"The Whiskey Mountain Sessions" by the instrumental jam band Hillmen, is the second release from the independent label Firepool Records up for review, featuring the music of Djam Karet and their many side projects. But unlike "Dream Theory In The IE" from Mike Henderson and Chuck Oken Jr. - in which the music on the album is an extension of their work on Djam Karet - fellow band mates Gayle Ellett and Mike Murray take their side project in an entirely different direction, abandoning the adventurous progressive rock sound associated with Djam Karet in favor of jazz fusion, and a Psychedelic rock sound associated with the San Francisco bands of the 60s' and 70s' who frequented Bill Graham's Filmore East & West.
The four improvisational tracks have more in common with bands like The Grateful Dead, Santana, Quicksilver Messenger Service, The Alman Brothers, and The Flying Burrito Brothers than Djam Karet - or any progressive rock band for that matter. Which is kind of ironic, since a background search for the band The Hillmen lead me to a 1960s' Southern California bluegrass band featuring Chris Hillman who went on to perform with The Byrds, Manassas, The Southland Hillman Furay Band, and the fore mentioned The Flying Burrito Brothers.
First off, let me state for the record that I'm not a fan of jam bands, which is why I had a difficult time establishing a connection with the album. It's not at all what I expected from members of Djam Karet even though much of what they do is in fact experimental and improvisational. But after the initial wave of disappointment washed over me I was more inclined to absorb and appreciate the music after a few more spins.
Free Improvisation can be a suicidal endeavor for the uninitiated. But talented musicians like Peter Hillman (drums), Gayle Ellett (Hammond C-2 organ and Fender Rhodes electric piano), Mike Murray (vintage guitars and amps), Ralph Rivers (bass), and guest musicians Steve Re (bass) and Brian Carter (acoustic piano) who make up Hillmen react as a symbiotic Borg-like mind collective, each member intuitively anticipating and reacting to structural changes in mood and texture in a seamless transition. Less talented bands can find themselves quickly painted into a corner with no means of escape if one members abruptly shift gears leaving his hapless band mates to slog through the cacophony of chaos. But decades of camaraderie and musical compatibility between Ellett and Murray has Hillmen performing like a well oiled machine.
My greatest challenge when listening to "The Whiskey Mountain Sessions" - or any improvisational jam band for that matter - is the repetitive nature of the music. A nine or ten minute track can go on-and-on repeating the same chord progression and back beat with minimal variation as guitar and keyboard alternately swap extended solos.
Maybe the problem lies within me ... adult onset A.D.D. But I bore easily. Which is why my genre of choice is progressive rock - a genre known for the complex nature of the music and the element of surprise which I find sadly lacking in most jam band music. That said, fans of Santana, The Grateful Dead, and the Psychedelic music of 60s' and 70s' should find this to their liking.
Reviewed by Joseph Shingler on December 18th, 2011