In 1970, this quintet – with a pre-Weather Report Joe Zawinul on keys, who was also moonlighting on Miles Davis studio sessions during the same timeframe – was catching the ear of both jazz and rock audiences with their spontaneous plugged-in grooves and charismatic stage presence of their leader, Julian ‘Cannonball’ Adderley. Originally a sprawling double live album produced by David Axelrod and released on Capitol, ‘The Price You Got To Pay To Be Free’ with its collision of styles (hard bop, soul-jazz, folk-blues and funky fusion) perfectly encapsulates Cannonball’s freewheeling eclecticism during this fertile period.
The set was recorded at the 1970 Monterey Jazz Festival (a portion of their performance was also filmed by director/actor Clint Eastwood and appeared in his 1971 thriller, Play Misty For Me) and features twenty songs, the best of which are three examples of cutting-edge avant-fusion penned by Joe Zawinul: namely, ‘Rumplestiltskin,’ ‘Painted Desert,’ and a short rendition of his seminal tune, ‘Directions,’ a song that Miles Davis frequently opened his live shows with in the late ’60s and early ’70s. In acute contrast, the title song is a gospel-influenced protest song featuring Cannonball’s nephew, Nat Adderley Jr (his father and Cannonball’s younger brother, Nat Adderley Sr, also plays cornet in the band) and stylistically it’s reminiscent of Gene McDaniels’ work from the same period. There are also some quieter pieces (like the lovely ‘Some Time Ago’) spotlighting Cannonball’s saxophone work as well as vocal ballads (‘Lonesome Stranger’), rootsy guitar-led R&B grooves with vocals (‘Down In Black Bottom’) and exploratory, almost avant-garde excursions (‘1-2-3-Go-O-O-O!’). Uniting these seemingly disparate musical threads is Cannonball, himself, whose charisma, erudition and droll humour comes across in his spoken introductions. There’s a lot to digest and it’s a bit patchy but it captures the saxophonist’s band at a fascinating juncture in its evolution.
Also making its debut on CD and available separately is another live Cannonball album, ‘Music, You All,’ which was released posthumously, a year after the saxophonist’s death, in 1976. It was recorded back in 1971 at LA’s Troubadour venue and is actually comprised of leftovers from that year’s ‘Black Messiah’ LP, which was reissued for the first time by Dusty Groove/Real Gone in 2014. By that time, Joe Zawinul, who had been such a crucial component of Cannon’s band for almost ten years, had left to form Weather Report. He was replaced by another keyboard wizard, George Duke, who appears on ‘Music, You All,’ playing Fender Rhodes. But Zawinul’s legacy to the band is heard on the wonderful version of the soul-jazz tune he co-wrote, ‘Walk Tall,’ arguably the highlight of a more concise and better-focused album than ‘The Price…’ Nevertheless, these two reissue are great news for Cannonball fans.