Danny Kortchmar - guitar; Craig Doerge - keyboards; Leland Sklar - bass; Russ Kunkel - drums
When the singer/songwriter movement of the early 1970s fully blossomed with the likes of Carole King, James Taylor, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Jackson Browne and friends, four studio musicians became intrinsically involved with all of them: Danny Kortchmar, Craig Doerge, Leland Sklar, and Russ Kunkel. These seasoned studio musicians played a major role in defining the sound of all of these songwriters. Often referred to as the mellow mafia in their home base of Los Angeles, their ubiquity on the records of artists signed to Asylum Records alone had them appearing on hundreds, if not thousands of recordings.
While all this mellow music activity was occurring and achieving monumental commercial success and popularity, an altogether different and far more musically challenging project developed between the four sidemen, and that was the Section. As the Section, they developed their own brand of fusion, mixing all their collective talent into a highly adventurous brew. These musicians were capable of mind-blowing virtuosity, but far more importantly, they had a passionate intensity when playing together that made the music far more compelling than most jazz-rock fusion bands or progressive rock contemporaries. Technically brilliant, but with a sense of humor to balance things better than most, they released three albums of instrumental studio recordings, all of them highly intriguing, but few reaching record buyers. Thus the band remained an insider secret that few ever had the opportunity to hear. Arguably the most cohesive and consistently compelling recordings they ever created as the Section were for their second album, Forward Motion, released in 1973. Here was an album that compared favorably to the best fusion music of the time, from Mahavishnu Orchestra to Duane Allman-era Allman Brothers to King Crimson. Fans of those groups would have found much to enjoy on that album, from the unusual and complex time signatures to the blazing guitar and wildly adventurous keyboard and synthesizer work.
Far too few ever experienced the Section live in concert, as their schedules didn't allow much time for touring, but they did take to the road to promote Forward Motion in 1973. Opening several shows for Mahavishnu Orchestra, including this Mississippi River Festival performance at Southern Illinois University, here at last is an opportunity to hear The Section playing live as a unit. The fact that Forward Motion material is included makes this even more exciting, and they do not disappoint. In fact, many might find this music revelatory in light of the day jobs these guys held at the time. Although musically different, the dynamic structure within the band is quite similar to Mahavishnu Orchestra's John McLaughlin and Jan Hammer, in that Kortchmar and Doerge function as the primary soloists, triggering each other into astounding improvisational flights. Equally virtuostic on their instruments as those two giants, they achieve a consistently exciting sound all their own. The Section may in fact be the most perfectly jelled instrumental band of that entire genre.
The set features an excellent cross section of material from their self-titled debut album and Forward Motion. They open with the funky Doerge dominated "Baby Lame," followed by the propulsive title track from "Forward Motion," which smokes the studio recording. The passionate intensity is undeniable. Guitar players, especially those who appreciate John McLaughlin, are in for a treat here. Kortchmar's sensibilities, virtuosity, and extraordinary tone control are never short of astounding. The Latin-flavored "El Mirador Bolero" and debut-album centerpiece "Sporadic Vacuums Of Thought" venture into progressive rock territory, with plenty of jazzy improvising. Another song from their first album follows, with the keyboard-dominated instrumental "Mah-Hoo-Dah-Vah." This more relaxed excursion serves as a breather from all the intensity so far and yet to come.
Next up is an intriguing and extremely fresh performance of "L.A. Changes," a track that wouldn't surface for another four years, when it turned up on the band's third and final album in 1977. Kortchmar announces it as a newly-written song. Again, this goes a long way in proving that this is one of the most perfectly-jelled instrumental bands one could possibly imagine. A fine reading of "Second Degree," their debut album's lead-off track, follows, before the final adventure of the night returns to Forward Motion material and showcases Leland Sklar. Unfortunately incomplete due to a tape stock change, Sklar's "Get Down, Piltdown" is essentially a bass solo, although a very original one, which leads directly into a brief finale of "Bullet Train" to close the set.
For those few already hip to the Section albums, this is like manna from heaven. For everyone else, forget whatever you thought you knew about Danny Kortchmar, Craig Doerge, Leland Sklar, and Russ Kunkel. This is where they were really at. All those singer/songwriters knew it, and one listen to this and you'll know why these musicians were in such high demand.