The liner notes to this album begin with: “Jimi Hendrix: Burning Desire is the ninth release in the Dagger Records authorized ‘bootleg’ recording series. Burning Desire represents compelling new examples of Jimi’s remarkable creative explorations through 1969 and early 1970.” Now I haven’t quoted this out of sheer laziness, it’s just that it pretty much sums things up rather more succinctly than having me blabbing on. However what I will say is that this album is for true believers only, definitely not for the novice or even mildly curious music fan. In other words don’t buy this for your old man on his birthday just because he once told you how much he loves Hendrix and owns a copy of Are You Experienced? Because if you do, he’ll probably think “what is this shit?”, before filing it away amongst that pile of other CDs he never listens to. But, for the hardcore tragic, and those who simply can’t live for longer than a week without turning on the stereo and reminding themselves of Jimi’s genius, it is a crucial and indispensible document of the guitarist’s brief tenure as greatest axe-man in the solar system.
Starting with a relatively loose instrumental run through of “Izabella” recorded in November 1969 with Buddy Miles (drums) and an unknown player on organ and piano, this version, although far from complete, reveals Hendrix’s funk/R&B side, aspects of his playing which had actually been there all along but were rarely explored on his earlier albums. Clearly that was all about to change once he began working with the Band of Gypsys, and this is one of the earliest indications of that new direction.
Next is a recording known as “Ezy Ryder/MLK”, a section of which originally found its way on 1975’s notorious Crash Landing album (produced by the divisive Alan Douglas). Longer versions have appeared on bootlegs as far back as the 1980’s, meaning that it’s not exactly all that brand new as far as any fanatic will tell you. The entire jam lasts for a fraction over 20 minutes (although it would appear that the beginning of the tape has gone walkabout), and is absolutely monumental in scale and authority. Buddy Miles sounds like he’s attempting to pound his way through the Earth’s upper mantle, while Billy Cox provides solid support on bass. But it’s Hendrix himself who everyone’s paid to hear perform, and let me say he is absolutely stunning throughout, and the longer it goes on the more rabbits he keeps pulling out of his hat. “Ezy Ryder/MLK” remains a brilliant example of Jimi’s remarkable ability to generate new ideas seemingly at random and at an almost inexhaustible rate.
“Cherokee Mist/Astro Man” originates from a January 1970 recording session in New York with The Band of Gypsys, and while it is obviously nothing but a rough draft, it’s an intriguing sketch all the same. Next is another impressive jam titled “Record Plant 2X” (as was written on the tape box), and it’s a scorcher. Alas the entire original recording has been split on this release into three shorter sections, which might be better for less patient listeners, but for anyone who cares, the original jam in all its 27 minutes of uninterrupted glory is the best, and can be heard on the By Night – The Blues Album Outtakes bootleg (which I will not be reviewing any time soon by the way). As I intimated earlier, even in truncated form, this one’s a whopper, at least in terms of Jimi’s instrumental prowess. I reckon there’d be more than a few guitarists out there who’d happily give their right testicle to possess the same level of skill and imagination exhibited here.
“Villanova Junction Blues” is actually the first part of the jam previously mentioned. The original recording had a bongo player present, but his contributions appear to have been mixed out on the version presented here. From the same January session we have another unfinished gem in “Burning Desire”, a funk-rock number Jimi never got around to completing, or perhaps might never have even if he had of lived to be a hundred. I’ve written about this song before, so there’s not much more I can add other than while the song’s structure can be complex at times, it probably doesn’t really quite gel (at least with me) in the same way his other new songs do.
The last two tracks are intriguing but hardly going to set the world on fire. “Stepping Stone/Villanova Junction Blues” starts off with a flamenco passage before Jimi briefly explores a few different songs, namely “Stepping Stone”, as well as “Calling All Devil’s Children” and Ezy Ryder”. He then slows things down with the beautiful “Villanova Junction…”. The last track “Slow Time Blues” is exactly that, a nice funky easy-going instrumental and is the final piece of the “Record Plant 2X” jam. Unfortunately it fades out but there’s probably a good reason for that.
What this superb collection makes clear is Hendrix’s rapid development as a musician. How many guitarists nowadays could go from “Foxy Lady” to something like “Ezy Ryder” in the space of three years? And as I said previously, unless one is already a dedicated member of the party faithful, then this is not for you, which explains why you won’t see this album in the shops (it can only be purchased online at the official Experience Hendrix website).
While the majority of these sessions could already be heard on an assortment of bootlegs over the years (more often than not in imperfect sound), here the quality is excellent throughout, almost too good considering the age of the tapes, meaning that for the serious Hendrix addict, Burning Desire is as essential as H2O.