Record Review - 3 January 13 2005

As one of the longest lasting partnerships in music history, Hot Tuna co-founders Jorma Kaukonen (guitar) and Jack Casady (bass) have worked together since even before the formation of the seminal Jefferson Airplane in 1965. Airplane wove together folk, blues and spirituals with psychedelic rock, but the band’s initial run lasted only six years. By contrast, Tuna has intermittently been strong for more than three decades, but the sound has proven less sonically adventurous.

In honor of the group’s 35th anniversary, three predominantly acoustic albums have been remastered, expanded and re-released. The recordings show the twosome at their most sublime. The intuitive communication between guitar and bass is more evident on the two sets from the Sweetwater club. Here, working with only second guitarist Michael Falzaro, the sound is stripped to its folk-blues essence as Casady’s nimble but thunderous bass supports and prods Kaukonen’s agile picking.

But even with an eclectic set list of Americana folk-blues covers, Airplane nuggets and originals, a little acoustic Hot Tuna goes a long way. Kaukonen’s reedy vocals are an acquired taste. Sometimes it becomes repetitious over the two disc’s two-hour playing time.

Perhaps because of that, the Japan show, where keyboardist Pete Sears and percussionist Harvey Sorgan are added, is more appealing. Much of the set list is duplicated from the Sweetwater discs, but the increased energy results in a few extended jams that soar.

Just like in the old days.

Hot Tuna plays the Variety Playhouse Sat., Jan. 15, 8:30 p.m. $20.