Tower of Power – Hipper than Hip: Live in 1974 (2013)

Recorded live at the peak of their considerable powers in May 1974, Hipper than Hip finds Tower of Power — powered along by frontman Lenny Williams — setting a Long Island radio-station soundstage ablaze.

Tower of Power, founded by and still led by Emilio “Mimi” Castillo and Stephen “Doc” Kupka, had just released its creative (if not charting-busting) high-water mark Back to Oakland, and had already banked smashes like “What is Hip” and “So Very Hard To Go.” Both, of course, find a home on this raw, utterly present recording — newly issued by Real Gone Music via Razor & Tie — as do deep-cut revelations like “Knock Yourself Out” from 1970′s East Bay Grease, “You’re Still a Young Man” from 1972′s Bump City, “This Time It’s Real” from their 1973 self-titled album (when Williams came on board), and “Squib Cakes” and the minor R&B single “Time Will Tell” from Back to Oakland.

Technically amazing — they’ve backed up countless artists over the years — effortlessly complicit and endlessly funky, Tower of Power remain a sound to behold in the live setting. And this is, unquestionably, their best lineup, with a group that also includes keyboard man Chester Thompson, still-thumping bassist Francis “Rocco” Prestia and saxophonist Lenny Pickett shaking everything they’ve got in an undiluted, overdub-free atmosphere of cooperative get down.

For the uninitiated, Hipper than Hip smartly blends the confluence of ass-wagging things that make Tower of Power both towering and full of power — from impish jazz (“Clean Slate”) to simmering slow jams (“So Very Hard to Go”) to floorboard-rearranging R&B like their thunderous, nearly 20-minute breakdown of “Knock Yourself Out.” But even the completist will be helpless to deny these 14 remarkably unfiltered soul-lifters, bolstered here by a slew of period photos as well as informative liner notes from producer Leo Sacks.

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Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has also explored music for publications like USA Today, Gannett News Service, All About Jazz and Popdose for nearly 30 years. Honored as newspaper columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section that was named Top 10 in the nation by the AP in 2006. Contact him at nderiso@somethingelsereviews.com.