Jerry Garcia

The Keystone Session

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Parties lucky enough to locate this triple-CD German import set will essentially have the same contents as both volumes of Live at Keystone (1973) together with Keystone Encores (1988). During his downtime from the Grateful Dead, Jerry Garcia kept himself busy with a side project that teamed him up with Merl Saunders (organ), Bill Vitt (drums), and John Kahn (bass). Their primary gigs were centered around the Bay Area, and the 18 selections included on 2003's The Keystone Session are from two nights (July 10 and 11, 1973) at -- where else? -- the Keystone in Berkeley, CA. While primarily known as a jazz venue, the club -- which shouldn't be confused with Keystone Korner in San Francisco or the Keystone Palo Alto -- was perfect for capturing the quartet. Rather than as a specific vehicle for either Garcia or Saunders, the pair co-lead the combo into a variety of outings that blend progressive jazz with the players' decidedly eclectic tastes in vintage rockers, R&B, blues, Great American Songbook pop standards, and even a double dip into the Bob Dylan catalog. Above all else, what makes these collaborations so satisfying to hear is the participants' willingness to explore the melodies in an unconventional manner. Nowhere is the collective as sonically insightful as the affectionately rendered "My Funny Valentine" or the thoroughly emotive overhaul of Albert King's "Like a Road Leading Home." Such depth of spirit translates into the optimistic groove that drives the rockabilly-sourced remakes of "That's All Right, Mama," "Mystery Train," and the relaxed "Hi-Heel Sneakers." The Motown covers "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)" and "I Second That Emotion" are fueled by enough extemporaneous interplay to grease the extended instrumental runs without becoming tiresome or predictable. To the same end, the Dylan entries "Positively 4th Street" and "It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry" -- which are practically dirges -- are similarly stunning in the sheer amount of soul that is revealed in the lyrics and melodies alike. Those looking for additional recordings by this band are encouraged to check out the Saunders-related Heavy Turbulence (1972) and Fire Up (1973), and the single-CD compilation Well-Matched: The Best of Merl Saunders & Jerry Garcia (2006), which contains a previously unreleased take of "I Second That Emotion" from a live KSAN broadcast at the Record Plant, Sausalito, CA, on July 8, 1973.