The Allman Brothers Band
The 1971 Fillmore East Recordings
"Hope this comes out pretty good," utters Duane Allman at the onset of The 1971 Fillmore East Recordings. "We're cutting our third album here tonight."
Yeah, it came out pretty good, alright.
Roughly three months after the March 1971 performances the guitarist and the rest of the Allman Brothers Band gave at Bill Graham's historic music hall, the recorded results surfaced as The Allman Brothers Band at Fillmore East. The album broke the ensemble's career wide open, further heightened Allman's already heroic status as a generation-defining guitar stylist and expanded the scope of blues-, rock- and jazz-directed jam bands everywhere.
What The 1971 Fillmore East Recordings does is gather all the available source material that went into the original album — specifically, four full sets performed over two nights — along with the equivalent of an encore, a June 1971 show that served as the final concert staged before the Fillmore East's closing. All of that is spread over six discs to construct a remarkably comprehensive overview of one of rock 'n' roll's truly landmark concert recordings.
First, let's explore the surprises. All of the new edition's first disc and most of the second consist of previously unreleased music. What is especially distinctive here is that an already expanded ABB (fleshed out by harmonica ace Thom Doucette and percussionist Bobby Caldwell) is further augmented by saxophonist Rudolph "Juicy" Carter on co-guitarist Dickey Betts' jazz-inspired instrumental In Memory of Elizabeth Reed and three other tunes. Carter's contributions don't so much offer new insights to these recordings as simply a fresh perspective. He was dismissed from the Fillmore engagement's final March evening.
The rest of the The 1971 Fillmore East Recordings gathers material initially issued on 1972's Eat a Peach and the 1992 double-CD The Fillmore Concerts. Those recordings summarize the Allmans at their best, from Berry Oakley's whiplash bass intro to Whipping Post to Allman's jubilant slide guitar intro to Statesboro Blues to younger brother Gregg Allman's bluesy, boozy vocal lead on One Way Out. And that says nothing of the wild ensemble groove that fuels the 35-minute Mountain Jam.
The final disc, originally issued as a bonus on the 2006 reissue of Eat a Peach, is a monster. Performed without any guests, the band rips through essentially the same set of tunes featured on the earlier discs but with noticeably greater cohesion and confidence. The nearly five-minute guitar and percussion coda capping Whipping Post is a gorgeous, formless cooldown that underscores the Allmans' sense of invention at the time.
Taken as a whole, this is a lavish and perhaps even indulgent embellishment of a classic album. Mostly, though, The 1971 Fillmore East Recordings makes a watershed rock 'n' roll moment in time sound more alive, vital and complete than ever before.
Walter Tunis | Contributing Music Critic