in musical circles, though his lines are impossibly sloppy. He unfortunately plays piano and organ on most of the cuts, too; drenching with dense and unyielding sustains what, by simple standards of taste and judgment, should be a spare rhythmic counterpoint between guitar and keyboards.

Originally published in The Boston Phoenix, October 23, 1973

Sample view:

Shooting the Vapids

by Perry Meisel and Ben Gerson

Rita, a sixteen-year-old from Watertown, flipped through the program, pausing at the larger photographs. "What's this guy's name?" sneered her boyfriend. "Gilbert Sullivan?"
"Gilbert O'Sullivan. He's Irish!" exclaimed the nymphet.
The boyfriend slid his hands down his pockets, apparently weary of trying to keep her attention. The two couples lighting intermission cigarettes to his right, though, were simply enjoying an evening on the town.
"We went to see Paper Moon last night," said one of the young wives, blinking her eyes and chewing gum. "Tomorrow night we're goin' to see Butley."
"Buckley?" asked her girlfriend's husband.
"BuT-ley! E-nun-ci-ate!" she giggled.
"It's supposed to be quite good," said her own husband, swelling. But somehow the trials of a gay Miltonist seemed remote from the scene.
"We're having lunch at the beef and ale place tomorrow, Kenney," said the first husband, recovering from his awkward query. "Want to come along?"
"I'll call you at the office in the morning."
Flashing lights cut the chatter short. Rita's boyfriend led her to the seats, glad it was time again for the music. "I betcha he stays at the Howard Johnson's Motor Lodge," she said as they walked down the aisle.
The odor of Juicy Fruit filled the darkness in the hall while the twenty-two piece orchestra (complete with turtlenecks sporting varsity "G'"s) tuned afresh for the star of the show. The crowd, which spread over two-thirds of the Music Hall, had waited patiently through the first half of the evening. Though girlish cries of "We want Gilbert!" had interrupted comic Marty Barris during his best routine, Maureen McGovern managed to brake the anticipation with a powerful display of technical skill, skimming through a series of slush classics including her hit, "The Morning After."
Now that the lights were down again, the orchestra launched into a swinging jump, urged on by Gilbert's arranger, Johnnie Spence; grey hair glowing, gold sleeveless suit freeing his billowing cuffs to flash splendidly in the half-light.
At last the spot hit the wings and Gilbert came striding onstage, walking perhaps a bit too fast for a star, waving and smiling to the applause with shy constraint. Black crew-neck sweater blazoned with an immense "G", black bells with thick red stripes, topped by that fashion photographer's dream of a college boy's face; even better than the pictures, Rita must have been thinking. With a hitch at his trousers, Gilbert plopped down at the piano as soon as politeness would allow, muttering "Let's get on with it" in a sulky British tenor. Once buried in the keyboard, he began to hammer out the honky two-four beat that seems to be his favorite, the tempo of almost all his tunes. Intoxicated with their radio dream come true, the crowd cheered and cheered, still too excited to hear a thing.
The opener was a characteristic O'Sullivan original. "I Hope You'll Stay", the lyrics rhyming in fractured couplets, the melody marshaled in parallel phrases through each line of the verse - a gay, light balance, though marred by an awkward bridge. It's hard to distinguish, really, among Gilbert's songs. They seem to possess the same self-effacing quality that marks his presence onstage; whether teasing in subtle implication or simply mediocre, it's hard at first to tell. To be sure, he's miles from the manner of Tom Jones or Englebert Humperdinck (all are managed by Gordon Mills, which has spawned the myth that all three are virtually the same performer). In fact, it would be difficult to imagine Gilbert playing a club - he's much too clean, too boyish to muster even Maureen McGovern's version of slick.
Unfortunately, it was clear from the start that Gilbert's voice projects nowhere near as well in person as it does on records. Though he sings superficially like Paul McCartney (perhaps one reason for his incipient stardom), he simply doesn't have the power to keep from sounding thin and at times uncontrolled. The problem is particularly apparent in concert, where horn or string lines alone fail to provide the extra push neatly managed by overtracking in the studio.
And yet it was obvious that Gilbert cared little for what the crowd may have thought. Not that he was testy - far from it. In fact, he took the greatest pleasure in talking to the screamers in the house. "What's that, love?" he asked repeatedly of a raucous girl in the balcony. "Can't hear you, love, say't again." Though her piercing shrieks were impossibly obnoxious, Gilbert clearly relished the pointless exchange, leaning against the piano with arms crossed, head tilted toward the gloomy source of the squawking.
