John Mayall

The Turning Point Soundtrack

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What a strange artifact this is. The music on this two-CD collection reflects the soundtrack to the first ever "rockumentary," made by British filmmakers Pete Gibson and Alex Hooper about John Mayall's complete about-face in 1969, on the tour that showed him transitioning from his grand electric blues bands that featured superstar guitarists like Eric Clapton, Peter Green, and Mick Taylor -- as well as bassist John McVie -- to a band of then-relative unknowns who played the blues (largely) acoustically, while exploring extended improvisation like a chamber jazz group. The band, with Jon Mark on acoustic guitars, Mayall on harmonica, vocals, and acoustic guitar, Johnny Almond on flute and saxophones, electric bassist Steve Thompson, and no drummer, turned the entire notion of blues-based rock on its head. Disc one offers a teaser of Mayall's Blues from Laurel Canyon version of the Bluesbreakers in the final moments of wailing through "Parchman Farm" from a May 9, 1969 gig in Birmingham. Mayall was no stranger to the raw power of the electric blues with thundering guitars. At a little over two minutes, it serves as a jump-off point; it's the context of how utterly strange and inside-out his new approach was -- and how quick the band changed over. The first few tracks showcasing the new unit were recorded on June 13 of the same year in Plymouth. There is a stunning version of "Room to Move" from this date with a wondrous harmonica solo by Mayall. The chamber jazz feel seems to have been directed by the Jimmy Giuffre 3's recording of "The Same River Twice," with its careful attention to rounded edges, space, and dynamic. The set picks up four days later with killer guitar and some electric slide work on "Saw Mill Gulch Road" and "Can't Sleep This Night," as well as the love song "Thoughts About Roxanne" and a pair of versions of "I'm Gonna Fight for You J.B." from different gigs on the tour. Disc two showcases some of the same tracks and moves along with the tour, offering different versions of songs on disc one as well as a pair of killer reads of "California" and a steaming take on "The Laws Must Change." Sound quality is decent in stereo, but since these tracks were never meant for release it's remarkable they survived at all. If only Eagle had seen fit to release this as a triple package with a DVD of the film, it would have been unbeatable. As it stands, it's a terrific addition to the Mayall catalog from a particularly fruitful and even revolutionary period.

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