Tuesday, December 05, 2017
AXIS: BOLD AS LOVE AT 50
Otherworldly doesn't quite suffice as a description of the sonic delights that the Jimi Hendrix Experience wove into their second full length LP, released a half century ago this past week. The subtle genius who led the trio revealed himself to be a composer of considerable depth, turning in a set of songs that are as arresting today as they were at the time of issue. Let's travel back in time to that final month of 1967, where opaque clouds of smoke hovered over the astounded faces of those lucky souls who repeatedly sacrificed needles on turntables, worshipping at the altar of this incredible record.
It takes about half a day to get there...if we travel by dragonfly
Opening with a short "interview" that could almost be considered as the ultimate inside joke (look up Paul Caruso), the vari-speeded voices in their brief exchange set the stage for a barrage of raging coronal mass ejections, courtesy of Hendrix, which are madly panned across the stereo divide. The swooping, dive bombing assaults fade only to be replaced by the brushed drum fill that kicks off "Up From the Skies". Breezing by with a wink, this jazzy, wah-wah pedal driven flight of fancy is unlike anything from Are You Experienced. Hendrix delivers a subdued vocal that perfectly complements the track. Working against the aural template that he had crafted on the first disc, he and the Experience show a far more subtle side of their collective musical personality. You can almost imagine Hendrix taking his place on the bandstand with a larger group blending in as a contributor, rather than featured performer. Side one, which you could easily frame, then bounces back to rock as Mitch Mitchell morphs from Elvin Jones to a heavier approach as the trio lock in on the majestic “Spanish Castle Magic”. Jimi blasts off a handful of face-melters as Noel holds on to that hypnotic riff, though these type of guitar pyrotechnics are the exception rather than the rule here.
This may very well be the reason that this platter often gets passed over in the lexicon of the Experience. Those listeners expecting six string fireworks find the artist opting to play against type. Funky, tight rhythms are featured in “Wait Until Tomorrow” and note perfect nuance in the all too brief “Ain’t No Telling”. Both are variations on carnal pleasures, with a gun toting Dad to spoil the fun in the former. No room is made for endless soloing. nor is it necessary. Letting the songs breathe, dream imagery accompanied by a dizzying array of colors dominate lyrical subject matter. Hendrix wrote delicate melodies to match these ethereal moods, none finer than what you’ll find in “Little Wing” and “Castles Are Made of Sand”.
Noel Redding even draws in with his very own composition (“She’s So Fine”) singing lead and coming pretty damn close to the Who in places. Out of this treasure trove of inspired song craft, my personal highlight is the sublime “One Rainy Wish”. This is one that I always wish would never end. Dynamic and tasteful beyond description, it is incredible in headphones. Runner up? “If 6 Was 9”, which flies the freak flag proudly as a multi-part, extended freak out that allows everyone some room to rip. The spoken word section is the lone area where shade briefly eclipses the psychedelic rainbow that arcs over just about everything else. Though his other work attracted more attention, I would weigh in and say that this is his grand statement; futuristic and sweeping without ever overstaying its welcome. Wrapping up with the title track, nary a note is wasted. The Experience hit their high watermark with this one, though the tightly edited scripts would be tossed out the window during the sessions for Electric Ladyland, which had its share of high points, yet would fall victim to endless jams and a lack of organization from a production perspective following the departure of Chas Chandler.
Axis was the ultimate holiday gift from one of the masters. If you spot a vinyl copy, pay the asking price regardless of the amount.