One of the most common inquiries I get is where to look for improv-only 1972-1974 Dead mixes on the Save Your Face mixtape blog. Here’s the shortest answer: There are lots of SYF mixes that focus on the jammy side of ’72-’74 Dead, but the mixes below focus on zones of pure, spontaneous creation, largely detached from any particular song.
This is improvisational music of the highest order, full of indelible moments of delicate intricacy, collective synchronicity, individual virtuosity, melodic forward-motion, and complete narrative arcs... in real time. To me, this is where the Grateful Dead planted a flag that no one in the rock and jazz categories can dispute or directly compete with.
Bookmark this page, and you'll have instant access to hours and hours of that kind of music.
Dark Starlets: Europe ’72
This mix offers two hours of non-spacey listening from all the Europe ’72 tour “Dark Stars.” It is not every cool passage from those performances, but it is an ongoing melodic adventure that highlights the earliest signs of the improvisational Dead that would follow Pigpen’s departure. While the Dark Star theme returns many times, there are also numerous pure improvisations beyond that theme.
Improvisation Vol. 1: 1973-1974
The original SYF “jazz years” improv mix, isolating 10 passages/74 minutes that are among the most revered “out of nowhere” playing from the era. Bits you surely know well, but carved out as stand-alone tracks that reveal the GD’s ability to create something amazing from nothing. Henry Kaiser approved this mix at some point.
Improvisation Vol. 2: 1972-1974
Nine passages/96 minutes more of improvisation that has little or no relation to song-themes - while coming across as wholly-formed ideas. This mix compiles the best open passages I discovered over a year or so of listening to unreleased shows from the era.
Theme from Summer of ’73 (The Phil Jazz Jam)
Sixteen tracks/67 minutes of Summer ’73 improv that slightly overlap the 72-74 mix above - again avoiding song themes for pure improv. Summer bliss circling around multiple takes of “The Phil Jazz Jam.”
Pouring Light into Jazzes: Drifty Dark Stars (1973-1974)
Nine passages/two hours focused on some of the most diffuse and open Dark Star zones of the era. It’s Dark Star, but it’s also infinity. A perfect sequel to the more structured, era-beginning “Dark Starlets” mix, above.
The Mind Left Body Jam
The first "disc" of this multi-decade anthology complies the 1972-1974 performances of the theme.
The Spanish Jam
The second “disc” of this multi-decade anthology compiles the 1973-1974 performances of the theme.
Cover art: Luigi Serafini - detail from a page of "Pulcinellopaedia Seraphiniana"