Guitarist Whitfield makes no attempt whatsoever to appease on this searing outing for Herbie Hancock's new label. An excellent document of his working quartet in a freewheeling mood at Birdland in New York, the aptly titled Raw comes charging out of the gate with scorching intensity on the thrashing 13-minute opener, "Ducktones," which summons the jam-oriented aesthetic of Herbie's Thrust-era Headhunters crew while kicking the tempos and energy level up a notch or two. Whitfield's use of a wahlike envelope filter here also recalls another landmark recording from those mid-'70s fuzoid days-Pat Martino's Starbright (Warner Bros.)-while the exciting, Tainish drummer Donald Edwards spurs on the heightened vibe with ferocious polyrhythmic aplomb.
The guitarist's playing is equally outstanding on stretched out renditions of his own "A Brooklyn Love," Hancock's "Tell Me a Bedtime Story" and a swinging "Alone Together," in which the audience's idle chatter can be heard filtering through the more subdued burn-just like in a real jazz club.
Raw, a real player's album, redeems Whitfield for all his past concessions to smooth jazz. He holds nothing back here, wailing with uninhibited authority on these five extended, high-energy vehicles. The only thing that is compromised here is the sound quality. But the go-for-it attitude on the bandstand-a welcome relief from so much overproduced mediocrity that permeates the recording industry-more than makes up for the bootleg feel of this live recording.