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Album Review

The route that this material took from double-LP form to CD has been spread over a logic-defying series of releases — many of which (like this one) clock in at under an hour. In essence, these five numbers represent the second disc of the two-record set with the addition of a 1988 remix of "Mystery Train" — which was not on the LPs or the subsequent Keystone Encores titles. Confused yet? If so, let the music speak for itself as Live at the Keystone is chocked with unquestionably inspired covers that are each respectively extended and collectively improvised by co-instrumental leads Jerry Garcia (guitar/vocals) and Merl Saunders (organ) with Bill Vitt (drums) and John Kahn (bass). This was more or less an ad-hoc configuration, as opposed to the organized touring unit that Garcia developed as the Jerry Garcia Band. From December of 1970 through the spring of 1974 — prior to the combo evolving into the Legion of Mary — the guitarist could often be found performing sporadically in and around San Francisco between engagements with the Grateful Dead. The quartet ably fuse rock with jazz and spacey unfettered jams emerging from an eclectic composite from R&B and blues to seminal rock oldies and even popular standards. Compared to his contributions to the Grateful Dead, Garcia seems to invest the time to dig in and explore the melodies thoroughly. The supremely crafted "My Funny Valentine" is much more than a remake, as the entire familiar structure has been gutted and upgraded to a jazzy, intuitive groove. Similarly, "Like a Road Leading Home" goes to a new emotive strata when compared to Albert King's original as the quartet develop an earthier, almost palpable feel that King merely hints at. Stylistically contrary is the frolicking optimistic "That's Alright Mama" with Kahn playfully plunging below Garcia's clear-toned strings. The 'bonus' "Mystery Train" arguably offers up the best example of what a strong sonic bond existed between not only Garcia and Saunders, but also Kahn — as the trio propel the rhythm into an open exchange of instantaneous ideas. It is no wonder they stayed together through the mid-'70s and then reunited in 1979 for the criminally short-lived outfit Reconstruction. However, these earlier and more intimate recordings from the Keystone provide a glimpse of Garcia's enormously and oft overlooked range as a musician and arranger.

Live At Keystone, Vol. 2, Bill Vitt
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