Cream

Cream

Goodbye Tour Live 1968 [Polydor]

By Jim Roberts

On Friday, November 1, 1968, I went to the Spectrum in Philadelphia to see Cream on their farewell tour. I had been a big fan since Fresh Cream came out early in 1967, and Jack Bruce’s bass playing was so inspiring to me that I went out and bought my first electric bass. I got Disraeli Gears and Wheels of Fire as soon as they were released and listened to them obsessively, marveling at what Jack was doing and hoping to emulate some his melodic and rhythmic genius in my own playing.

That Philly concert was the only time I saw Jack play with Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker — and it was unforgettable. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who thought so; years later, Clapton told British journalist Phil Sutcliffe that “it was one of our greatest gigs ever.” While that show is not, alas, included on a new four-CD box set called Cream Goodbye Tour: Live 1968, this recent release does document four concerts from the tour, including the final night at the Royal Albert Hall in London.

The large-format package includes a hardbound 66-page book with an essay by David Fricke that traces the course of Cream’s all-too-brief career, as well as many posters, tickets, clips, and photos (three of which are flipped, transforming Eric and Jack into left-handed players … oops). The shows were recorded on October 4 (Oakland Coliseum), October 19 (Los Angeles Forum), October 20 (San Diego Sports Arena), and November 26 (Royal Albert Hall). The first three were remastered from the original analog mix by Kevin Reeves at Universal Mastering in Nashville; the fourth was remastered by Jason NeSmith at Chase Park Transduction in Athens, Georgia. At each show, Jack Bruce is playing his famous Gibson EB-3 through Marshall amps.

The four CDs have 36 tracks — one of them an introduction of the band by Buddy Miles at the L.A. show. Seventeen have been previously released in some form, six of them on the original Cream LPs (including Live Cream and Live Cream, Volume II) and/or the 1997 box set Those Were the Days [Polydor], which remains the definitive source for Cream’s music. One track, the 17-minute version of “Spoonful” from the show at the L.A. Forum, was released on the soundtrack for the film Eric Clapton: A Life in 12 Bars, and the nine tracks from the Royal Albert Hall show were on the Cream Farewell Concert DVD. So, all in all, what’s on the four CDs is about half material that was available before and half new stuff. 

That said, this set offers the opportunity to revisit the experience of being in the audience for four complete shows, hearing these young musicians — all of them were in their 20s — explore their material with the energetic improvisation that made them so exciting and influential. At the time, they were barely speaking to each other, the long-standing feud between Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker having reached its peak and Eric Clapton having withdrawn from his role as mediator, tired of the whole thing. You wouldn’t know it from their playing, though, which is filled with the sort of heady back-and-forth that could elevate even the most basic blues material to the sophistication of a great jazz trio — if a lot louder. (Jack once said that Cream was actually a jazz band “. . . we just didn’t tell Eric.”)

The four shows have similar programs. Each begins with two Jack Bruce/Pete Brown originals, “White Room” and “Politician” (which still sounds topical), and there are versions of “I’m So Glad,” “Crossroads,” “Spoonful,” and “Sunshine of Your Love” every night. There are three versions of “Sitting on Top of the World” and of Jack’s harmonica feature “Traintime,” and four lengthy Ginger Baker drum solos — one bracketed with the theme from “Passing the Time,” at the October 4 show, and the other three in “Toad.” The one-offs are “Deserted Cities of the Heart” from the October 4 show (also on Live Cream, Volume II and Those Were the Days) and a short, punchy version of the blues classic “Steppin’ Out” that closes the London show. (For my money, it’s too bad they didn’t keep “Deserted Cities” on the program, as it’s one of Jack Bruce’s most underrated compositions.)

Why listen to the same songs over and over? Because it’s Cream and they don’t sound like the same songs. The four versions of “Crossroads” are especially interesting, all of them quite different, although none measures up to the one on Wheels of Fire, which is still, to my ears, one of the greatest live tracks played by any rock band from any era. The versions of “White Room and “Politician” are all strong, but my personal favorites are the four different takes on “I’m So Glad,” first recorded by Skip James in 1931. I’m not sure any band has ever gotten more out of two chords than Cream does here, and the jams on back-to-back nights in L.A. and San Diego are scintillating.

