Personnel: Lenny Williams (vocals); Bruce Conte (guitar); Emilio Castillo, Lenny Pickett (tenor saxophone); Stephen "Doc" Kupka (baritone saxophone); Greg Adams , Mic Gillette (trumpet); David Garibaldi (drums); Brent Byars (congas).
Liner Note Author: Leo Sacks.
Recording information: Ultrasonic Recording Studio, Hempstead, Long Island (05/14/1974).
Tower of Power have had their ups and downs as a recording act during a career that's still rolling over 45 years on, but very rarely has anyone disputed their strength as a live band, and those who doubt the power of Oakland's perennial funk machine will get schooled in a big way with this archival release. On May 14, 1974, Tower of Power rolled into Long Island's Ultrasonic Studios to cut a live set for broadcast on Hempstead's WLIR-FM, and nearly four decades later this performance has finally been given an authorized release as Hipper Than Hip: Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow (Live - On the Air & In the Studio 1974). That title sure is clumsy, but Tower of Power weren't the night the tapes rolled for this show. This lineup, on the road in support of one TOP's best albums, Back to Oakland, is a well-oiled R&B machine, and the precision of the horn arrangements and the ceaseless groove of the rhythm section would be impressive under any circumstances. Since this was cut live with no overdubs or edits to correct glitches, the fire and the faultless flow of this 11-man ensemble seems little short of miraculous, and the communication between the players is practically telepathic. The faster numbers communicate better than the ballads, but "You're Still a Young Man" and "So Very Hard to Go" show this band could still make the slow jams work, and they brought a jazzy sway to numbers like "Clean Slate" and "Man from the Past." Better still, TOP could lock in for an 18-minute jam on "Knock Yourself Out" with the stamina of a marathon runner, and the band's taut, fearsome command of signature jams "Oakland Stroke," "Squib Cakes," and "What Is Hip?" is a funky joy to behold. This documents one of Tower of Power's better lineups in full flight, with singer Lenny Williams, keyboard man Chester Thompson, trap drummer David Garibaldi, guitarist Bruce Conte, bassist Francis "Rocco" Prestia, and percussionist Brent Byars standing tall beside the mighty horn section of Emilio Castillo (tenor sax), Greg Adams (trumpet), Mic Gillette (trumpet), Stephen "Doc" Kupka (baritone sax), and Lenny Pickett (tenor sax). This may have been just another night on the road for Tower of Power in 1974, but plenty of bands would go their whole career hoping they could connect this well, and Hipper Than Hip is a top-shelf set of horn-laden funk grooves that shows these men were truly the masters of their craft. ~ Mark Deming