When the Tony Williams Lifetime hit the ears of listeners in 1969 with their double-album release Emergency!, few people were prepared for it. Brilliant drummer Tony Williams had just left Miles Davis's band after a long tenure and was eager to try something of his own, something very different. He got together with then mostly unknown guitarist John McLaughlin and veteran organist Larry Young to make a music that was so unusual as to be inimitable. That first album sounded like nothing that had gone before. It was rock heavy yet rhythmically and harmo-melodically light years away from what was going on then. And Tony's vocals were...well they certainly weren't what you expected from jazz, rock or jazz-rock, as it was then known. The innovation took on life as improvisation, ensemble and song-form. It was NEW in the biggest sense, so much so that many audiences generally couldn't get on their wavelength when Lifetime first hit the venues.
Jack Bruce joined the band as the fourth member and bass-vocal powerhouse. The album Turn it Over followed. And it was a continuation of what they first set out to do. The band folded, Tony and Larry reformed with new members and the album Ego came to light, which had some masterpieces but was not completely on the level of what went before.
Many years have gone by since those days, and while those sides were enormously influential no band has ever come close to realizing the sound of the original Lifetime. Until now.
Jack Bruce has joined with guitarist Vernon Reid, organist John Medeski and drummer Cindy Blackman Santana to revisit the classic Lifetime music. The first CD is out, and they call themselves Spectrum Road (Palmetto).
They cover many of the significant numbers from the first three albums and one or two I do not recognize. Jack and Cindy do the vocals and the band gets it uncannily close in the ensemble to that original thrust. As individual players of significant clout, however, much of who they are, right now in 2012, individually and collectively, gets into the mix, especially in the solo sections. That's what you would expect and that's what works best in these sorts of situations, to my mind.
It's a very heady tribute to an incredibly important band, but more than that, it extends that original music in ways Tony would have liked. It's Lifetime music with the here and now built in.
And it's some landmark music, whichever way you look at it.