Al Kooper

Soul of a Man: Live/Rekooperation

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A gift from heaven is the only adequate way of describing this superb double-CD set, which comes in a slipcase with a neat little booklet. It is the definitive Al Kooper solo project, and a career reconsideration and retrospective, but it's also damn close to definitive as a document of the Blues Project and the original Blood, Sweat & Tears as well. At three February 1994 gigs at New York's Bottom Line, Kooper got together the original members of both bands (with BS&T billed as "Child Is Father to the Man") and his own Rekooperators, including John Simon and Harvey Brooks, with John Sebastian sitting in on harmonica, to perform new versions of 33 years' worth of repertory. The eerie thing is that it sounds like Kooper didn't skip a beat between the last shows of any of those bands and these gigs -- his voice is better than ever, and the performance on "I Can't Quit Her" (a song he introduces by saying he hates playing it "except with these guys" -- the original BS&T) and the rest of the '60s repertory has all of the energy one could wish for, and more precision than the group might have achieved in 1968 (and certainly better sound). There are some new arrangements on numbers like "My Days Are Numbered," which features a soaring trumpet duel between Randy Brecker and Lew Soloff, and some hot guitar by Jimmy Vivino -- all of which only adds to the original. And "I'll Love You More Than You'll Ever Know" features such an intense performance by Kooper, that by itself it's worth the price of the double CD. The Blues Project pick up where they left off in 1967, doing hard, crunchy renditions of Muddy Waters songs ("Two Trains Runnin'") and classic originals, including a glorious nine-minute "Flute Thing." The Rekooperators, led by Mike Bloomfield disciple Jimmy Vivino, do glowing performances of Bloomfield-Kooper repertory such as "Albert's Shuffle" and "Season of the Witch," and Kooper-related numbers like "You Can't Always Get What You Want" (part of a surging medley with "Season of the Witch"), and the Ronnie Van Zant number "Made in the Shade" (featuring Kooper on blues mandolin). The Uptown Horns and backup soul singers Sheryl Marshall and Catherine Russell fill in the sound on various songs, on what must have been three extraordinary nights. For some reason, Steve Katz refused to allow his guitar to appear on the release, so his part has been wiped and replaced by Jimmy Vivino and other guest players on both the Blues Project and Child Is Father to the Man tracks, but that seems to be the only major sweetening done in the studio. The beautiful part of this set, beyond the superb performances and the excellent sound quality, is that the music has been treated with respect in the packaging -- the heavily annotated booklet even lists each soloist on every number, in the manner of proper jazz releases.

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