Spectrum Road is a new group featuring guitarist Vernon Reid, keyboardist John Medeski, bassist Jack Bruce, and drummer Cindy Blackman Santana; their brief, basically, is to keep the music of the Tony Williams Lifetime alive. Though Bruce actually played with Lifetime (he appears on the group’s second album, 1970’s Turn It Over), the project is definitely Blackman’s. In 2010, she released a tribute to Williams under her own name—Another Lifetime, featuring guitarist Mike Stern and organist Doug Carn as her primary collaborators, plus guests (including Vernon Reid and saxophonist Joe Lovano) on other tracks, and she’s never been quiet about calling Williams her primary influence as a player.

Spectrum Road, the album, includes versions of tracks from Emergency!, Turn It Over, Ego and Believe It, plus one original (“Blues for Tillmon”) and a version of the traditional Irish tune “An T-Eilan Muileach.” In their time, Lifetime were uncomfortably positioned between rock and jazz. Listeners who’d loved Williams’ work with Miles Davis‘s quintet of 1965-68 hated hearing him slamming the kit behind Larry Young‘s cranked-up organ and John McLaughlin‘s distorted guitar, not to mention singing. And as the lineup changed, album after album, attention waned. But in the decades since, the group’s early work has been reassessed, very favorably. (Later albums—Ego, The Old Bum’s Rush, Believe It and Million Dollar Legs—are still obscure; the former two aren’t even in print in the US.) Spectrum Road like all of it, and absorb tunes from all versions of Lifetime into a single encompassing vision that’s loud, hard-rocking, sometimes funky, frequently quite exploratory, and more adventurous than most repertory projects or tribute bands. They’re not actually trying to sound exactly like the original Lifetime, from any year or any album; they’re honoring the singular vision that flowed through all those albums by making the music new.

Phil Freeman

Buy the album from Amazon.

Watch their full concert from the 2012 North Sea Jazz Festival:

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