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Well-Matched: The Best of Merl Saunders & Jerry Garcia

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Album Review

For five years in the early '70s Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders headed up a loose-knit club band in the San Francisco area (the group never had an official name) specializing in a graceful mix of jazz, R&B, blues, gospel, and light funk with hints of bop, fusion, and even reggae. Aside from the two-volume Live at Keystone (1973), most of the group's recorded output appeared on various Saunders releases on Fantasy Records, and this remarkably cohesive compilation picks key tracks from all of these, with roughly half of the set coming from the Keystone LPs. Garcia is in full flight here as a guitarist, with Saunders' soul-jazz organ giving things a wonderfully fluid feel, and the end result is a kind of laid-back West Coast jazz-rock that is very much the sum of its parts. Among the highlights in what is a very strong sequence are the nearly 12-minute version of "Mystery Train" that opens things here, the floating elegance of the instrumental "Merl's Tune," the fusion-feel "Welcome to the Basement" with a guest shot from the Tower of Power Horns, and an interesting take on Jimmy Cliff's "The Harder They Come," which was still a relatively unknown tune when this version was recorded in 1973. Jerry Garcia and Grateful Dead fans will no doubt appreciate all of this, but Well-Matched also functions as a kind of introduction to Saunders as well, whose good-natured and pop-inflected approach to soul-jazz deserves to be better known.

Customer Reviews

Well- Matched? You bet!

There are some hot, hot, hot, jams on this one. This is probably my favorite era for Garcia, though the Dead Head that I am, I love it all. This particular set up with Merl just sets the house on fire. I want more, keep it coming! If only we could still see these guys together today!

Better than....

Cliche as it is...This album goes together like cocaine and waffles. And I know you know what I'm talkin' about. Regardless...This is priceless...waffles and cocaine aside. This album is money and a must have for any Jerry phan... notice the ph....

Keystone Plus

Chances are you have the three previously-released Keystone Disks (Vol. I and II and the Encores). So here's what's NOT on those collections: Lonely Ave, After Midnight, Welcome to the Basement, and That's Alright. This era for Garcia produced some of his more coherent and relaxed grooves- everyone's comments that these guys go so well together is very true. Merl is in top form. These shows are on my "I Wish I Could Go Back In Time And Catch Them" list for sure.


Born: February 14, 1934 in San Mateo, CA

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s

Hammond B-3 player Merl Saunders recorded with numerous renowned artists beginning in the early '70s and led many of his own dates in a variety of genres from jazz to blues to new age to rock. Born on Valentine's Day, 1934 in San Mateo, California, Saunders began learning to play the piano at the age of 10. (He was a classmate and bandmate of Johnny Mathis through junior high school.) Saunders decided on music as a profession after seeing how much fun was had by audience and performers alike at...
Full Bio

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