Such trifling events soon became the high points of the evening. Each time Gilbert began a song it was the double of the last, while the remedy of looking for interest in the arrangements was a short-lived stratagem, too. Even the hits - "Clair," "Get Down," "Alone Again" (the last a notable tune when isolated from the others) - merged into the same featureless array of music-box twink. The screams that greeted the famous songs, especially "Clair" (ironically enough, the most insipid of the group), became progressively unenthusiastic, though still as loud as the crowd could manage, as if they too were performing as much to an arranged program as Gilbert himself.
Indeed, they were perfectly matched, the crowd and Gilbert. Neither had a thing to say, neither seemed to care for much besides the sure formula that meant for Gilbert coasting through the show, and, for the crowd, no need to guard against the unexpected.
The lie to all this came during a lengthy chat we had with Gilbert (in real life, Raymond) at the Parker House. Though flanked by plates of food in the hotel restaurant, the focus of our attention radiated a lean and hungry look. The hair, significantly, was swept back, not forward, nor permitted to hang loosely on either side; neat corduroys were in evidence, while a knit sportshirt completed the picture of a music hall entertainer at his leisure. Yet the skin was ruddy and glowing, and the eyes burned. As soon as it was clear to him what our mission was, he left his party and moved in businesslike fashion to a corner booth where we could speak undisturbed.
With an intensity which re-enforced the paradox he was attempting to explain away, Gilbert attested to his lack of interest in, and consequent aptitude for performing. "Most performers get better as they go along. I get worse." The nightly routine of concert appearances was no less tedious than the daily routine of being interviewed. If one doesn't think about it, it stops being painful. All of Gilbert's responses were previously thought out and to some extent planned, which isn't to say they lacked an element of surprise. A man whose rent is payed by housewives and junior high schoolers is not supposed to admit his small appetite for such rituals. Gilbert is an Anglo-Irishman who finally found refuge from the repression of a Catholic boyhood in art college. It was the freedom of the English art schools, Gilbert emphasized, the freedom to explore new ideas, as well as the more mundane but equally important freedom from schedules, examinations, deadlines which them the spawning ground for so much musical talent in the sixties. Gilbert became exposed to the music of Bill Black and Bill Doggett, acquired some proficiency on drums and piano, and joined a group. So far, his history parallels that of the "heavies" like John Lennon, Ray Davies, and Eric Clapton. Gilbert completed art college but was bent on a music career, so he moved to London where he purposefully avoided taking jobs in art, preferring to work at menial tasks so as to direct all his creative energy into music.
Where Gilbert and the Lennons and Claptons and other first generation art school rockers part ways is in Gilbert's unruffled contentment with the trite conventions of pop, and, secondly in his seemingly perverse insistence upon avoiding the once daring but now well worn path of pop autuerism and eccentric or tortured or poignant self-expression. "I could have sat at a piano and bared my soul, but I didn't want to do that." The difficult journey had become the predictable one, and hence to be discarded. Therefore one sunk to a lower level of predictability, the more common denominator of housewives and pre-teens.
All right, the man wants to be as big as possible, which should entail being as simple as possible. Yet we pointed out hat artists who "bared their souls" - we chose Cat Stevens at the outset of his career as an example - no longer were denied huge audiences as a price for that. With extraordinary pop insight O'Sullivan replied, "Why should I start with an acoustic guitar when I'm going to wind up with an orchestra? Why not begin with an orchestra?" Truth be told, that is the inevitable progression. You could describe Gilbert as hurrying to meet the inevitable, or it could be that same allergy to hipness that caused Gilbert to cling to his silly outfit in the face of ridicule because it was different, "confusing," because it was his.
Perhaps this calculating, lucid, ambitious man can only write simply shallow songs. Perhaps the only kind of success ever within the grasp was his current success. But it is at least equally plausible that the man was in a position to choose what form his success should take. For Gilbert O'Sullivan, Dada king, insipidity could be the new iconoclasm.

