Jon Mark - vocals, acoustic guitar; Johnny Almond - alto sax, tenor sax, flute; David Marotta - bass; Roberto Pattacia - drums, percussion; Carlos Rios - electric guitar; Mark Ross - acoustic and electric piano
Jon Mark and Johnny Almond made a name for themselves in the thriving 1960s British blues scene. American audiences were first introduced to these two talented musicians via John Mayall's Turning Point Band, best remembered for their live album recorded at Fillmore East in July of 1969, which featured the classic performance of "Room To Move." Jon Mark was a classical acoustic finger style guitarist and Johnny Almond was a multi-instrumentalist, best known for his sax and flute work. Immediately following their tenure in Mayall's band, the two musicians teamed up to form Mark-Almond (also referred to as the Mark-Almond Band). Characterized by their unique blend of blues and jazz which incorporated Latin beats and a mellow rock aesthetic, they were in direct contrast to many of their contemporaries. They avoided the heavier guitar-driven rock of the era for a more melancholy introspective style of music that was warm and melodic. As one of the first bands to effectively merge rock with jazz, blues, and world beat rhythms, Mark-Almond were a bit too esoteric and diverse to be effectively marketed to rock or jazz audiences. Jon Mark, with a soothing and smoky jazz cafe vocal style unlike most rock singers of the era, also made it difficult for the band to cross over into the FM radio market that many of their contemporaries so effectively utilized. However, word of mouth and modest underground radio play helped them build a dedicated cult audience that embraced their diversity.
The group's first two albums remain classics to the present day, containing many of their most memorable compositions and the music on these initial albums had a depth that rewarded repeated listening. Personnel changes soon followed and the group's subsequent work began heading in a more contemporary direction, infusing elements of jazz-fusion into the mix. After several years of struggling, the band disbanded. Jon Mark recorded a solo album during the interim and then the band regrouped in 1976 and continued recording and touring. A&M Records signed the band in 1978 and released Other Peoples Rooms, an album of primarily new material that now featured fusion-oriented backing, including scorching lead guitar courtesy of Carlos Rios, one of the newest band members.
This performance captures Mark-Almond in full flight on the Other Peoples Rooms tour. The set begins with a trio of tracks from that album performed back to back, beginning with the smooth romantic flavorings of "Then I Have You" followed by the Brazilian flavored track, "Lonely Girl." Both of these songs reflect the band's new sound, which featured tight rhythmic interplay behind Jon Mark's smoky smooth vocals. On the latter, both Rios and Almond get opportunities to solo and both are quite compelling within this new context. "Girl On Table 4," another new song, returns to the smooth romantic stylings of the opening number.
These opening numbers are a quite enjoyable, but it is the monumental exploration they next perform which shows this lineup of the band in the most positive light. Not surprisingly, it consists of two of their most popular songs and plenty of extended solos and improvisations. Nearly 32 minutes in length, this set closer begins and ends with their definitive cover of Billy Joel's "New York State Of Mind," which includes a mammoth version of Mark-Almond's most beloved composition, "The City," sandwiched in between. Here the group is free to explore and following the initial 10 minutes which includes a marvelous performance of "The City," each of the soloists gets a chance to soar. This begins with a brief drum solo from Roberto Pattacia, who is soon joined by David Marotta on bass. The two cook up a high-energy bottom for Carlos Rios to take flight over. Rios is smoking hot here, peeling off a marvelously inventive solo that heads into pure jazz-fusion territory. After several minutes, Johnny Almond joins back in and the group follows his endlessly inventive improvisations for another five minutes of compelling jamming. This eventually leads back to "The City" which remains elastic enough to incorporate more spontaneous improvisations. The band then drops out completely, giving Almond a minute or so of unaccompanied soloing. Almond is simply blazing with creativity and he cuts loose here with a dynamic blues-inflected solo that leads up to the conclusion of "The City." Rather than ending it here, the group segues directly back into "New York State Of Mind" with Jon Mark singing the final verse and then the band concluding this dramatic exercise back where it began nearly 32 minutes earlier! This is a true tour-de-force performance that features brilliant improvisations from Almond and the entire band playing with great style and flare.