Sandy Bull, who died in 2001 at the age of 60, was part of the early blues/folk scene of the early 60s, friends with Dylan, Joan Baez and both Roger and Jim McGuinn. His own guitar and banjo style was quite distinct, featuring improvisation dubbed "psychedelic folk" by critics. This CD spans the years from 1963-1972. Includes the epic 21 minute 'Blend' recorded in one take with jazz drummer Billy Higgins.
For those who treasure the byways as much as the highways of American music, Sandy Bull is a unique talent. Though this wonderful retrospective of his early Vanguard recordings refers in the sleevenotes to his ongoing career, Sandy sadly died in 2001, just after the original liner was penned.
In most people's minds (those who are lucky enough to have heard of him anyway), Sandy is synonymous with the oud (the Arab lute) and the kind of whacky, left-field fusions more often found in the repertoire of such bands as the Fugs and performers like Eugene Chadbourne. With the exception here of Carnival Jump, on which his oud and 'spare change' is accompanied by the avant-garde drumming of Dennis Charles, all the selections are either vehicles for Sandy's 5-string banjo (Carmina Burana Fantasy, Little Maggie and Triple Ballade) or various guitars (Martin or Stratocaster but sometimes doubling up on Gibson bass).
Though Carnival Jump comes from 1972, all the other tunes included are either from 1963 or '65 and they precede the 'hippie' era by a couple of years. Their influence on the musicians of that later scene is obvious - the stratocaster licks and amplifier distortion on 1963's Gospel Ship would have been perfectly at home in any of the San Francisco bands of the late 60s. The percussion chores are handled by two of the finest avant-garde jazz drummers - Billy Higgins (fresh from his work with Ornette Coleman) and Dennis Charles. These drums'n'guitar pieces predict much of what has been done subsequently by such improvisers as Derek Bailey, though Bull holds to a more melodically folksy structure than the latter. This CD is a timely reminder of a fearless and distinctive musical voyager.
By John Crosby