During the last months of his life, Col. Bruce Hampton adopted the Vista Room, adjacent to Napoleon’s on Lavista Road in Decatur’s Oak Grove neighborhood, as a sort of home base. His weekly Thursday night residency there with The Madrid Express began in late December 2016, and continued until April 20th, 2017, a week and a half before the Hampton 70 all-star show at the Fox Theatre where, as we all know, the guest of honor collapsed and died onstage during the final song. Fitfully, the rehearsals for the Fox show took place the evening beforehand in the comfortable confines of the Vista Room.
A few Thursdays before all of that, on March 16th, Hampton’s performance with The Madrid Express (not to mention the Zambi All-Stars) was recorded. With seven songs on the vinyl edition, and 11 on the compact disc, Live at the Vista Room captures the unique, indefinable spark that ignited whenever Hampton held court with such an assemblage of near clairvoyant musicians, hand-picked and nurtured along by the Colonel. The track list mixes familiar Hampton favorites (“Basically Frightened,” “The Grogans Have Arrived,” “Don’t Go In That Room”) with James Brown’s “There Was a Time,” Skip James’ “I’m So Glad,” Bukka White’s “Fixin’ to Die” and other carefully-chosen blues and R&B excursions.
For fans both devoted or casual, and certainly for those still in disbelief over Hampton’s sudden departure, this release is an indispensable latter-day glimpse at the talent, charisma and guidance of a character that seemed too large to leave so abruptly.