Tommy Bolin: The Definitive Teaser Collector

Just as there was much more than meets the eye to Tommy Bolin, so is there much more than meets the eye to The Definitive Teaser Collector’s Edition. Enclosed in a slipcase of distinctly budget design, the five CDs within reaffirm why the late guitarist is so rabidly revered to this day, close to four decades after his most untimely death.

The first solo album of the two in the late guitarist’s truncated discography provides a much more graphic depiction of his eclectic reach than its successor, the more conventional Private Eyes. Having emerged from his Boulder, Colorado home base, where he played with Zephyr, then Energy, Tommy Bolin had made a name for himself prior to going solo by accompanying fusion firebrand drummers Billy Cobham (Spectrum) and Alphonse Mouzon (Mind Transplant) before becoming the second replacement for Joe Walsh in The James Gang (on Bang and Miami), then moving on to replace (with style and panache aplenty) founding member/guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, in Deep Purple, for a single album (Come Taste the Band) and world tour.

The first three discs of The Definitive Teaser contain a remastered edition of the original album’s nine tracks plus two more CDs of outtakes produced for reissue, like Teaser itself, from the original master tapes. Almost equally illuminating is a star-studded tribute to Bolin, Great Gypsy Soul, in which musicians play within pre-recorded Teaser tracks and create their own original music, inspired by the material on the album creating what may be the ultimate ‘What if?…” concept album.

Teaser, and Tommy Bolin’s talent in itself, resonates more deeply now than at the time of its original release. Bolin’s startling combination of precision and abandon as a guitarist belies his winsome singing voice, precluding clichéd emotionalism on both fronts. As a songwriter, Tommy Bolin didn’t rely solely on riffs, but when he used them, as on "Homeward Strut,” the body of the tune functions on a funked-up rhythm guitar, accented by clavinet, that contrasts vividly with the swooping slide lead figure. The nine tracks run the gamut from fiery jazz-rock instrumentals such as "Marching Powder" to potent power ballads such as "Dreamer" and a star-studded roster of accompanists is equally diverse, including label-mate and keyboardist Jan Hammer (who had just finished his run with The Mahavishnu Orchestra) and saxophonist David Sanborn (at the outset of his solo career): rather than perform merely as sidemen, however, the various lineups cook like seasoned bands, a tribute to Bolin’s presence as a bandleader.
Teaser- Outtakes/Disc 2
Modified versions of Teaser tracks are interwoven here and on a third disc, with a half-dozen cuts that did not appear on the final track sequence of the album as it was officially released. The total of eleven titles divided between the two CDs suggest why the album carries considerable weight even today: it is the end result of careful production of multiple ideas most of which appear in slightly, but crucially different, contexts and formats on Teaser. An alternate take of the title cut, in its alternate form, for instance, is a much more conventional rock arrangement, listenable on its own terms, but hardly radiating the brilliant dynamics of the more familiar recording. "Crazed Fandango" only furthers that impression as saxophonist David Sanborn’s extended solo sets the stage for a subdued spotlight for Bolin where he displays an uncommon dexterity.

Teaser: Outtakes/Disc 3

As on the most expertly produced albums, there’s logic to the track sequencing of the two additional Teaser discs. For instance, the insertion of the breezy shuffle-derived "Chameleon" immediately following the sustained frenetics of "Wild Dogs" is ideal pacing, as well-conceived and executed as Bolin’s blend of the jazz and blues roots he so effectively transcended in his guitar playing.  Alternating the familiarity of previously-released tracks with outtakes ultimately makes the listening experience satisfying on more than just an academic level: not only does the material on these two discs, in the form of cuts like “Smooth Fandango” and “Marching Powder,” illustrate the fine line(s) Bolin walked in terms of style, they pack a considerable wallop in terms of pure musical dynamics as well.

Great Gypsy Soul
Also available separately from this boxed set, this double-disc compilation of tracks, co-produced by Warren Haynes, the leader of Gov’t Mule and erstwhile Allman Brother, features a roster of guitarists and singers offering an unusual exercise in homage: they play and sing along with outtakes from Teaser, alone and in combination with other musicians overdubbing their parts. As suspect as this might sound, a sentiment echoed by Haynes in his accompanying essay, it works: Peter Frampton issues a take on "The Grind" that recalls his stomping days with Humble Pie, jazzmeister John Scofield exquisitely places "Savannah Woman" squarely in the ballad territory of his most recent solo work and Derek Trucks, true to his distinct personality, utilizes his exquisite touch within the spacious likes of "Smooth Fandango." Tommy Bolin’s former bandmate in Deep Purple, Glenn Hughes, adds some irksome caterwauling to "Lotus," but that track otherwise radiates an appropriate finality as the last track of Great Gypsy Soul.

Great Gypsy Soul-Bonus Disc
This ‘bonus’ disc might well take precedence over its namesake. Following the appropriately-titled Teaser outtake "Flying Fingers," which lays out the concept of this tribute–the statement of a musical motif, upon which the rotating roster jams with remarkable acuity and discipline—“Marching Bag” is a tour-de-force, no more no less. A set of largely improvised, original instrumentals based on Bolin’s own recordings, the likes of Nels Cline (Wilco), Brad Whitford (Aerosmith), Steve Morse (Dixie Dregs, Deep Purple) and Joe Bonamassa (Black Country Communion), among other equally facile but less well-known axe-men such as Oz Noy, create a stylishly-executed four-movement twenty-minute piece, the sum effect of which is the ever so palpable suggestion that, had he survived the bad habits that resulted in his untimely demise at just twenty-five years old, Tommy Bolin could well have put out a creditable jazz-rock fusion album of his own if he chose to confound the marketplace and/or musical dilettantes familiar only with the streamlined likes of his second solo record in 1976.

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