The sound quality on the first three discs is quite good — comparable to the live tracks on Those Were the Days but a bit more open sounding, enhancing the sense (if you turn it up) that you’re in the arena. There are some murky moments, and Jack’s bass drops out entirely during the jam on “Sunshine” in L.A. before returning for the closing vocals (“Sorry about the technical hang-up.”) Disc Four, with the final show, has notably worse sound: a turgid mess at first, with the bass just a rumor, although it slowly improves as the show goes on. The Albert Hall’s notoriously bad acoustics combined with the breathtaking volume of all those Marshall amps undoubtedly made it a nightmare for the sound crew, and Eric, Jack, and Ginger sometimes sound as if they’re struggling to keep it together. (“We really were much better than that,” Baker later told Chris Welch, author of Cream: The Legendary Sixties Supergroup.) Still, the final show stands as a rousing climax to their career — aside from the brief reunions in 1993 and 2005 — and you can hear the unabashed enthusiasm of the audience.

If you’re just discovering Cream, or haven’t listened to them in a long time, then this box set probably isn’t the best place to start. But for anyone who has known and appreciated this landmark band for years, Goodbye Tour has much to enjoy — and it reminds us of the great pleasure of hearing live music played by fearless artists who were, as Eric Clapton told David Fricke, “going for the moon every time we played.” Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker are gone now, but they endure on these recordings. As for me, well … I’m so glad. 

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Aretha Franklin

Aretha [Warner Music Group]

For those of us who dwell in the low-end realm, Warner’s new Aretha Franklin career-spanning box set — complete with alternate takes, rarities, and demo goodies — is nothing short of a groove goldmine, with some genuine holy grail moments. The 81 tracks are presented in chronological order, with over 25 top bassists serving the Queen of Soul. Initial standouts include the 1961 sides “Won’t Be Long” and “Are You Sure,” with (Spike Lee’s dad) Bill Lee and Milt Hinton on upright, respectively. Numerous early tracks, with unknown upright bassists (some cut as demos at Franklin’s Detroit home), also reveal Aretha’s mighty left hand on piano, confirming the statement made by many a Franklin musician that everything from the feel of a song to the parts you should play could be found in her initial vocal and piano run-through.

Moving to 1967 and the Atlantic Studios period, underheralded bass guitar giant Tommy Cogbill appears on a handful of cuts. Most notable are a mono master of “Respect” and a remaster of “(Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You’ve Been Gone” that give his Fender Precision a booming clarity, as well as an alternate version of “Chain of Fools” that stays close to the released version but is fascinating nonetheless. Muscle Shoals master David Hood can be heard on three tracks, including a remaster of “Let It Be” and an alternate version of “Call Me,” recorded at Criteria Studios in Miami.

Chuck Rainey and Jerry Jemmott, the two electric bassists most associated with Franklin, are well represented here, almost always with the legendary Bernard Purdie on drums. Jemmott, whose landmark performance on “Think” is not present, first appears on a mono remaster of “You Send Me” and a longer version of “Bridge Over Troubled Waters.” The true gems are from the sessions for Quincy Jones’ 1972 forward-leaning, psychedelic jazz album with Franklin, Hey Now Hey (the Other Side of the Sky). On both “Master of Eyes (The Deepness of Your Eyes)” and a work tape of “Angel” (complete with Aretha’s spoken directions), Jemmott — on his ever-present Fender Jazz Bass — takes the basic two-eighth-notes-on-the-downbeat-of-one figure and adds his trademark spontaneous syncopation, developing the parts with inventive rhythmic figures built around a root-5th-octave framework. The brighter, R&B samba feel of “The Boy from Bombay” inspires more rhythmic creativity from the man nicknamed “The Groovemaster.”

