People, Hell & Angels: The Progression of Jimi Hendrix

Posthumous albums maintain a paradoxical relationship to critical acclaim. In this noble pursuit (the act of exposing others to new sounds) it would seem as if these purveyors of art would be in the proper position to deliver something wholly dynamic. Herein lies the problem:

In presenting this work, you do so without the actual artist—an obvious, but significant point. An album without the artist is a body without the head; there is no direction and very little purpose. Abstractly, we’re left with these well-intentioned pieces of blasphemy. More specifically, we’re left with people “finishing” Michael Jackson vocals or Cornell Haynes, Jr. dropping a verse next to Christopher Wallace. Imagine someone painting a sweater onto a crucifix because they think Jesus looks “chilly.” It’s all very admirable, but wildly inappropriate. When handled properly, however, these albums can have an invaluable appeal.

This is what crosses my mind as I listen to the recently released Jimi Hendrix project, People, Hell & Angels. On a very basic level, this album can be understood as a collection of unreleased material recorded between March 1968 and August 1970. What it is not–and this is important—is a focused and fully actualized endeavor. The songs are most likely unfinished compositions. And considering Hendrix legal freedom, there is a fairly high possibility that they came from sessions booked with no actual end goal. Like I said, these sorts of undertakings are done so without the guidance of the pilot. And that’s significant when attempting to situate this album around any sort of sound critique.

People, Hell & Angels lives in a space far outside the realm of typical discussion. It just doesn’t work that way. This is a hodgepodge of recordings, built around a period of time in the life of Jimi Hendrix. Nothing more. The worth of this album—and I hesitate to even call it that—goes far beyond the standard appreciation we all have for quality music. This is a history book in D major. People, Hell & Angels is a crystal ball telling the story of what could have been, but never was.

To understand People, Hell & Angels, you must first understand Electric Ladyland. Even a superficial listen to the 1968 classic will make you fall in love. This was Hendrix showcasing his unbridled style of genius. There wasn’t necessarily a specific genre at play as much as an eclectic approach to American music. Take for example a comparison of “Voodoo Chile” and “Voodoo Child (Slight Return).” The former begat the latter and yet the two have drastically different sonic trajectories. “Voodoo Chile” clocks in at slightly over fifteen minutes. It’s basically an old school jam session. And if we’re being even more specific, “Voodoo Chile” is the blues. Drawling organs, effervescent storytelling, overdriven guitar sounds—it’s all there.

On the other hand, “Voodoo Child (Slight Return),” while structurally built atop a blues framework, carries hard rock aggression with the solo virtuosity of acid rock. We are taken two completely different places from the exact same starting point. That’s Electric Ladyland.

What we get from People, Hell & Angels is a continuation of the story. It tells us where Jimi was going. And what we’ve learned can be best described as “everything and absolutely nothing.” If these songs were to be further developed into the follow-up to Electric Ladyland, it’s pretty obvious that Hendrix had no intentions of confining his sound.

Early on in the album, we get the sonic equivalent of tripping the lights fantastic courtesy of “Somewhere.” It’s a heroin track in 1970s New York. The psychedelic groove should be betrayed by the boisterous timbre of Hendrix dominant guitar play, but somehow it works. Each moment of wistful bliss is coupled with an instrumental intensity, reflecting a proper journey through an engagement of illegalities. We’ve gotten this sort of recording from Hendrix in the past and yet it still seems incredibly fresh.
Jimi Hendrix – Somewhere “Bleeding Heart” captures a slow death. The opening guitar solo seems to drag along as if it’s got nowhere to be. Nearly a minute and a half into the recording, Hendrix begins to spill his soul.

“No letter today…mot even a call on my telephone…”

What the lyrics lack in depth, they make up for in sincerity. But there is simply no greater cry than that of a wailing guitar and Jimi knows how to emote. Like “Voodoo Chile,” this is the blues.
Jimi Hendrix – Bleeding Heart And then there was “Mojo Man.” People rarely situate his music within the Black American paradigm. Despite this, it was a cultural tradition that, perhaps he more than most, appreciated. Recorded with the “Ghetto Fighters” this is one of the funkiest songs, Hendrix has ever done. But it’s still Jimi. Strong horn play is one of the great signifiers of funk music. However, the entire notion is complicated by the presence of Hendrix and his guitar. “Mojo Man” conjures in me the same feelings I had when I was first introduced to Funkadelic’s “Super Stupid.” I couldn’t quite classify it, but I knew it was a member of the Black American music lineage. Word to Nicholas Payton. This was just another side of Jimi Hendrix.
Jimi Hendrix – Mojo Man To be honest, many, if not most of these posthumous albums are a means to tap the egregiously high commercial value found in whoring out expired artists. Today, I’m feeling less cynical, because sometimes you get something like this. People, Hell & Angels is an incoherent album. It’s as simple as that. However, that’s not where we find the project’s worth. Had Jimi Hendrix lived past the age of 27, I believe he would have continued to infuse his popular rock sound with the other authentically American music tropes. Could we have seen a Miles Davis x Jimi Hendrix collaboration live at Montreux? Perhaps. We’ll never truly know, but we can certainly speculate. And that’s what People, Hell & Angels really is. This is exhibit A in our self-indulgent journey to know the unknown. The world lost Jimi far too early; this album eases the pain, while providing a semblance of closure. We needed it.

