Jon Lord cast a large shadow across this world, and he continues to do so from the next as his friends, family, and fans convene each year for The Sunflower Jam, an annual benefit for cancer awareness and research that was founded in 2006 by Jackie Paice (aka Mrs. Ian Paice). The charity and its annual gig has grown to the point that it now happens at the Royal Albert Hall, and this year's performances have just been released in a multi-format manner by earMUSIC ( release and packing info available here: http://www.celebratingjonlord.com).
The beauty of this release is that unlike many other all star jams, aside from the charity the Sunflower Jam exists for but one reason - to celebrate the life and music of Jon Lord, and it sounds wonderfully cohesive as a result. I'm reviewing the CD release. This is not just a gathering, it's a very cool double album that includes performances from Paul Weller, The Temperance Movement's Phil Campbell, Micky Moody, Bernie Marsden, Glenn Hughes, Bruce Dickinson, Don Airey, Deep Purple, Rick Wakeman, and many others.
Whoever set the roster and the schedule did an outstanding job - when you see Paul Weller's name on what amounts to a Jon Lord tribute record, it doesn't instantly click until you realize that The Jam's man is covering songs by Lord's pre-Purple band The Artwoods, who specialized in bluesy British soul rock. Musical director Wix Wickens is spot on with the organ and horns arrangement on Things Get Better, Weller is great in the role, and he's joined on the next cut, I Take What I Want, by longtime Lord bandmate Micky Moody, and Neil Murray's always on the mark bass work.
Next up, we have The Temperance Movement's superb frontman Phil Campbell, and again, the choice is inspirational - originally done by Paice Ashton Lord, Silas & Jerome is a perfect vehicle for Campbell's soulful preaching, Andy Wallace supplies some fat Hammond tones, Ian Paice makes the thing swing like mad, Nick Fyffe lays down a ridiculously cool bass line, and Bernie Marsden plays a sweetly smokin' guitar solo. Next, they slow it down for the gospel fueled I'm Gonna Stop Drinking, and things just keep getting better. I could stand a whole album by this lineup. They are cooking.
Steve Balsamo is the next voice, and he bravely tackles the Coverdale classic, Soldier Of Fortune. This arrangement is light years from what we normally get on all star jams, and when Sandy Thom joins in on the second verse, it's sublime. Micky Moody's slide solo reminds why he got the call from Coverdale when the man formed Whitesnake.
Glenn Hughes may be the voice of rock, but it's his funky bass playing the signals the beginning of You Keep On Moving - then his amazing vocal cords come in, and he's joined by Iron man Bruce Dickinson, and it's great to hear Eddie's boss doing something outside his normal metal manner. Don Airey is his usual wonderful self, and the orchestra takes this closer to classic Stax soul than shades of Deep Purple, but damn it's a great way to go off the beaten path. A heavily orchestrated Burn is next, and it suddenly becomes a theme song for a James Bond flick - nice. Ian Paice is a whirling dervish, and Burn it does. Dickinson earns his stripes going note for note with The Throat. Fun stuff.
This Time Around is a giver of goosebumps as Hughes stretches his pipes accompanied by just Wix's piano, and the orchestra. Here we hear the piano and arranging side of Jon Lord, and it's marvelous. Many have missed much of the greatness of Jon Lord when they've not been exposed to the many sides of the man's music. Hughes and Lord had a complicated relationship at times, but they patched it all up before Lord's departure, and that is a fine, fine thing, as it results in our having this masterpiece to enjoy.
Disc two is the extended set by Deep Purple, and you can't congratulate this bunch for never taking the easy way out. They could easily show up, play their considerable list of heavy rock classics and ride off into the sunset, but Gillan and company dive headfirst into two tribute songs to their fallen comrade from the band's 2013, Bob Ezrin produced Now What?! album - Uncommon Man, and Above and Beyond are both excellent, and I love that they elected to go this route. It's also fine evidence that Jon Lord got replaced by the only man in rock who could have the job, Don Airey, who has been hard rock's MVP of the Keys for a great many decades.
Lazy is up next, and it's brilliant, as is When A Blind Man Cries. Classic Purple tracks that do Jon Lord quite proud.
Three and a half minutes of orchestral wonder gives a glimpse into the classical side of Jon Lord before the band eases into the 1984 Purple classic, Perfect Strangers. Closing out the set is Black Night, and Deep Purple completes their portion of the festivities - it can't be an easy position in which to be placed in some ways, but at the same time, it's as it should be - how Jon Lord would have wanted it.
All hands are on deck for an encore of Hush, and Gillan gives the verses to Bruce Dickinson, as the band funks it up - the horns working especially well alongside some cool Clavinet comping, and Moody and Marsden throw down some great guitars. This is a true tour de force, and way past what one normally gets for their charity dollars. No rubber chicken being served hear, this is some seriously rocking souled out blues and bluster.
Yeah, Jon Lord may be gone, but he continues to be a force to be reckoned with in the musical universe. Everyone involved in this package played as if their hearts and souls depended upon it, and I imagine in some ways they do. I wouldn't normally find myself recommending you purchase the recording of an all star jam, but this one is spectacular, and for a darned good cause.