Jerry Garcia - Guitar, Vocals
Merl Saunders - Keyboards
John Kahn - Bass
Bill Vitt - Drums
Recorded: Live at Berkeley 1973
The companionship between R+B keyboardist Merl Saunders and Grateful Dead guitarists Jerry Garcia during the 1970’s is unlike anything a Grateful Dead fan would expect. Unlike multi lead and guitar intricacy of the Grateful Dead, Garcia and Saunders’ combination produces a sound based upon smooth rhythms and the genres of Merl Saunders. Sounds of Motown, Soul and Rhythm and Blues fill up this six track live album nicely, and very unexpectedly.
Saunders and Garcia are a rather unlikely pair. Other than obvious racial differences they come from a definite different background. While spent his years mastering the piano in areas of Jazz and Soul, only to collaborate with greats like Miles Davis and Frank Sinatra, a young Jerry Garcia was just completely focuses on playing Bluegrass and Folk. It isn’t usually the most likeliest happening when a Bluegrass/Rock banjo/guitarist collaborates with another who plays Motown. But none the less, Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders’ collaboration was an interesting change for fans, and needless to say furthed each musician more musically, then before.
Throughout the album, Saunders and Garcia are featured as the main attractions. However, they are backed up wonderfully by two names who are in no way ignorant to the Grateful Dead family. Bassist John and drummer Bill Vitt serve as a constant rhythm section for the two main attractions. Kahn has a quite a history with Jerry Garcia. Not only have the two been good friends for long amount of time, but Kahn has been featured on bass for various Garcia solo albums. The bassist had also played in the Jerry Garcia Band, as well as Old & In the Way - A traditional Bluegrass super group Garcia had formed. Like Kahn, drummer Bill Vitt had served some time helping out Garcia with the likes of Kahn, Tom Fogerty, as well as Saunders. Kahn and Vitt manage to provide a consistent rhythm section for Saunders and Garcia to solo over. Though there may be reasons to complain about the lead players or the solos, Kahn and Vitt manage to put themselves in a positional free from hurt.
Keystone Encores: Volume 1 does not contain a large amount of melodic and/or catchy songs and singing, but what it lacks in that are it makes up for instrumentally. Through the six tracks, Jerry Garcia owns much of the solo time, though Saunders does have his fair share of solos and interludes. Merl also manages to take the spotlight during the moments when Garcia lends his vocals, otherwise he simply makes himself a medium between the lead player and the rhythm section. Also, each player harmonizes very well. From the first track to the last, Saunders’ left hand is perfectly backing up Kahn and Vitt, who are supporting Mr. Garcia, while the keyboardist’s right hand is playing with Jerry. But it is the interesting key changes, rhythmic patterns, and complementing that makes each jam interesting. Space is never left open, and there is always one who each supports a players last lick or completely one ups him. Ultimately making the music instrumentally exciting, and not boring in the least bit.
Though Keystone Encores: Vol. 1 is of course mostly instrumentally satisfying, but there are a couple of catchy gems (as I said). The last two tracks would be those gems. Covers of “Money Honey” and “How Sweet It Is” would hopefully entertain Garcia fans who were more into the Pop side of the Grateful Dead. Each song displays catchy melodies song by Garcia, however unlike a Pop song, both clock over eight minutes. “Money Honey” is most likely a song every in the world has heard at least once. And “How Sweet It Is” is definitely not a rarity. Surprisingly enough, because of these two songs Keystone Encores: Vol. 1 is labeled “Pop” on the Itunes artist gallery.
This album is in no way a masterpiece, or even close in some areas, but it is a nice display of jamming and is most definitely a treat for a fan of the Grateful Dead or any related bands. Merl Saunders, Jerry Garcia, John Kahn and Bill Vitt really manage to put out a good all has more good than bad.