Mike Bloomfield - guitar; Nick Gravenites - vocals; Barry Goldberg - piano; Harvey Brooks - bass; Buddy Miles - drums, vocals; Herbie Rich - organ, baritone sax; Marcus Doubleday - trumpet; Peter Strazza - tenor sax; Guest: Virgil Gonsalves - baritone sax
During the first half of 1968, Sunday evenings at the Carousel Ballroom were often geared toward encouraging spontaneous jam sessions. A popular band was usually the featured act on the bill, but ticket buyers quickly learned to expect the unexpected. One never knew who might turn up and sit in with the headliner and this loose approach often resulted in wonderfully interesting combinations of musicians performing music that was completely unrehearsed. Contrast that with places like New York and London, where the music scenes were also flourishing, but fierce competition and ego trips often prevented stylistic intermingling and cross-pollination from taking place to such a degree. Only in San Francisco was there a free enough mindset and a strong enough local camaraderie to facilitate this kind of activity on a regular basis. Things continued to buzz, and when the Carousel Ballroom became the Fillmore West in 1968, the spontaneous jam scene moved to the Matrix, where it was sustained through the end of the year.
The set kicks off with a soulful cover of Stevie Wonder's "Uptight (Everything's Alright)," with drummer Buddy Miles handling the vocals. This high energy number features a brief nod to The Beatles, as the band plays a verse of "Day Tripper" in the middle. Following the reprise of "Uptight," the group segues directly into a rip-roaring take on "Drivin' Wheel." Buddy Miles continues holding it down on vocals, with the horn section punctuating each line and Bloomfield firing off blazing guitar riffs. This bluesy number really cooks for a few minutes; they bring it down to a simmer, and Miles and Bloomfield improvise a quiet call and response section for a few, meandering minutes before heating things back up to a crescendo, based on the "Directly From My Heart To You" riff, to end the song.
Next up is a fascinating, almost 17-minute long improvisation based on "The Theme," a short number composed by Miles Davis that he often used to close his own concerts in the late 50s and early 60s. This has a nice, relaxed swing to it and gives the Flag a chance to stretch and unfurl in a looser way than most of the usual material in the band's repertoire. The organ, horn players, and guest Virgil Gonzales on baritone sax each get a chance to step forward and solo at various times; trumpeter Marcus Doubleday in particular gives a standout performance. Even so, none are any match for Bloomfield, who's solo early in the piece is what really makes it such a delight. He translates that dreamy raga-like feel of the best moments of Butterfield's East West before turning it over to the others.
The recording ends, unfortunately, with an incomplete take of "Goin' Down Slow," featuring Nick Gravenites on vocals and some more scorching Bloomfield. Fortunately, however, there's more than enough great music captured here to get any Flag fan good and fired up.