Jimi Hendrix was like no other guitarist or songwriter. While listening, I think of some of his imitators, especially Robin Trower. More often I recall a pivotal figure in jazz, Charlie Parker, who changed the course of the music. Also, Hendrix’s use of feedback mirrors the experiments of avant-garde jazz musicians of the 60s.
“Purple Haze” would immediately place a movie in the late 60s. “I Don’t Live Today” could prove potent in a mystery or action film in which a character heads toward certain death. I hear “Third Stone from the Sun” in a strange cosmic western.
In a year filled with stunning album releases, including Surrealistic Pillow, the Doors, and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s 1967 debut stands out. Hendrix’s formidable guitar skills were matched by equally strong songwriting and an eye-catching sartorial style, even in a time of flashy dress.
While the recording of Are You Experienced—with extreme stereo panning and odd vocal placement— places it in its time, the music remains futuristic and exotic. Hendrix led a powerful band that helped bring his ideas to fruition. Drummer Mitch Mitchell exerted dynamics and thrust, along with a jazz component, and bassist Noel Redding served as a fluid and inventive player long overdue for a reappraisal of his importance to Hendrix’s first three LPs.
Reprise Records released Are You Experienced in the U.S.A. in August, four months after Track Records released it in the U.K. Reprise removed three songs from the Track release, substituted “Purple Haze,” “Hey Joe,” and “The Wind Cries Mary,” and re-sequenced the running order.
George Marino and Eddie Kramer executed the all-analog master of Are You Experienced for its 2010 reissue on vinyl, and in the process opened up the music and expanded the soundstage. The distortion on the opening of “Purple Haze” is now more palpable, and Mitchell’s snare carries a more satisfying snap than my early pressing of the album. His kick drum solidly thumps behind Hendrix’s guitar, and Redding’s bass feels cleaner and sharper. It’s easier to discern the notes that comprise Hendrix’s swirling guitar chords. And his voice in the right channel teems with fullness. Hendrix’s spoken words in the left channel during the guitar solo are also more audible, and the tongue clicks that follow the solo seemingly reach out of the speakers.
The solid ring of Mitchell’s drums on “Manic Depression,” as well as the splash of the cymbals, drastically adds to the excitement of the track on the new pressing. By comparison, on my early pressing, Mitchell’s drums sound reserved and lack momentum. Individual notes on Redding’s bass throughout the effort give the music a better foundation and help keep it focused. On the early LP, the bass lines are present, but somewhat puffy and indistinct.
Really, everything about the 2010 edition sounds better. The complexity of Hendrix’s chords on “I Don’t Live Today,” as well as the feedback that builds during the song, features far greater clarity and detail. Multi-tracked vocals are also broader and more convincing. On “May This Be Love,” Hendrix’s chords and pull-offs have room to expand and register, whereas they quickly decay on the older pressing. Similarly, the beauty of Hendrix’s chord structures on “The Wind Cries Mary” unfolds with extra spaciousness, and Mitchell’s snare echoes soundly in the right channel, adding to the drama. The waves of Hendrix’s solo, built on single notes and chord runs, blossom with noticeable richness. The sonic thrills of “Third Stone from the Sun,” with its sound effects, feedback, and dynamic force, comes through with far greater resolution.
Marino also did the vinyl cut for the 1997 2-LP reissue for MCA. That pressing, mastered from digital files, possesses plenty of detail, but lacks the generous sense of space conveyed by the newer version. It also displays some top-end edginess. For all the high-frequency detail on the 2010 reissue, it never turns bright or fatiguing.
Current pressings of the album stem from Quality Records Pressings and meet the plant’s high standards for flatness and quiet backgrounds. The cover is heavyweight cardboard, with finely reproduced original cover art. The interior gatefold includes a series of color photos of Hendrix playing and some handwritten text by the guitarist. The enclosed booklet is a larger-sized version of the CD booklet that has appeared with the recording since its 1997 digital reissue.
I have a nostalgic attachment to my old copy of the LP, but the newer pressing is much more revealing and exciting. Even if you have the 1997 2LP set, which includes tracks from the U.K. release of the album as well as some B-sides from singles, this sonically superb pressing sonic remains the one to own.
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