Rolling Stone (p.82) - 4 stars out of 5 -- "There are no rules -- just four luminaries testing their own boundaries."
Personnel: Jerry Garcia (vocals, guitar); Merl Saunders (piano, Clavinet, organ, synthesizer); Bill Vitt (drums).
Audio Remasterer: Paul Blakemore.
Liner Note Author: David Gans.
Recording information: Keytson, Berkeley, CA (07/10/1973-07/11/1973).
Photographers: Tony Lane; Annie Leibovitz; Bob Minkin; Brian Gardner .
The recordings that made up the original Live at Keystone albums by Jerry Garcia, Merl Saunders, John Kahn, and Bill Vitt took place over two nights in July of 1973. The band had been playing a regular gig at the famed San Francisco venue for some time, but it was here that it gelled. Their program was a wide range of covers from Jimmy Cliff's "The Harder They Come" to Motown numbers, Bob Dylan songs, jazz standards, and even a wholly improvised jam. Recorded by the Grateful Dead's sound engineers Betty Cantor and Rex Jackson, the first release was issued in late 1973, compiled from the "best" of both nights. In 1988, two volumes called Keystone Encores were released on three discs. This deluxe four-disc package contains remastered versions of all the material from both those concerts presented in original running order. In restores the three-and-a-half-minute jam "Space" with the full, nearly 14-minute version, now entitled "Merl's Tune." In addition, there are six more previously unreleased selections. All are different takes of songs that were featured on the earlier sets, including "The Harder They Come," "It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry," "My Funny Valentine," "Merl's Tune," "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)," and "Someday Baby." Taking it all in, it's fascinating to hear how complementary Garcia and Saunders were, and the degree to which they trusted one another in moving a set arrangement in another direction on the spot. Contrast the two versions of "My Funny Valentine." On the latter one, Saunders shifts tonalities from a straight, subdued reading toward a more modal and exploratory one. Garcia responds by extending the tune's entire harmonic reach. The rhythm section, too, is unshakable -- check their astonishing interplay and shifting time signatures on the first version of "Merl's Tune." There are many surprises to be found here, not the least of which is the remastered sound by Paul Blakemore, who retained the atmosphere that made the original recordings so appealing. His attention to detail in dynamics, textures, and presence is noteworthy. This box also includes a poster, a pin, a coaster, and a "scratch book" -- it seems matchbooks are no longer allowed. The definitive presentation of these recordings underscores what a historic -- if low-key -- partnership this was. The music, by any standard, is simply excellent. ~ Thom Jurek