The Third Mind | The Third Mind | (Yep Roc)
4 1/2 out of 5 stars
There is no Miles Davis music on the debut of this new Dave Alvin led side project. But his recording process and sonic philosophy hangs heavy over this album.
Alvin wanted to record the way Davis and his producer Teo Macero worked on the jazz trumpeter’s Bitches Brew, Jack Johnson and other legendary free-form items in Miles’ catalog. The concept was to invite talented, like-minded musicians into a studio, start tape rolling and let the jams begin with no previous rehearsals. Those loosely structured sessions would later be edited and crafted into final songs. It was an experiment fraught with potential issues, not least of which because the musicians Alvin chose, all veterans such as Richard Thompson drummer Michael Jerome, bassist Victor Krummenacher and second guitarist David Immergluck, had never played together before. They picked some 60s era tunes that reflected the artsy, edgy approach they were looking to emulate, wrote a new one, and let fly. To say the results probably exceeded anyone’s expectations is an understatement.
From the opening six minutes of Alice Coltrane’s “Journey in Satchidananda” to a face-melting quarter hour run-through of the Butterfield Blues Band’s classic “East West,” these musicians find their psychedelic-oriented groove and ride it like the pros they are. Alvin’s guitar solos ebb, flow and ignite with a ferocity that shifts from subtle to explosive as he leads the proceedings. The mood builds progressively with bittersweet covers of Fred Neil’s hypnotic ballad “The Dolphins” (Alvin’s only lead vocal) and a throbbing version of the archetypal 60s folk/rock chestnut “Morning Dew.” The latter features guest singer Jesse Sykes (who Immergluck rightly observes sounds like Sandy Denny meets Grace Slick), and expands to nine minutes as it shape-shifts from a soft beginning, gradually bubbling and building to a rumbling, bluesy crescendo. It now becomes one of the finest, most deeply moving performances ever recorded of this often covered gem.
The disc’s centerpiece is clearly “East West” though which tumbles through multiple changes over its extended length but never loses steam. Alvin and Immergluck trade licks, sparring with each other like Duane Allman and Dickie Betts on “Mountain Jam” while drummer Jerome pushes, restrains and magnifies the beat. Harmonica player Jack Rudy can’t harness the power of Butterfield (few can) but these guys weave in and around their riffs with a graceful, electrified intensity that will raise goose bumps on the arms of even, perhaps especially, those most dedicated to Butterfield’s 1966 original.
Things cool off for a bit with a Spaghetti Western, Ennio Morricone styled instrumental “Claudia Cardinale” (the set’s only original), successfully replicating the atmosphere of a flick the titular actress might appear in. With the closing “Reverberation,” a nod to wild man cult figure Roky Erickson, the ad-hoc outfit grinds and pounds into primal, acid soaked raw garage rock.
Listeners might want to don their favorite tie-dyed clothes, fire up the lava lamp and light incense to help enhance the vibe before pushing play. But this is no retro blast.
Alvin asks in the press notes “Does the world want or need an album like this now?” The answer on both counts is a resounding “Yeah, baby.”
Miles Davis would be proud.