Rainey (on his famed ’57 Fender Precision) first appears on an alternate, longer take of “Young, Gifted and Black,” complete with his signature gallop and descending upper-register fills. “Until You Come Back to Me,” a Rainey classic, appears as a work tape version in which all of Chuck’s signature moves on the track — scoops, double-stops, and melodic fills — are present but not quite as fully formed as the released version recorded soon after. (At the end, you can hear producer Jerry Wexler excitedly say, “Let’s make a track now!”) Perhaps the box set’s two highpoints are an alternate mix of “Spanish Harlem” that runs slightly longer, and an alternate take and mix of “Rock Steady” — two Rainey cornerstones rife with his use of right-hand palm pats, to go along with his back-and-forth-index-finger magic. The mix of “Harlem” adds clarity and presence to Chuck’s pulsating part. On “Rock Steady,” also longer than the released version, the fun begins at around 3:50, when the band gradually starts to slow the tempo. At 4:00, Rainey switches to a repeated, upper-register A7 arpeggio. With the tempo getting slower still, at 4:13 he initiates a descending blues riff that guitarist Cornell Dupree catches and doubles.

The post-Rainey/Jemmott heyday is rich in captivating bass playing from all corners. Ray Brown is the sassy, swing-in-two countervoice to Franklin’s vocal and piano on an alternate take of “Somewhere,” from the Quincy sessions. Stanley Clarke straps on his flatwound-strung Fender Precision on an “I’m in Love” alternate take. “Without Love” is one of Gordon Edwards’ two massively anchored tracks. Detroit’s Tony Newton provides serious swung-funk support in 1975’s “Mr. D.J. (5 for the D.J.).” Curtis Mayfield produced two mid-’70s Franklin albums, which gives us three tracks of his bass man, Joseph “Lucky” Scott, including the loping “Almighty Fire (Woman of the Future).” Rainey returns to add feel and string pops to 1977’s “Break It to Me Gently.” Scott Edwards appears on “When I Think About You” and shares a credit with none other than James Jamerson Sr. on 1980’s “United Together.” And Duck Dunn holds down a version of “Think” from the Blues Brothers Original Soundtrack Recording.

The final 16 tracks begin in the synth-bass era, where Marcus Miller mans his ’77 Fender Jazz Bass and keyboard bass for “Jump To It,” which he co-wrote and co-produced with Luther Vandross. Likewise, “Freeway of Love” and “I Knew You Were Waiting” boast Randy Jackson’s synth-bass work. Nathan East’s bass peeks out from the keyboard bass on “Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves.” Returning to bass guitar, Will Lee is the crafty pulse on 1994’s “The Makings of You”; New York City bassist Vere Isaac adds hip hop heft on 1998’s Lauren Hill-produced “A Rose Is Still a Rose”; and Reggie Hamilton grounds Aretha’s 2014 remake of “Rolling in the Deep.” Franklin may not have had one steady rhythm section, like her friends at Motown, but her music brought out the very best in her bassists — particularly Jemmott and Rainey, who moved the instrument major steps forward during their live and studio roles with the Queen. Much respect! –Chris Jisi

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Fiona Apple

Fetch the Bolt Cutters [Sony Music]

In a gloomy era of uncharted territory when new releases have been few and far between, Fiona Apple dropped her highly anticipated fifth album ahead of schedule when her fans needed her the most. Bolt Cutters delivers all of the passionate, angst-driven, raw emotion over technically mind-blowing musicianship that Apple has become revered for. Part of that virtuosic component comes from the no-holds-barred playing of longtime Apple bassist Sebastian Steinberg, whose electric and upright lines match the singer–songwriter’s intensity and quirkiness at every bend. Supportive when necessary and stand-out in climactic moments, Steinberg delivers lyrical bass mastery with his woody-toned upright on “I Want You to Love Me,” “Shameika,” “Fetch the Bolt Cutters,” and the laid-back grooves of “Ladies.” His vibrato-laced, intense confidence provides the backbone to this album that unravels musically before putting itself back together. With the emotional year we’ve all been facing, this is the album that many of us sorely needed. –Jon D'Auria

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Marilyn Manson

We Are Chaos [Loma Vista Recordings]

In the simpler times before the 2020 pandemic — and before a cycling accident left Juan Alderete in a coma — the music world learned that the beloved Racer X and Mars Volta bassist had been recruited by the Antichrist Superstar himself, Marilyn Manson, to join his band. The pedal-and-effects guru obliged and hit the road with Manson beginning in 2017, in an unlikely pairing that ended up clicking for both parties. When Manson began recording his latest album in 2019, he decided to take his stage relationship with Alderete into the studio, where Juan tracked most of the album. (Shooter Jennings sideman Ted Russell Kamp stepped in after Alderete’s accident.) The result is a powerful return to form for Manson, where dark ballads and industrial metal riffings dominate through big frequencies and sheets of distorted bass and guitars. More than anything, the album made us appreciate and miss Alderete’s playing, and we can’t wait until he’s able to get back on the road to perform these songs live and continue what he started. –Jon D'Auria

