Vassar Clements

Superbow

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AllMusic Review by

Superbow is the centerpiece in a streak of three superb albums fiddler and bandleader Vassar Clements cut in the mid-'70s. Coming hot on the heels of Hillbilly Jazz, which made a real splash, comes a much less remembered recording affair in which one of the better postures between country, rock, and jazz is assumed casually, as if it is no big deal. Fans of rowdy country star Johnny Paycheck's great band from this same period will be particularly interested in this side, as several of the great sidemen from that group are part of Clements' lineup. Jim Murphy, who doubles on pedal steel and saxophone, is just as important a contributor to this session as he was to the Paycheck band. The versatile flexibility of this band owes a lot to his doubling capabilities since so much of what constitutes musical style simply comes down to instruments. The presence of Murphy on tenor sax means a medley combining a Clements original and a Count Basie tune sounds like a fat swing band. For a pure country sound, Murphy simply switches back to his beloved pedal steel. Another musical direction shared with the Paycheck aggregation was utilizing old-timey and bluegrass repertoire within the context of a new-fangled combo complete with drums and electric instruments. Versions of tunes such as "Black Mountain Rag" hang together despite manic tempos, the violinist and his sidekicks tossing off great improvisations with the rhythm section hanging right on their tails. Swinging syncopation also brings out enjoyable interaction, although like most jazz out of Nashville the conceptual calendar seems to have ended somewhere in the early '50s. The feeling of personal liberation associated with later forms of jazz is strongly present nonetheless, especially for listeners old enough to remember how recordings of this nature represented a breakthrough in personal expression for country pickers eager to improvise above and beyond the normally allotted four bar fills. Western swing is an obvious touch point; the version of "Barnyard Boogie," a Clements staple in his live shows featuring an entertaining vocal, is one of the album's highlights. Also of great interest is an arrangement of Roger Miller's "King of the Road" that develops into something of a modal jazz arrangement.

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