Jerry Garcia / Merl Saunders

Keystone Encores, Vol. 1

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This is the third of three CDs compiled from a two-night (July 10 and 11, 1973) stand at Keystone Korners in Berkeley. These recordings have likewise yielded a pair of additional volumes -- all of which stem from the original Live at Keystone (1973) two-LP release. Merl Saunders (keyboards) and Jerry Garcia (guitar/vocals) lead a funky rhythm section -- consisting of John Kahn (bass) and Bill Vitt (percussion) -- through a variety of adeptly chosen R&B, Motown, and blues covers. Garcia and Saunders began performing sporadically throughout the end of 1970, reconvening in the Bay Area whenever the guitarist could find time away from his day gig with the Grateful Dead. Ultimately this loose aggregate became the prototype for a somewhat more formal Jerry Garcia Band, which continued until Garcia's passing in 1995. By the time these recordings were made, this particular combo was holding court upwards of eight weeks a year and had developed a unique, laid-back persona, perfectly counterbalancing Garcia's decidedly more aggressive contributions to the Dead. The musical centerpiece of this band is undoubtedly their uncanny ability to provide multiple layers of interpretation and variation on familiar themes. The combination of Saunders' sweet and soulful organ leads and the pure tonality in Garcia's solos is flawlessly supported by round upon round of Kahn's assertively fluid interjections. The Motown cover of "How Sweet It Is" perhaps best-exemplifies this approach, as the bassist punctuates the established melody with his trademark second-nature harmonic counterpoint. Keen-eared Deadheads will undoubtedly be curious to hear the adaptations of "High Heel Sneakers," "I Second That Emotion," as well as the Chicago-style blues interpretation of Blind Lemon Jefferson's "One Kind Favor" -- which the Dead very occasionally worked into their earliest performances. The loose structure allows for extended soloing which rather inadvertently reveals a lighthearted and cherubic side to Garcia's musical companionship. This is a recommended listen for potential fans as well as the seasoned enthusiast.

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