Originally published in The Boston Phoenix, October 9, 1973

Sample view:

Mark Almond 73

by Perry Meisel

The Mark Almond band has been at best a purveyor of moods. Even the addition of former Mingus drummer Dannie Richmond has hardly given the group the groove it so sorely lacks. In fact, the hiring of Richmond around the time Columbia signed Mark Almond for a reportedly large advance only confirms the feeling that corporate investment and hype have managed to sustain a band that lacks power musically. What else but money would prompt so fine a drummer as Richmond to take up with the limited likes of Jon Mark and Johnny Almond? Why would the new album's liner list company executives, managers and accountant unless they were as vital to the band as the music?
At least Mark Almond 73 features a live side. We're spared the tedious control-room drama that the group's unfortunate fondness for suites produced on their three previous albums (no real difference in recording technique, by the way, marked the switch from Blue Thumb to Columbia). Here at last is a chance to hear what they're like without a curtain of strenuous production.
Definitive moments in concert: Richmond rolls on his snare during Mark's acoustic introduction to "What Am I Living For," ready to land with the full ensemble on the downbeat of the next measure. Mark, though, is grazing in the soppy meadows of his lyrics, oblivious to the drummer's sense of drama; the roll dies out awkwardly because Richmond at least has a musician's obligation to follow the band's so-called leader.
The studio side contains the most pleasing tune on the album, "Lonely Girl"; an easy Latin thing, featuring a ripped-off horn line from BS&T's version of Nilsson's "Without Her." After two choruses, though, it provokes only yawns, like the cloying acoustic hues of the remaining songs.
Even hiring the best sidemen, like Richmond and LA studio bassist Wolfgang Melz, can't make up for the band's appalling lack of ideas. Nor can ornamenting the group with ex-Cat Stevens guitarist Alan Davies or a truckload of percussion hide the emptiness at the core of Mark Almond's painted shell.

Originally published in The Boston Phoenix, September 12, 1973

Sample view:



3/29/10

A Midsummer Night's Dream

by Perry Meisel

In the festive celebration that concludes A Midsummer Night's Dream Shakespeare unites three worlds in a happiness that seems impossible at the height of the action. How a production manages the celebration is the clearest measure of its success. Is it tacked on, a concession to Elizabethan ideology? Or is it genuinely fulfilling, a logical and moving resolution of the tensions that have come before?
Through the medium of Theseus's rationalism the play seeks a firm center from which to view both language and love. The wedding feast celebrates the arrival at such a center, admitting at the same time (with the faeries' epilogue) that the civilized necessity of a norm also means a sacrifice of the rarer qualities of experience. Humor - whether the burlesque of Bottom and his crew or the various lovers' comedy of errors - is always rooted in the larger pattern of the play, the mirroring of worlds even in the distortion of comparison. A production, then, must honor the special quality of each of the play's three worlds if its conclusion is to be at all genuine.
Everyone, though, is laughing so hard in Puck Productions' slapstick presentation of AMidsummer Night's Dream in Concord that the spirit of Shakespeare's play is sacrificed to a short-lived gain in the humor of the moment. Far from distinguishing the worlds of the play as a means of working toward the fifth act, the direction plays every scene for its gag potential, disregarding character and setting in its rush for laughs.
A drunken Theseus (Christopher Gay) and a cackling Puck (Jerry Chasen) underline the crudity that dominates the production. The airy Puck sneering in a bathing suit, like the sober Theseus enamored of his wine, hamper belief in the realization of Shakespeare's play even before the characterizations become offensive. Robert Rahaim's foaming Lysander adds to the assault in its lack of restraint. In fact, all four lovers stomp about the stage (the men literally climbing up the women's skirts) in an excessive display that turns grace into grossness. The result is that the fifth act has nothing at all to celebrate because no understanding of the play has even been attempted.
James Donnellan's Bottom, though, is the brilliant exception. Playing in virtual isolation from the rest of the performers, Donnellan's antics turn Bottom into a Shakespearean Groucho Marx. His dying Pyramus (Bottom's part in the play-within-the-play) is a stunning piece of comedy; his love scene with Marianna Houston as Titania (complete with perhaps the most loveable ass's head in stage history) is remarkable for a warmth and control wholly absent elsewhere in the production.

