The Hendrix family continues its reissue campaign with the release of The Jimi Hendrix Experience, a lavish four-disc box set that should be a boon to Hendrix collectors everywhere. With a beautiful 80-page booklet, and purporting to have 46 unreleased tracks, further inspection actually reveals less than meets the eye, at least for collectors.
The problem is that real collectors have already heard most of this material, and not only through bootleg sources. Many of the previously unreleased tracks are just new mixes of live tracks that were issued as part of Stages, Live at Monterey, and Lifelines. Also included is a new mix of the "Gloria" single. While the sound quality is somewhat better (handled by the expert Eddie Kramer), the new mixes do not differ substantially from the earlier versions. With the inclusion of virtually all of In the West, and a few quality tracks from Rainbow Bridge and Crash Landing (without the wretched mid-'70s overdubs), The Jimi Hendrix Experience almost seems like a shelf-clearing exercise, taking care of the leftover tracks that fans have been clamoring for en masse.
The real highlights of the set are the early studio outtakes, presumably from the cache that Chas Chandler withheld from Alan Douglas for so many years. Interestingly, one of the most enjoyable aspects of these studio outtakes is the control room banter that takes place. There isn't a ton of it, but there are some highly enjoyable moments. At the end of "Purple Haze," Hendrix starts to giggle and throws in "Mary Had a Little Lamb." The version of "Third Stone From the Sun" has Chandler and Hendrix's recording of the spoken bits used on the song, tacked on to the beginning. It's great to hear Hendrix cracking up throughout their interstellar conversation.
Another moment subtly hints at the frictions that were to end up dissolving the Chandler-Hendrix partnership. After seven minutes of take 21 of "Bold As Love," Hendrix is heard to say, "let's try it one more time, alright?" to which Chas Chandler dejectedly replies "oooohh."
The book itself is wonderful; all tracks are fully documented and annotated, with lots of photos, many previously unpublished. There are also recording studio log sheets, newspaper articles, poster/flyers, and Hendrix's handwritten lyrics reproduced. All in all, The Jimi Hendrix Experience is a fine addendum to the Hendrix legacy, but not the place to start; this is a set for someone who already has the studio albums and can't get enough of his genius. The disappointment a hardcore collector might feel at having heard most of this material already should be outweighed by the beautiful, warm sound achieved by Eddie Kramer and the general high quality of the package. [A 2013 re-release added four bonus tracks.]