Electric Hot Tuna: Jormas 70th Birthday Celebration

A constant stream of guest musicians, planned or spontaneous, usually doesn’t lend itself to generating any discernible momentum during a concert as each successive unit invariably begins to gather individual steam with the entrance of a new player. At least on this DVD, Jorma’s 70th Birthday Celebration avoids that drawback largely because the solidity of the core band has continuity in line with its repertoire.

The players that sit in with guitarist Kaukonen include long-time comrade bassist Jack Casady, multi-instrumentalist Berry Mitterhoff and drummer Skoota Warner, along with  former collaborators of Kaukonen’s during his solo career: keyboardist Pete Sears and guitarist vocalist Michael Falzarano on "Baby What You Want Me to Do." Drummer Bob Steeler manned the drums for Tuna during its ‘metal period’ in the Seventies, so it’s little surprise he is a veritable constant on "Walkin’ Blues" and "Bowlegged Woman Knock Kneed Man.” Jefferson Airplane peer Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead pops up here too, not all that surprisingly given his California roots, but also because of his well-documented fondness for blues like those two cuts.

The ensembles in various forms reminds of of the warmth and durability of those tunes in particular and the blues genre in general, while true fireworks appear when bonafide improvisationalists in the form of multi-instrumentalist Larry Campbell and ABB/Mule lynchpin Warren Haynes show up on "Come Back Baby." The former’s presence on violin hearkens back to Papa John Creach’s contributions to the earliest electric Tuna, while the latter, playing slide, engages in some dueling with Kaukonen, which in turn dovetails with the bowed instrument.

In addition to this litany of sit-ins, there’s just enough choice Hot Tuna on its own to make the package complete. "I See the Light" is one of Kaukonen’s signature compositions and makes a splendid intro to the music to follow in this disc. As usual, "Water Song," is an ever-so-memorable rendering of an exquisite melody, made all the more vivid by dint of Casady’s electric bass work as it plays off the double bass textures of Byron House; his instrument in turn meshes with Kaukonen’s own acoustic instrument.
Some faux video effects, during the segments in which Allman Brothers’ bassist Oteil Burbridge appears, distract and detract from a performance that takes place on an otherwise no-frills stage. A quarter-hour of bonus footage is included here, yet the brief segment where Kaukonen and Casady talk about the recording of the most recent Hot Tuna studio work, Steady As She Goes, is a non sequitur: it doesn’t lead into any discussion of how Jorma’s 70th Birthday Celebration was conceived and executed. If that had happened, this milestone would’ve been documented both stylishly and completely.

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