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Published: 2017/12/01
by Larson Sutton

Howard Wales and Jerry Garcia
Side Trips: Volume One

By his own admission Jerry Garcia was, at times, searching for ports of entry when he played with keyboardist Howard Wales. This live set taken from a 1970 appearance at the Matrix is brimming with the kind of bubbly fusion that not only showed Garcia’s ambitious range, but also his willingness to stretch way outside his comfort zone. Long out of print, Side Trips: Volume 1 returns on vinyl for Record Store Day as well as debuting on streaming services and is the latest in a series of releases celebrating the 75th birthday of the late guitarist. Really, these are long jams built around loose structures and jazz rhythms punctuated by Bill Vitt’s ride cymbal and John Kahn’s strolling bass. Wales and Garcia react to each other with a sense of discovery, as if every note is a surprise to the other, and maybe sometimes to themselves. This is Wales’ spaceship, but Garcia’s given plenty of time at the tiller, steering a lot of the improvisations into choppy, unchartered cosmic waters. There are some smoother moments, but a lot of Side Trips is as the song titles- like “Free Flight” and “Space Funk”- suggest. Slightly reminiscent of the then-contemporary work of Gabor Szabo or Miles Davis’ electric period with John McLaughlin, the four-song collection also reminds of the present-day Medeski, Martin, and Wood collaboration with John Scofield. Garcia was not as immersed in the vocabulary of jazz as that trio of guitarists, but he shows himself, particularly on the 25-minute epic “All For Life,” to be capable of quite a few daring and impressive statements that make Side Trips one well-worth exploring.

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