Average White Band seemed to appear out of nowhere in 1974 with their worldwide smash, “Pick Up The Pieces.” It was a funky slice of mid-seventies jazz, and fit the mood of the times perfectly. Not only was it a great song, but the group’s back story was pretty interesting as well. For one thing, there was that name – not to mention where they came from. A multi-racial six-piece jazz-funk outfit hailing from Scotland was an unusual combination, then or now.
AWB continued to hit the charts with albums such as Cut The Cake, Soul Searching and the 1976 live Person To Person. For many years, the only available document of the band in concert was Person To Person, and I wore out my copy of the double LP. Back in the seventies, I think there was an actual law on the books that required live albums to be two-record sets. With Person To Person, there was really no getting around it, as “Pick Up The Pieces” took up all of side three by itself.
By the time of their appearance at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1977, AWB’s set had changed. On Eagle Rock’s newly released CD Live At Montreux 1977, they open with “Pick Up The Pieces,” which clocks in at a moderate 6:38, rather than the 18-minute version on Person To Person. They had tightened things up considerably by this time, although they do stretch things out a bit towards the end of the show. In any event, this single disc collection contains some excellent material.
Their choices are interesting. Four of the eight Montreux tracks previously appeared on Person To Person. The big surprise is that “Pick Up The Pieces” had been replaced as the show’s centerpiece with a 14-minute version of “Cut The Cake.” And on both, their final big-selling record Soul Searching is given short shrift. This is understandable on Person, because the album was not even out yet when the shows were recorded. But at Montreux, it was the one they were touring behind. The group’s take on “A Love Of Your Own” is adequate, but what I was really hoping for was a live “Queen Of My Soul.”
The big closer at Montreux is a 12-minute “I Heard It Through The Grapevine.” Evidently they loved this song, because it also closed Person. Sure, “Grapevine” is a classic, as the many cover versions over the years have proven, if nothing else. Maybe I’m in the minority here, but I would have preferred something a little more original. In the end, it is hard to argue with music played this tightly however, and on that front AWB definitely deliver.
Live At Montreux represents a high point in the Average White Band’s career. As the seventies wore on and the eighties dawned, there would be a series of misguided attempts to remain current, culminating in their 1982 breakup. Since then there have been numerous reunions, both for recording, and for playing the nostalgia circuit. It is a fairly common story for groups of this nature, and I might even go see them at the local casino one of these days.
But where it was really at for AWB was when they were setting stages on fire around the world in the mid-seventies. Live At Montreux 1977 captures one of those nights for posterity, and sounds great to these jaded ears.