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Jimmy Chamberlin Complex

Honor [MAKE]

While Jimmy Chamberlin is widely known for his influential drumming with alternative rock icons the Smashing Pumpkins, his first musical passion in life was jazz, which is why he initially picked up the sticks at age eight. So it’s only fitting that when he’s not busy with the Pumpkins, he focuses on his own solo work, which merges both alternative and jazz into one package. To help with this task, Chamberlin has enlisted Billy Mohler for all three of his records, the most recent of which, Honor, was released this September. Working with Chamberlin on the songwriting and production and on multiple instruments, Mohler most notably stands out with his bass playing, which does much of the heavy lifting alongside Chamberlin’s drums. From the tightly pocketed verse riffs of “Service” and “Integrity” to the driving force and killer outro of “Grace,” Mohler goes hard and makes a strong case for being the ultimate rhythm-section partner for Chamberlin. And if their musical catalog over the years indicates anything, Chamberlin would definitely agree with that statement. –Jon D'Auria 

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Mark Egan and Danny Gottlieb

Electric Blue [Wavetone]

Egan and Gottlieb have been a rhythm section since meeting at the University of Miami in 1971, through the Pat Metheny Group, the Gil Evans Orchestra, and their own Elements. Stripped to their duo core here, the pair’s considerable chemistry, creativity, and sonic alchemy radiate across the record’s eight tracks. The opener, “Back and Forth,” has a prog-rock edge, with Egan’s fretless soaring over his fretted groove and comping parts and Gottlieb’s drum thunder. “Cabarete,” a medium samba from the Elements catalog, is study in conversational exploration, as the pair finish each other’s phrases and ideas. The title track, “Come What May,” “Blue Sound Bath,” and “Offering” (featuring Egan’s double-neck Pedulla and digital delay loops) all come from a more spontaneously improvised, ambient place, with Egan’s huge, gorgeous-toned fretless speaking to your heart while filling your chest. “Hookey” brings matters back to the groove, with Egan developing a steady-16ths bass line over Gottlieb’s serious backbeat pocket. –Chris Jisi 

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Derek Frank

Eleven Years Later [DF Records]

It’s hard to believe that it’s been eleven years since the release of Derek Frank’s first solo album, Let the Games Begin … , but the Gwen Stefani/Shania Twain/Shakira bassist proves that some things are worth the wait. An explosion of funk, rock, soul, and R&B, Eleven Years Later is the ultimate open-road soundtrack that boasts production that stands out as much as its songwriting. Tracks like “Get ’Em!” “All Day Sucker,” and “Irregardlessly” authentically dish out serious ’70s funk vibes, while Frank shows his rocking side on “One Man’s Trash,” “The Trooper,” and “Onward,” which features scorching guitars by Joe Bonamassa. With a mixed bag of styles that offers something for everybody, Frank displays that he’s much more than a sideman, and more important, that he’s one hell of a player. –Jon D'Auria 

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Combinator

Eargoggle Fodder [Combinator]

Right out of the gate with the opening song “Juggernaut,” Sean Fairchild sets the tone for his latest album by unleashing a whirlwind of slapping, tapping, strumming, and fast fingerwork that serves as an indicator of things to come. Using every bit of real estate on his MTD 6-string, Fairchild utilizes dynamic tempo changes, a wide array of effects, and a diversity of genre influences to take the listener on a wild ride. From alternative to techno to breakbeat trip-hop and everything in between, Eargoggle Fodder always keeps bass in the forefront, even when Fairchild takes on vocal duties on tracks like “Can‘t Pretend to Know,” “O Discordia,” and “Snowbound.” Following the progress of Fairchild’s evolution as a player and songwriter, Fodder stands out as his most accomplished work yet, and it will surely turn heads in the bass world and beyond. –Jon D'Auria