REVIEW BY: David Bowling
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 01/12/2010
Every once in awhile, what seemed like a good idea at the time actually turns out to be a great idea. Such was the case with the concept behind what would become the Super Session album.
The ‘60s found Al Kooper backing Bob Dylan on tour, as well as joining him in the studio (he provided the keyboards for “Like A Rolling Stone”). He would go on to play with The Blues Project and to form Blood, Sweat, & Tears, which he would leave after one album. In 1968, he came up with the idea of trying to record his friend Mike Bloomfield by gathering some back-up musicians and just jamming. He felt this type of recording technique would fit Bloomfield’s style well.
Mike Bloomfield was an addict who died at the age of 37 in 1981. He also was one of the most talented guitarists to ever walk this earth. Rolling Stone Magazine ranked him at number 22 on their list of The 100 Greatest Guitarists Of All Time. He was an original member of The Paul Butterfield Blues Band and a part of the short-lived but brilliant Electric Flag. He met Al Kooper while also playing for Dylan.
Kooper and Bloomfield entered the studio in May of 1968, backed by bass player Harvey Brooks and keyboardist Barry Goldberg from Bloomfield’s Electric Flag days, plus session drummer deluxe Eddie Hoh. Bloomfield’s performance was everything Kooper hoped for and more. The music buying public agreed, as the album became a big hit at the time.
Side one of the original vinyl release contains five of the finest performances Bloomfield would record during the course of his career. He was always exciting and creative when playing live; his ability to innovate and improvise were impressive. This free-form session with Kooper freed him from the usual studio constraints and allowed him the freedom of a live type environment.
Three Bloomfield/Kooper improvisational compositions are the perfect vehicles for Bloomfield’s exploration of the blues. “Albert’s Shuffle,” “His Holy Modal Majesty,” and “Really” contain some of the finest electric rock/blues fusion music this side of Eric Clapton. The band lays down a foundation as Bloomfield explores the rhythms and basic song structures. His interplay with Kooper is both intricate and energetic. Curtis Mayfield’s “Man’s Temptation” and the Jerry Ragovoy/Mort Shuman song “Stop” provide a little more structure and take the music in a funky direction.
Everything seemed to being proceeding according to plan until Bloomfield did not show up for anymore recording sessions, as his heroin addiction made him unable to continue. Enter Stephen Stills, who agreed to fill in at the last minute. It proved to be an interesting and ultimately brilliant choice. His side of the original album release is far different from Bloomfield’s, bringing his rock guitar to the mix. When Stephen Stills is in the mood, he is a superb guitarist (as his number 28 ranking among Rolling Stone Magazine’s 100 Greatest Guitars Of All Time shows).
He gives Dylan’s “It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry” a nice workout, but it is an eleven minute version of Donovan’s “Season Of The Witch” that allows him to stretch out and provide some of the best playing of his career. “Harvey’s Tune” takes him in a jazz direction. “You Don’t Love Me” is the only failed track, showing that they may have been out of ideas by this time.
Super Session was a unique stop in the careers of Stills, Bloomfield, and Kooper. Stills would go on to a credible solo career and super stardom with Crosby, Stills & Nash. Al Kooper teaches music at a college in Boston and continues to tour. This album would mark the height of Mike Bloomfield’s commercial popularity. He would continue his musical relationship with Al Kooper, but his recording and live concerts became increasingly erratic. This release remains a highlight of his career and is well worth hearing over forty years after its release.
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