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Who is Spectrum Road?
The short answer is this: Spectrum Road is an all-star quartet assembled to celebrate and pay tribute to the music of The Tony Williams Lifetime. The Lifetime, assembled by legendary drummer Tony Williams in 1969, performed a unique blend of jazz, rock and funk, and also traveled into the free jazz world heard on many recordings of that era.
And now, a bit more context.
Spectrum Road features four outstanding musicians: bassist Jack Bruce, a founding member of rock trio Cream, and a member of the original Lifetime; drummer Cindy Blackman Santana, who has played with many of the top rock and jazz artists around the world, and who studied drums with Tony Williams; guitarist Vernon Reid, best known as the founder of the funk-punk-rock group Living Colour; and John Medeski, one-third of acclaimed trio Medeski Martin & Wood, but well-establised also as a soloist and band member in the improvised, gospel, funk and R&B scenes. The band was assembled in 2008 as a tribute to The Lifetime, but has merged into something more - original tunes now fill out the set; the quartet now takes inspiration from - as opposed to playing the music of - The Lifetime.
I figured a listen to the original Lifetime might help set the stage for clips of Spectrum Road. It's tough to find high quality video online for Lifetime, so here's an audio clip:
When Spectrum Road gets together, they aim to duplicate the mix of jazz, funk and rock, as well as the mix of "inside" and "outside" playing - the general "loosey-gooseyness" that made the original Lifetime so interesting. Here's a clip now of Spectrum Road, recorded live in Tokyo in 2008:
To say this is a high-energy group is a bit of an understatement! The playing is top-notch, but I also like the unpredictability - we're cruising along with a wailing guitar solo when, out of nowhere, here comes John Medeski with a free organ solo. This next sample is another example of the unpredictable nature of the music: the tune starts off in a fairly groovy pocket, moves into rock ballad territory, then about halfway through (right at 3:30) we hit a funky break. We also get to hear a bit more from John Medeski on this track. Check it out:
When Spectrum Road takes the stage, we're guaranteed a high-energy, high-caliber show, beginning to end. With these four musicians, I wouldn't expect anything less.
P.S. - Here's an extended video of the 2008 Spectrum Road show from the Blue Note in Tokyo: