Review Summary: Occasionally overlooked, but undeniably one of the most significant efforts that helped take Jazz music to the next level.
Is it Jazz or is it Rock" This was undoubtedly the question on the mind of every listener when first venturing into the content of Emergency!
. The music is centered around the soloistic spontaneity of Jazz music, but features absolutely no wind instruments which were once considered essential instruments of the genre. In fact, during the time of its release, the album was virtually a pariah. The Jazz community completely repudiated The Tony Williams Lifetime altogether, as no one considered the group was doing anything revolutionary. But the album's heretical nature served to be a catalyst that would inspire the musical styles of several future Jazz Fusion acts.
As we descend into "Emergency"
, Tony Williams erupts out of silence and deploys a bombastic and eccentrically complex drumming style. Larry Young and John McLaughlin then ornament his atypical percussive rhythms with their respective organ and guitar arrangements. John McLaughlin soon asserts the spotlight as he indulges into his own exploratory solos, while the other instruments provide a rambunctious backing section for his performances. This being highly unorthodox at the time as electric guitars were never featured as dominant instruments in Jazz, but there lies the charismatic allure of the album. It is the electrifying synergy of John McLaughlin and Tony Williams that makes Emergency! such an impetuous release of adrenaline. Exhibiting the energetic musicianship that would later be defined as the inveterate nature of Jazz Fusion. "Something Special"
and "Via The Spectrum Road"
show the group embracing the conventions of rock music so intimately, that it is arguable as to whether the Jazz influences are even present. For example, "Via The Spectrum Road"
, displays a variety of musical characteristics that are synonymous with rock music. There is a coalescence of electric and acoustic guitar playing that express a very subtle blues tone. The song, as well as several others in the album, even feature prominent singing. The orchestral arrangements of "Via The Spectrum Road"
are also furnished to compliment Tony Williams' singing, while almost completely ignoring the instrumental vitality and improvised spontaneity that is the core essence of Jazz.
The nature of Emergency! is merely a reflection of its time. Rock music was dominating the sound of the late 1960's, and artists were expanding the conventions of traditional musical orchestration and exploring new dimensions as Psychedelia grew in prominence. Segregation had long been abolished in the United States, while promoting equality between racial classes. New ideologies were flowing throughout the western world, as hedonistic lifestyles and eastern philosophies were replacing the Christian fundamentals that once embodied the social norms and morals of society. In other words, it was a time to experiment and leave old traditions behind. An attitude that would influence artists to direct their music into more abstract routes. "Where"
alludes the embrace of new philosophies, and serves as a prime example of the group's innovative style. It posses many different compositional movements, from exuding psychedelic ambiences to explosive musicianship. John McLaughlin and Larry Young also deploy some elaborate effects on their respective instruments that add a sense of cosmic dissonance to the music. This is one of the first Jazz albums to incorporate electrical atmospheric textures, along with Miles Davis' In A Silent Way
which was released earlier that year.
But Emergency! tends to shine its brightest when the group devises a frantic style of playing, and that is what makes "Vashkar"
such impeccable performances. From Tony Williams' dynamic and sensuously bombarding percussive rhythms to John McLaughlin's exhilarating solos. both songs are moments of suspense filled with convoluted and utterly maniacal instrumentation. This is the album that turned the Jazz world upside down, and established a whole new approach to the genre. Emergency! is the template that all future Jazz Fusion acts would soon follow, mirroring its hyperactive and assiduous display of musicianship. This album is perhaps the most free we will see John McLaughlin perform until his work with The Mahavishnu Orchestra. Because of the album's prominent rock leanings, his guitar playing is much more spirited and aggressive, providing a truly captivating performance on his part. I cannot express how truly ingenious this album is. It is a performance that no mere words can even begin to do it justice, it has to be experienced to honestly fathom its imaginative and deranged brilliance.