Carolos Santana was once asked what he played when he practiced. Was it riffs, chords, songs? He replied that he just played one note over and over again until it plugged in to the universe.
That’s what I was thinking on the way in to work this morning with the new Cream album on the car stereo. Cream, the supergroup from the 60s with Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker got together again for a series of concerts at Royal Albert Hall in May 2005. The CD and DVD of those concerts was released this past week and I’ve been enjoying them immensely.
To hear Clapton surrounded merely by a bass and drums puts him back in a setting he has not been in for quite some time. Clapton always assembles an outstanding band but he always has keyboards or some other guitarist (or two) to support him. In a power trio like Cream we get to hear what Clapton can do when he’s responsible for filling more of the sonic space again and it is like we really get to hear him play now. And it’s worth it.
While this geriatric version of Cream may not play with the fire that they did in the 60s they really nail a couple of the songs and seem to have replaced the musical excesses they were sometimes guilty of in the old days with a more measured approach to their old songs. Old songs like “Born Under A Bad Sign,” “Politician” and “Sleepy Time Time” get wonderful readings from this batch of geezers that shows that they still understand how to play this type of blues-flavored rock with authority.
But it was a song that I don’t typically associate with Cream that really got to me this morning, the old blues standard “Stormy Monday,” reworked here as a Clapton tour-de-force. Clapton shows on this song that he is a master at this sort of blues interpretation, both as a singer and a guitarist. And for his solo he bends up to a note and hits it something like 20 times – apparently he waited for it to plug into the universe. It did.