Jimi Hendrix album




jimi 1 resJimi Hendrix snuck up on the blues from behind, popped a hallucinogen in its mouth, clamped shut its jaws and waited for the gulp. Where his contemporaries Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck (all born within 28 months of each other) aspired to some African American blues ideal just out of reach, Hendrix was afflicted with no such purism. His palette exceeded the electric guitar’s accepted possibilities, and he used it to paint previously unheard sonic pictures.

These were mighty canvases on which conventional rock, r&b and blues collided with half-dreamed starbursts of a raw expressionism; on which harmonies were stretched and rhythms made more complex. Above all Hendrix loved sounds and lines that drilled directly into the listener’s central nervous system and whipped up emotional riots.

But what if even to hail Hendrix as the most significant electric guitarist of all time – a claim that’s hardly radical – were still to undersell him? What if his real place were as one of last century’s great visionaries, in the pantheon where loom the likes of Hesse and Byatt, Miro and Kahlo, Coltrane and Miles Davis?

jimi 2 res james white
Photo: James White.

Where else do we place someone who exploded the sonic, technical and expressive possibilities of what was then the defining instrument of popular culture? Yet much assessment of his work – perhaps coloured by his singing being lesser than his playing – is so starched and stuffy as to concede that he excelled only in the clamorous, narrow corridor of rock, not in the wider musical world.

Let’s set the record straight. Hendrix revolutionised the guitar as Coltrane did the saxophone, and, like Davis, he endlessly sought to re-sculpt the context of his improvising. Indeed Miles was so bewitched by Jimi’s playing that he mainlined psychedelia into jazz, just as Hendrix had done into rock and blues. Having jammed together privately, they planned to record. The guitarist’s death in 1970 at 27 axed that idea. In the great history of African American music the thrilling detonations of previously undreamt ideas on that upside-down and back-to-front Stratocaster join the emotive grandeur of Coltrane’s tenor and the desolate cries of Miles’s trumpet as among the ultimate expressions.

For publicity purposes only on editorial articles surrounding the March 9, 2018 release of Jimi Hendrix: Both Sides Of The Sky.  Photo: October 1968 (TTG Studios, Hollywood, CA)
Photo: chuck Boyd, 1968.

How can an artist who only released four albums in his lifetime possibly join such company? Partly because of the avalanche of material – both sublime and ridiculous – released posthumously, and particularly thanks to Experience Hendrix and Sony Music’s trilogy of previously unreleased studio recordings. This began with 2010’s Valley of Neptune, continued with 2013’s People, Hell and Angels, and is now completed by Both Sides of the Sky (this one containing three tracks that have in fact seen the light day before). The trilogy is not some dredging of the vaults to rip us off with third-best takes or bootleg live recordings, but superbly remastered examples of the endless studio documentation in which Hendrix indulged. The guitarist was not just a singular improviser, he was an obsessive experimenter, trying to realise visions that, as with so many of the greatest artists, were often tantalisingly out of reach. This leads to the heretical conjecture that what lay in the way was sometimes his collaborators’ closed horizons. As good as the players whom Hendrix attracted were, perhaps they lacked the ultimate flexibility that his increasingly open-ended, wide-ranging music demanded. They were still earthbound, when his imagination was shooting into a stratosphere beyond their grasp.

Much of the material on Both Sides of the Sky was recorded with bassist Billy Cox and drummer Buddy Miles, although there are many variations. A searing Hear My Train A Comin’ comes from the original Jimi Hendrix Experience, Georgia Blues (with singer and saxophonist Lonnie Youngblood) exemplifies Hendrix being anyone’s equal at making a slow blues bleed, and Cherokee Mist is a trippy curiosity on which he plays both guitar and electric sitar against drummer Mitch Mitchell’s mallets. Although not as consistent as its predecessors, this album completes a trilogy that not only broadens Hendrix’s body of recorded work, but also helps to expand our perception and appreciation of his entire oeuvre.