Average White Band – Live at Montreux 1977 (2011)

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Improperly named, the Average White Band was anything but. First off, one of the rhythm guys, at least by this point, wasn’t white. Second, and this is far more important, they funked it up with a vigor and style that would never be confused with average.

Initially formed in the late 1960s by Scots saxophonists Malcolm “Molly” Duncan and Roger Ball, AWB later expanded to include bass playing vocalist Alan Gorrie, the late drummer Robbie McIntosh (replaced here by Steve Ferrone), percussionist Sammy Figueroa and guitarist Hamish Stuart, among others. Though this performance at the Montreux Jazz Festival arrived a few years after their breakthrough chart-topping project AWB, the group remained at the peak of its head-bobbing powers.

Perhaps predictably, that Arif Mardin-produced 1974 sophomore release makes up the bulk of Live at Montreux 1977, issued Tuesday by Eagle Records. Included are the sweaty funk chart-topper “Pick Up the Pieces,” as well as the Isley Brothers update “What To Do,” “Person to Person” and “Got the Love.” Just as interesting, though, was “A Love of Your Own,” from 1976’s Soul Searching, another Top 10 album. The instrumental “Sweet and Sour,” really a knockoff of “Pick of the Pieces,” later appeared on 1978’s Warner Communications. The band closes with a tip of the hat to its own fondly remembered Motown influences, unfurling a lengthy jam on the Marvin Gaye classic “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.”

But did I say funky? Did I say lengthy?

None of that, fun though it may be, compares to the AWB’s titanic reading for 1975’s “Cut the Cake,” a dance floor-rattling monolith that clocks in at a truly impressive 14:22. Composed, as had been “Pick Up The Pieces,” by everyone in the band, the tune still opens with that chicka-wacka groove and this punchy James Brown-inspired blast of brass from the Dundee Horns. But before long, “Cut the Cake” has become something else entirely. “Gimme, gimme, gimme, gimme” gives way to an instrument-by-instrument band introduction – each with the requisite solo turn, from bass to bongos. Still, every time the song seems to run out of gas, somebody catches a new groove, some section of the crowd begins enthusiastically clapping, and they are off again.

It seems like it will never end, and for a while – a long, great, greasy while – it doesn’t.

Gorie and original guitarist Owen “Onnie” McIntyre continue to lead the Average White Band, which saw this classic lineup split in 1982 after 10 albums and three Grammy nominations. Stuart, who co-wrote all but the two covers here, later played with Paul McCartney; Ferrone somehow ended up working for a time with Duran Duran. More recently, AWB toured with Hall and Oates and Michael McDonald in the well-received Rock ’n’ Soul 2004 Revue.

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Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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