Prior to gaining the reputation as an ace jazz guitarist, Larry Coryell honed his skills playing in blues and rock bands. But the Free Spirits were the first band he ever recorded with. Formed in 1965, the band also included lead singer Columbus Baker, bassist Chris Hills, saxophonist Jim Pepper and drummer Bob Moses.
Proposing a bewildering blend of jazz and rock, Out Of Sight And Sound (ABC Records) was simply too left-field for conventional consumption. Although the album appeared at a time when pop music was growing freakier and freakier, with bands like the Beatles, the Byrds and the Yardbirds stroking their material with diverse doses of contours, the Free Spirits existed in a totally different stratosphere.
Had the band resided in San Francisco, where experimentation was more widely appreciated, rather than New York, they probably would have achieved higher visibility.
Framed in a festive finish, “Don’t Look Now (But Your Head Is Turned Around)” rattles with volcanic energy, boosted by the bleating cry of a saxophone and jiving rhythms, while the hopping and bopping “Early Mornin’ Fear” slaps together seizing pop hooks with bursts of improvisational flash in a surefooted manner.
Steered by the hypnotic chime of a sitar, “I’m Gonna Be Free” injects psychedelic expressions into a jazz context with impressive results, where both “Bad Cat News” and “Cosmic Daddy Dancer” shake and groove to a clingy cadence cut of stimulating instrumentation, uptempo melodies and elated harmonies.
Somewhat raw and ramshackle, Out Of Sight And Sound still manages to reveal the talent and inventiveness driving the band. Not beholden to any one single style, the band certainly were free spirits, and here on their lone album they embrace their vision with determination.
A couple of years after Out Of Sight And Sound was released, bands such as Chicago and Blood, Sweat and Tears obtained mainstream success with their own brand of jazz rock, which eventually became an accepted genre in the annals of pop music. But the Free Spirits were there first, and when all is said and done, its the pioneers who command the biggest roar of applause.