Esoteric Recordings may just have achieved the closest to the impossible dream for aficionados of Tony Williams’ Lifetime, who have shared a lifetime (I thank you) of pain and suffering expressed by John McLaughlin, in particular, about the band’s rough dealings at the hands of Williams’ management at the time, who were unable to clinch that all important recording deal, the one which eventually fell to producer Alan Douglas. Previously though,
Miles asked me to join his group. Again, it was unbelievable for me. Imagine-I had to turn down Miles! Because it was more important for me to go with Tony Williams. I had compositions. And I realized, with Tony I would have more of a chance to play them than with Miles. Eventually, ‘Lifetime’, our band with Tony Williams and Larry Young, was working. There was very little money involved, but musically, it was fantastic, and we couldn’t believe that Columbia was turning us down. We played an audition for a guy called Al Kooper who was with Blood, Sweat & Tears. And he said no. I lost all my respect for him immediately because we were burning. [John McLaughlin, Jazz Times May 1982]
there were some bad things going down with Tony’s management. I was being pressured to sign with them and I didn’t like it. And then there was the way they were handling Lifetime. I think Lifetime could have been out there, especially with names like Tony Williams and Jack Bruce. I mean, at the time, nobody knew Larry and me. With Jack and Tony we had some weight. But they were sending us to high school gyms and ridiculously obscure dates. Just absurd. [John McLaughlin, Down Beat June 1978]
Notable, and as a consequences of Lifetime’s trawl of second-rate venues, McLaughlin’s previous project also recorded under the auspice of Douglas, also suffered:
I’ll never forget my first experience with Douglas Records. I met the man and I thought he’s a real nice guy. But the first record I made for him-‘Devotion’, with Buddy Miles on drums and Larry Young on organ-was a terrible experience. After I recorded it, I went on tour with Tony Williams, and when I came back, he had finished the album, mixed it, cut this out and that, and there were parts in it which I didn’t recognize any more as part of our music. I was in total shock [John McLaughlin, Jazz Times May 1982]
However, at last, with Esoteric’s remastering of Emergency and Turn It Over, perhaps for the first time ever, you can actually hear the polyrhythmic layers and interpersonal dynamics that must have been intended by the group, but about the lack of which they were enormously frustrated and embittered upon hearing their recorded music.
The task could not have been easy: at the time, here were three, then for the second album, four, musicians of incredible calibre, wishing to make an insurmountable heap of high-energy grungy, dirty music. The master-tapes were likely rough and an impenetrable morass of indiscernible subtleties. No wonder the band were mortified!
Most manifest, I’m pleased to say, is in clearing the air, mainly in the upper middle register, John McLaughlin’s comping immediately shines through the previous muddy mix. in fact, he is suddenly launched into the fore, centre stage. The overall effect is a far clearer and targeted message.
Reaching the second album, the clarity now allows the listener to better appreciate the skill Jack Bruce, the new band member, brings in maintaining the existing communication, sidestepping and underpinning expertly to augment what is already there, and adding a heavy bottom-end to release Larry Young’s organ into the upper register. McLaughlin was quick to recognise Bruce’s dexterity,
Lifetime had existed for a year as a trio. Then Jack Bruce came into town for a gig. We spoke on the phone and I asked him to come down to the session because Lifetime was making a record. He came down and he thought it was the world’s greatest band. That was my opinion also. Anyway, he played and tried to fit in. We were a very tight trio. We’d been working together for a year. So bass guitar was hard to fit in. But Jack fit, and Tony asked him to join the group. He did and we stayed together another year and the music was phenomenal. [John McLaughlin, Down Beat June 1978]
The remastered result on both cuts is a breath of fresh air blowing through the cloying cobwebs that have plagued these recordings.