Saturday, January 31, 2009

Keef Hartley - The Time Is Near


The core of Keef Hartley Band, along with Hartley and guitarist/vocalist Miller Anderson, was bassist Gary Thain. He was heavily influenced by bassist Duck Dunn from Booker T. and the MGs but, like Anderson and Hartley, possessed a clearer jazz spirit. The Time is Near... features a number of different horn and keyboard players, with its line-up settling down considerably for Overdog.

If Overdog is generally heavy, The Time is Near... is a lighter affair, with Anderson found on acoustic guitar as often as electric and songs like 'Morning Rain' sounding almost schizophrenic. Opening with a psychedelic reverse-attack collage of drums and horns, it's a song whose changes could find a place in the repertoire of roots rockers The Band if it weren't for Thain's funky bass line and trumpeter Henry Lowther's soul-drenched horn arrangement. 'From The Window' could easily have come from Motown, but the shifting tempo and more complex horn parts that ultimately resolve into a sunnier, ambling groove are indicative of greater depth and complexity. Keef Hartley Band may not have been considered a progressive rock group by connotation, but its combination of soul, jazz, rock and folk here are progressive by stricter definition.

Hartley was fortunate to find Miller, who writes all but one song on The Time Is Near.... Possessing enough grit to deliver the stronger message of the nearly ten-minute title track but equally capable of carrying the gentler classical guitar/trumpet duo of "Another Time Another Place," his voice is so versatile that these two tracks almost sound as if they're being sung by different people. An equally versatile guitarist, he delivers a gritty, blues-drenched solo on the title track and the final part of 'You Can't Take It With You',which also features a blistering saxophone solo from Lyle Jenkins during its lithely swinging 6/8 middle section.

The only non-Miller track on the disc is 'Premonition', an instrumental by trumpeter Dave Caswell, another fine player who seems to have disappeared without a trace. It's essentially a light two-chord vamp with a brief chorus that paves the way for strong solos from both Caswell and Jenkins.

The rhythm section team of Hartley and Thain powers the material throughout. It's hard to judge which of these two reissues is a better record since they're both so different (while remarkably still managing to sound like the same group), but The Time Is Near... gets a subtle nod for its broader mix of styles and a group sound that’s as distinctive as its American counterparts, while feeling less like a group looking for a hit. Instead, Keef Hartley Band seems to have hoped that the audience would come to it, and while it had its brief moment in the spotlight, there's no musical reason why it should have been less successful than Chicago or BS&T other than the fact that it never got the international promotion it deserved.

Together with Colosseum, the Keef Hartley Band of the late 60s, forged jazz and rock music sympathetically to appeal to the UK progressive music scene. Drummer Hartley had already seen vast experience in live performances as Ringo Starr's replacement in Rory Storm And The Hurricanes. When Merseybeat died, Hartley was enlisted by the London based R&B band the Artwoods, whose line-up included future Deep Purple leader Jon Lord. Hartley was present on their only album, "Art Gallery" (now a much sought-after collectors item). He joined John Mayall's Bluesbreakers and was present during one of Mayall’s vintage periods. Both "Crusade" and "Diary Of A Band" highlighted Hartley's economical drumming and faultless timing. The brass-laden instrumental track on John Mayall's "Bare Wires" is titled "Hartley Quits". The good-natured banter between Hartley and his ex-boss continued onto Hartley's strong debut, "Halfbreed". The opening track "Hearts And Flowers" has the voice of Mayall on the telephone officially sacking Hartley, albeit tongue-in-cheek, while the closing track"Sacked" has Hartley dismissing Mayall! The music in-between features some of the best ever late 60s jazz-influenced blues, and the album remains anundiscovered classic. The band for the first album comprised: Miller Anderson, guitar and vocals, the late Gary Thain (b. New Zealand d. 19 March 1976; bass), later with Uriah Heep; Peter Dines (organ) and Spit James (guitar). Later members to join Hartley's fluid lineup included Mick Weaver(aka Wynder K. Frog) organ, Henry Lowther (b. 11 July 1941, Leicester, England; trumpet/violin), Jimmy Jewell (saxophone), Johnny Almond (flute),Jon Hiseman and Harry Beckett. Hartley, often dressed as an American Indian, sometimes soberly, sometimes in full head-dress and war-paint,was a popular attraction on the small club scene. His was one of the few British bands to play the Woodstock Festival, where his critics compared him favourably with Blood Sweat And Tears. "The Battle Of NW6" in 1969 further enhanced his club reputation, although chart success still eluded him.

01 - Morning Rain
02 - From The Window
03 - The Time Is Near
04 - You Can't Take It With You
05 - Premonition
06 - Another Time, Another Place
07 - Change


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