Keystone Berkeley, September 1, 1974 (Pure Jerry, Vol. 4)
The Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders Band

This marks the most jazz-oriented of the recent series of archival Jerry Garcia releases. Organist/pianist Merl Saunders, a frequent collaborator with Garcia and with the Grateful Dead over the years, brought a solid soul and jazz background to the band, while the drummer for this band, Paul Humphrey, had played with many of the jazz greats over the years, including Wes Montgomery, Eddie Harris and Gene Ammons and would later collaborate with Charles Mingus. Saxophonist Martin Fierro had played with Tracy Nelson's first band, Mother Earth and was also deep into jazz. The group, a precursor to a Garcia/Saunders project known as the Legion of Mary, was rounded out by long-time Garcia bassist John Kahn and, on a few of the songs on this 3-CD set, a "Mystery Artist" on trumpet. "MA" makes his first unannounced appearance on the opening "Neighbor, Neighbor," adding color to the R&B tune. A Saunders/Kahn composition, "Keepers," allows the band to work an intense funk groove over Humphrey's super-tight, syncopated drumming. After a lengthy interpretation of the Jimmy Cliff reggae tune, the band drinks deeply from the jazz well with almost 14 minutes of explorations on Jobim's "Favela." A quick take on Bob Dylan's "Tough Mama" is followed by a gorgeous Fierro original, "LaLa," an almost 23-minute tour-de force featuring the composer on flute, with superb accenting by Humphrey. As the piece progresses, it moves from a Latin jazz vibe to a more inventive group improvisation featuring intriguing and surprisingly undated-sounded synthesizer work by Saunders and exploratory guitar work by Garcia. "MA" returns to enliven matters on the last song of the second disc, Bob Dylan's "Going, Going, Gone." The other songs on disc 2 include Jimmy McCracklin's "Think," another Jimmy Cliff reggae number, "The Harder They Come," Lightnin' Hopkins' "Someday Baby," and Smokey Robinson's "I Second that Emotion." While all will be enjoyable to Garcia fans and all provide ample opportunity for the musicians to stretch out, they all stay within the confines of rock/soul/pop rather than venturing into more overtly jazz playing. The final disc marks a return to soul/jazz with the Saunders composition "Soul Roach," which stretches out with a loping shuffle, allowing all (including "MA") to solo with punch. The old blues standard, "Mystery Train," benefits from "MA" and Fierro providing a small horn section feel, as opposed to their being only soloists. "Wondering Why," a Saunders composition, is a beautiful ballad, with Garcia soloing exquisitely, Fierro playing flute and Kahn and Humphrey wisely staying in the background. A quick Motown number, "People Make the World Go Round," sounds like it could have come from a Grant Green recording of this era. The band, including "MA," then dives headlong into "Keystone Jam," 15 minutes of group improvisation which includes a trumpet chorus of Thelonious Monk's "Straight, No Chaser, followed by another trumpet quote, this time from John Coltrane. After reaching the outer limits on "Jam," the players return to terra firma with the soulful Chick Willis song "It's Too Late," closing out with Robbie Robertson's "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down." This three-and-a-half hour, 3-CD set, is currently available only through www.jerrygarcia.com and adds new dimension to Garcia's official releases.