You really have to hand it to reissue labels like Wounded Bird, who do a fantastic job of unearthing gems from the vaults as well as getting vintage in-demand, previously out of print releases by popular artists back in circulation. Jazz-fusion fanatics have long been clamoring for Level One from The Eleventh House to be reissued on CD, and now here it is. For anyone who is unfamiliar with this band, it featured guitarist Larry Coryell, drummer Alphonse Mouzon, Mike Mandel on keyboards, bassist John Lee, and horn player Michael Lawrence (Randy Brecker and Danny Trifan were in an earlier incarnation of the band). Level One was originally released in 1975, and is a seminal recording from the fusion era that also spawned such acts as Return to Forever, The Mahavishnu Orchestra, Weather Report, The Brecker Brothers, The Tony Williams Lifetime, Brand X, and so many other groundbreaking bands.
Level One was the bands third release, and last before they disbanded for the first time (The Eleventh House would reunite several times with various line-up over the next few decades), but it is an extremely solid effort that rivals their debut Introducing the Eleventh House from 1973. Led by the sizzling guitar of Coryell and Mouzon's dynamic drum work, Level One contains many standout tracks of scorching fusion, like the killer opening title cut and "Some Greasy Stuff". Coryell's licks and solos have a certain John McLaughlin feel to them, as he also favored distorted, rapid fire passages that mixed rock and funk styles, zig-zagging through arrangements also colored with trumpet, flugelhorn, and keyboards. "Nyclaphobia" is an aggressive fusion monster, with Mouzon's acrobatic drum fills blazing underneath furious riffs from Mandel & Coryell, easily a song that will appeal to fans of Return to Forever and The Mahavishnu Orchestra. If you love the sound of the Fender Rhodes, Mandel puts on a show here. The majestic 3-part "Suite" is simply lovely, as the band combines jazz and progressive rock, while "Eyes of Love" shows Coryell's deft touch on the acoustic guitar. Another highlight on Level One is the surging funk rocker "Struttin' With Sunshine", a real barnburner with fat bass riffs from Lee and a wealth of horns, ethereal keyboards, and Coryell's nasty licks. Closer "That the Joint" is a bombastic, rockin' slice of fusion, with all the players delivering scorching passages within the catchy, can't miss melody.
Top to bottom, Level One is scorching, mandatory listening for any fan of '70s jazz-fusion. It's a shame this band basically burned out so quickly,as they had just as much to offer the scene back in the day as any of the groups mentioned above. Kudos once again to Wounded Bird for unleashing this beast on CD.
1) Level One
2) The Other Side
4) Some Greasy Stuff
7) Eyes of Love
8) Struttin' With Sunshine
9) That the Joint