Originally Published in The Boston Phoenix, August 28, 1973

Sample view:


3/23/10

Sons of Champlin: Welcome to the Dance

by Perry Meisel

When most people in rock smirked at the idea of horns in the late sixties, the Sons of Champlin were using saxophones brilliantly. Their two-man section sidestepped the pit of glare and schmaltz that Blood, Sweat, and Tears had already dug with all their trumpets, and found no need to indulge in the labored sophistication of Chicago's brass harmonies. The band's songwriting and arranging, though, were nowhere near as good as Chicago's; nor was its commercial appeal so shrewdly manufactured as post-Kooper BS&Ts'. The group then drifted out of sight just as rockers began to take an interest in horns, an interest that still seems to be only cresting.
Ironically enough, the Sons' new album keeps the saxes in the distance. It's hard at first to tell whether the band has simply traded the power of its horns for ensemble playing (inured to subtlety as we now are by wind bands like Tower of Power), or whether it has instead consciously refined its use of the section. "Lightnin'," an easy funk tune, is a perfect miniature of what finally seems to be a chastened approach to the horns: on the verse, low-register upbeat punching; on the chorus, high staccato riffing; on the bridge, long deep chords under the singing - all restrained, perhaps even underproduced! At the same time, though, organ dominates the rhythm tracks, drawing undue attention to a single instrument when the real drift of the production is toward an even and balanced ensemble sound.
Melody, however, is virtually nonexistent throughout the album. Bill Champlin's writing and the band's arranging have become dishonest in a way that links them to one of the worst impulses in contemporary rock: the masquerade of a series of lame riffs for a tune, which results from the growing songwriting habit of offhandedly elaborating phrase after awkward phrase, a process that hype arrangers have been able to turn into the illusion of a song. Thus, "The Swim," like "For Joy" and "Who," - all soul grooves that prompt one to consider the difference between imitation and influence - opens with a verse of deceptive lyricism; but before its astonishing emptiness can sink in, the whole band's kicking like hell on a driving funk chorus, fortifying one's confidence in the music (until the verse returns). Splices are abundant; powerful vamps inserted midway through a song like "Right On," or strong, though illogical, ensemble riffing stuffed between a verse and a chorus as in "For Joy," help to deflect one's hearing from the absence of a real tune.
Still, the local texture is often rich, played with precision and feeling. "Welcome to the Dance," the title cut that concludes a suite on the second side, is the one example of genuine dramatic development on the album; the music shows an easy firmness as the band moves from a shuffle to open swing, walking almost imperceptibly from a square beat to a jump. Terry Haggerty's guitar soloing, though, grows a little edgy after awhile, skilled though it is (even inspired at moments). Champlin's organ rides too are competent enough, but why no horn solos? In concert, Champlin and Geoff Palmer's sax soloing astounds. Here, the band seems to have excluded the best it has to offer.