Written By: Paul Pennington
jimi hendrix vinyl frontier

Donald Byrd – A Personal Retrospective

My earliest memories begin in the backseat of a ’92 Camry. It was in my mother’s car that I was introduced to music.

Before Jay-Z, before the radio, before MTV, before anything else modern, I listened to what she did and that began with Donald Byrd.

It annoyed me, because even at a young age, I wanted to be defiant. I wanted to rage against the parental machine. Listening to the same music as your mother is textbook lame and I hated myself for succumbing to her infectious tastes. So, I decided to hide.

Conjuring Fitzgeraldian nightmares of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg or perhaps even Big Brother, itself, a pair of bright, attentive eyes met mine. Rear-view mirrors are a child’s worst enemy. Their watchtower-like construction required of me a new level of stealth. And just like that, I was discreetly nestled behind the driver’s seat, quietly mastering my greatest gift—the air trumpet. Despite my fears, I knew this much: You can’t just plaaaaay the air trumpet; you’ve got to really PLAY the air trumpet. So, at the tender age of nine, I choreographed a flawless set of movements to accompany my imaginary virtuosic displays. Even in the reduced confines of my leather-bound stage, I articulated every note with an orchestrated dip and an exaggerated sway. I was effortlessly cool. I was Donald Byrd. I was a legend in my own mind. Ask about me.

Donald Byrd – Change – Makes You Want To Hustle

Now it may sound strange – a nine year old kid, inconspicuously spazzing out to an old jazz-funk fusion record on the backseat of his mother’s car. Ironically, it made even more sense to me. I appreciated the music of my generation, I really did, but it didn’t make me feel the same. This was different.

As a teenager, I came to terms with it all and accepted myself for who I was. I did, however, find myself occasionally justifying this ardent stannery vis–à–vis a burgeoning appreciation for hip-hop’s primary sources.

“Nah, see…I was riding out to that Wiz, you know? Just doin’ me. But then I had…um…I had put this on by accident. It’s straight doe, cuz…like…it’s the same song. Nahmean?”

Blackbyrds – Mysterious Vibes
Wiz Khalifa – Ink My Whole Body

It’s funny thinking about all of this now, because as we speak I’m going through my mother’s old crates, exploring dusty vinyls from the Donald Byrd back catalogue. Life always comes full circle.

City Life

Donald Byrd has passed away and we will hear endless conversations about his achievements—countless degrees, years upon years educating the children, and a discography that shaped the entire platform of hip-hop. But honestly, I’m not interested in any of that right now. This one feels a bit more personal.

And let’s be clear. I never met Donald. I was never in the Blackbyrds (Wikipedia won’t acknowledge my contributions to the Complete Car Sessions, recorded from ’97-’99). And I never even got to catch him live. But when my mom put me in that backseat, she drove me to school and Donald Byrd was my first teacher.

I don’t mean to suffocate you with melodramatic wordplay. I, too, recognize the possibly overbearing sentimentality of my prose, but that doesn’t make these words any less true. Donald Byrd meant more to me than just about any artist of my own time. Through his art, I found the critical framework for my overarching theses on organized sound. He is the reason I value, above all, the Roots, Robert Glasper, and any other musician that defies traditional archetypes.

But I’ll save that discussion for another day. Right now, I just say thanks to Donaldson Toussaint L’Ouverture Byrd II. You will be missed.

Written By: Paul Pennington

Lonnie Liston Smith / Curren$y – A Song of Love / 2Much (1976 / 2012)

Curren$y teaches us a lesson on the importance of Lonnie Liston Smith with his newest mixtape, Priest Andretti.

Marvin Gaye – Here, My Dear (1978)

With the recent release of Nasir’s open letter to Kelis, let’s take a look back at the original black king scorned.

Johnny Hammond – Gears (1975) (Audio)

Although the record cover doesn’t look the part, this album is filled with samples by contemporary artists, and it is brought to you by the great organists Johnny Hammond.

Cymande – Second Time Around (1973) (Audio)

This band may go overlooked when it comes to the genre of fusion, but they should definitely be on top of everyones list.

Wonway – Makossa Classics Vol. 2 (Mixtape) (Download) (2011)

Bay Area native and Roy Ayers Project contributer Wonway has many talents, one of which he displays on his latest mixtapes entitled Makossa Classics vol. 2.

Lalo Schifrin – Towering Toccata (1977)

The epitome of Disco and Funk fusion is Lalo Schifrin’s 1977 album Towering Toccata.