I have always been a casual fan of the Allmans. I can take them in small doses. I have never been a big fan of the 'jam.' I have a hard time keeping my attention focused to it, the more meandering it gets, the harder it is to pay attention to it. Then you realize that this has been on for 10 minutes and you don't have any idea what song they are playing. I went to see the Allmans maybe 20 years ago and there was a lot of playing in the keys of 'A' and 'E', which gets old after a while. The songs and the jams start blending together and you can't tell where one thing ends and the next begins. It was a tiring experience and I had hard my fill of the Allmans live. Needless to say I never checked this album out. I had heard tracks from the boxed set, but they were really long. I was quite surprised when I put this on. To say that the playing on this is great or even exception would be an understatement. When the jamming is this good, it is in a very different place. Of course some of this is due to producer Tom Dowd's studio trickery. Tom edited down the jams that were a little too long and wandering. He even pasted some guitar parts together to make the song stronger. Basically taking 4 nights of jamming and cherry picking the best little bits and putting them together to make this album.
This brings up a lot of questions about art and music and live recordings. I usually prefer live recordings that are take it as it is affairs. The entire performance from beginning to end mistakes and all. However when something is a great listen then it is a great listen. This is a great listen. The same questions come up in photography about the use of photoshop to fix or improve a photograph. There really are no rules when it comes to art. The end usually justifies the means and a great image is a great image no matter how it was achieved. Unless of course it is meant for something other than art, than there are sure arguments to be made.
I was also surprised by the amount of references to Coltrane and jazz in general. I never considered it. I can't for the life of me figure out why I hadn't made the connection from jamming to improvisational jazz, but I didn't. When you look at from that point of view it certaintly makes a lot more sense. The way that a soloist takes a line and has no idea where he is going and the rest of the band manages to follow along and support the endevour is a remarkable thing and the Allmans were certainly great at it.