Violin wizardry in perfection: Sugar Cane’s fourth out of six MPS recording is a jaw-dropping masterpiece that shows the man with the blue fiddle at the zenith of his career, supported by some of the finest and most innovative musicians of Canned Heat, John Mayall, Rolling Stones and Herbie Hancock fame.
Imagine a time when it seemed almost naturally that a violin player stole the show for a guitar player or a drummer. There was a short period when it had become a real fashion to demonstrate your skills as a violinist in jazz and pop. Which all too often meant displaying classical scales and stereotypes and not creating an inventive sense of touch for the new context. Separating wheat from chaff, few players would be left in the basket in those early seventies days – among them surely one Jean-Luc Ponty (his MPS album “Open Strings” is re-issued simultaneously with “Cup Full Of Dreams” by promising music) and of course, Don “Sugar Cane” Harris.
If you are familiar with promising music’s MPS re-issues you could already witness the re-release of his “Sugar Cane`s Got The Blues” in 2008, a true gem that captured the man from Pasadena at his legendary concerts during the Berliner Jazztage in 1971. At that phase of his career, as Ralph Quinke pointed out in his original liner notes, there surely was “no other violin player able to mix rock, blues, country, folk and jazz elements with such a craft and feeling for the right dosage” as “Sugar Cane”. Now the candy man who within very few years rose to fame from his contribution to Frank Zappa’s Hot Rats album in 1969 (the other Hot Rats violin player being Jean-Luc Ponty) to international jazz stardom is back with the follow-up album, recorded in 1973 at the definitive height of his crazy career and with a completely different line-up surrounding his wood and bow.
Harris can be found here within an amazing collective of musicians, who called themselves Pure Food & Drug Act, and they all had or were about to experience multi-faceted collaborations. Note the double cast of both guitar and bass: Larry Taylor (b) and Harvey Mandel (g) had shared the ranks of Canned Heat, the latter would eventually contribute to the Rolling Stones album “Black and Blue” in 1976. Second bassist Victor Conte later went on to be a member of Tower and Power and the Herbie Hancock Monster Band while guitarist Randy Resnick, who developed an innovative hammering technique (which in turn influenced Mandel) and drummer Paul Lagos were buddies in several common bands, Lagos also having been part of John Mayall’s band together with Sugarcane. Not to forget keyboarder Dewey Terry, Harris’ long time “Don & Dewey” companion from his early days on.
The recording opens up with “Running Away” which is a wild and furious shuffle and sheds a fair share of what Resnick calls Harris’ “gut-wrenching rawness” into the listener’s ear, contrasted by the astonishing tapping technique from the electric guitar and lightful organ intermezzo. This is followed by a somewhat gloomy if not psychedelic interlude called “Hattie’s Bathtub”, Sugarcane piling his distorted violin phrases in several layers. A real blues rock jam “Bad Feet” has Harris treating his instrument like a monstrous mouth-harp with a wounded soul. Also the title track seems to be one big cry of 14 minutes culminating in an intense duo of violin and the Indian reed instrument shanai played by Resnick. “Generation of Vipers” again closes in a rocky mood with a striking riff that rests in your mind long after the disc is over. This recording may be nearly 40 years old but every listener will agree right away that Sugarcane`s fiddle is still on fire after all this time.
SUGAR CANE HARRIS – violin, vocals
DEWEY TERRY – keyboards, percussion
HARVEY MANDEL – guitar
RANDY RESNICK – guitar, shanaϊ
VICTOR CONTE Jr – bass, guitar
LARRY TAYLOR – bass, bass guitar
RICHARD APLAN – sax
PAUL LAGOS – drums
Album produced by DON HARRIS & JERRY FOX / Recorded in 1973
(originally) SIDE I
(originally) SIDE II