Originally published in The Boston Phoenix, August 21, 1973

Sample view:




Full Moon: Full Moon

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

Sample view:

3/20/10

John Mayall: Jazz-Blues Fusion

by Perry Meisel

It's common wisdom among John Mayall fans that you can never relax when you listen to those early electric albums that powered the British Blues Revival--you've got to be ready to change the song when the next one comes along. Something embarrassing might happen--an anemic vocal, a windless harmonica solo, an uninspired use of the lustrous horn sections punching behind the thundering guitar leads. It was a labor of love, though, listening to those big band recordings. Though the initial response to Mayall's subsequent drumless group was a generous one, due largely to the novelty of pairing acoustic guitar with reeds and harp, Mayall's appeal suffered a serious decline because of it. His lack of taste as a player, complicated by his limited chops, had usually been hidden by the power of the earlier bands, with Eric Clapton, Peter Green, or Mick Taylor on guitar. The lightweight band put Mayall himself too much to the fore.
Now that he's back with a full group on his new live album, one's interest is rekindled. But the characteristic problem is intensified: the mixture of relief and pleasurable anticipation at the news that he's again sporting a big electric band with horns is qualified by that nagging wince, cut after cut, at Mayall's own cluttering of the music with his omnipresent - indeed, omnivorous (but with what poor teeth!) - harmonica. Though Mayall means the harp to be a rhythm instrument much of the time, one still has to ask, What, then, is the point of the horn section? Particularly exasperating is Mayall's sheer vanity in the face of some of the best soloists he has ever fronted.
Freddy Robinson plays a fast, cool guitar, rich with turns and lush chording reminiscent of Wes Montgomery. And yet his one stylistic weakness - the temptation to say too much too fast - flaws his performance throughout. Like Mayall, he often takes up an undue portion of the ensemble sound, filling when unnecessary.
When Clifford Solomon's alto rears its burning head midway through the first tune "Country Road" (a Mayall original, like all the cuts), Robinson's guitar, much less Mayall's harmonica, palls by comparison. Solomon's soloing (on tenor and alto) is consistently the best in the band. He achieves that rare mix of sparseness and funk that one looks for in a blues soloist. His tone is hard and rich on square, high-stepping numbers like "Country Road" and "Mess Around"; smooth and swinging on "Good Time Boogie" where he opens up the way you always wish a horn player would.
If Mayall's harmonica is a sore thumb during guitar and sax solos, it is downright outrageous when it cuts in on Blue Mitchell's trumpet. The very fact that Blue - one of the jazz greats - is blowing in a Mayall band at all is enough to raise questions better left unasked. Blue gets squeezed out or challenged by Mayall time and again: on "Country Road," on "Good Time Boogie" (where he starts to cook on his first chorus and then - toot! toot! - you can hardly believe Mayall's nerve) and "Dry Throat," a tight, funky tune perfect for Blue's cool, subtle horn. Except on "Got To Be This Way," where Mitchell finally gets it on, his trumpet is uninspired - but what can you expect from the kind of environment Mayall has created on these live sets?
For the most part, Mayall seems to have grossly neglected the ensemble sound of the band. Magnified by his apparent indifference to the horns - a double irony, given the power of his hornmen and the title of the album - Mayall's job of arranging and directing is shockingly sloppy. To call the album a jazz-blues fusion is as misleading as it is pretentious: the very idea of a "fusion" of jazz and blues is absurd in the first place. The common parent of jazz and rock, the blues is a given unity, calling on individual talents to make it or break it. But why the "problem" of "fusion" at all? Why all the fuss that began with Kooper's BS&T? There's no clear distinction between rock and jazz, much less jazz and the blues. "Fusion" occurs when you're unaware of it: as usual, self-consciousness kills.
But for John Mayall - an enormously important and devoted musician in spite of himself - a look in the mirror shatters the rare beauty always about to be born.

Originally published in Rock, August 14, 1972