Jimmy Herring has spent most of his illustrious career as a sideman.
His stellar playing with bands such as Aquarium Rescue Unit, Phil Lesh
and Friends, The Grateful Dead, and most recently Widespread Panic, has
solidified his reputation as the preeminent guitarist to come out the
"jam band" scene. Arguably his most interesting work has been with some
of the side-project bands he has played and recorded with; bands such
as Project Z, Jazz is Dead, Frogwings, The Dragonflys, and the like.
With these bands, Herring has had a bit more room to stretch out
harmonically. Listening to Herring improvise, especially with these
often fusion-oriented side projects, I've always had the hunch that he
had some serious jazz chops just waiting to come out. Now that I've
heard Herring's debut solo album Lifeboat (Abstract Logix), that hunch has become the understatement of the year.
Lifeboat is unquestionably a jazz record. There are
a couple of fusion tunes here, but make no mistake, this is a deep,
highly melodic jazz album - not a guitar-heavy shredder album; not a
Project Z-style jam fusion album. In other words, this is a side of
Jimmy Herring you've rarely if ever heard before. Oteil Burbridge
(Bass), Kofi Burbridge
(Flute, Piano, Keyboards), and Jeff Sipe (Drums) form the core band
backing Herring on the disc. These are four friends who have known and
played with each other for years. The impressive list of special guests
includes Derek Trucks (Slide Guitar), Greg Osby (Sax), Matt Slocum
(Keyboards), Bobby Lee Rodgers (Leslie and Rhythm Guitar), Ike
B3), Tyler Greenwell (Drums), and Scott Kinsey (Keyboards).
One thing you'll quickly notice is Herring never hogs the spotlight on Lifeboat, and the other musicians involved (especially Kofi Burbridge)
have a strong influence of the final outcome. In fact, when I first got
wind of this project late last year, the plan was to record a band
album with Derek Trucks appearing on the entire disc, as opposed to
just the two tracks he ultimately played on. When it turned out Trucks
would not be able to contribute to the entire recording, the focus
shifted and the album became the Herring solo record that it is now.
of Herring's professed influences can be detected on this disc. Several
tunes have a Dixie Dregs vibe, and Herring's lines often feature John Scofield-style triadic ideas. The real surprise here is the overall mood and
direction of the album; this is some heavy jazz, loaded with soaring
melodies and deep harmony. It gives Herring a chance to show the full
breadth of his vocabulary as an improviser - nowhere in his back
catalog will you find him playing over changes to the extent that he
There are only two songs on Lifeboat
that I would call "fusion" - the
opening track "Scapegoat Blues," and the deep-grooving "One Strut."
"Scapegoat Blues" is an upbeat tune that mixes blues and diminished
tonalities in a fun way. It's loaded with strong blues phrases, and
sixteenth-note lines Herring is well known for. This is the type of
tune you would expect to hear on a Herring solo album, which makes it a
great choice for the opener. "One Strut" offers a big stylistic shift
in the middle of the disc. Clearly the funkiest tune on the album, if
Bernie Worrell joined the Dregs, they might produce a song like this. I could see this tune fitting in
well on the Endangered Species album Herring recorded some years back
with T Lavitz.
"Only When It's Light" is one of two Lifeboat songs written by the multi-talented Kofi Burbridge. This is a gorgeous piece that prominently features Kofi's
flute and piano work. As the second song on the album, it's a great
heads-up to the listener that you're in for some serious jazz on this
record. Kofi also wrote the album's closer "Splash" - a song that previously appeared on the Aquarium Rescue Unit album In a Perfect World
(though Herring didn't play on that version). A complex tune with some
great lines by Herring, "Splash" is a good example of the kind of
straight-ahead jazz that lesser players from the jam-band world would
not be able to pull off.
Derek Trucks contributes his
ever-impressive slide work to "New Moon" and "Lifeboat Serenade." "New
Moon" is a deliberately paced, lyrical ballad that at times has shades
of the Dregs classic "What If." The interplay between Herring and
Trucks late in the tune is one of the album's highlights. The lyricism
continues with "Lifeboat Serenade," an emotionally charged melancholic
piece which features Herring's most dramatic solo on the disc.
Herring tackles Walt Disney (!) with a jazzed-up take on the "Jungle Book Overture." Yes, that
Jungle Book. It seems like an out-of-left-field choice, but the changes
lend themselves to some great lines courtesy of Herring, Greg Osby, and
Kofi Burbridge. One of the heaviest jazz excursions on the album is a
great version of the Wayne Shorter piece "Lost." Herring, Osby, and
Burbridge team up again on the main melody's three-part harmony. The
chord changes on this tune are tough, but Herring is more than up to
"Transients" is a borderline fusion tune that packs a Steely Dan vibe, and a beautiful set of chords. Bassist Oteil Burbridge
takes a great solo on this song, as does Herring who peels off some
rare legato runs. The slow and sad "Gray Day" is a mesmerizing piece
where Herring improvises in an almost introspective manner over the
entire song. It's another song with seemingly difficult changes, but
Herring navigates them with ease.
Had Jimmy Herring's first solo
album been a jam band-meets-fusion record, ala Project Z, I don't think
anyone would have complained or been surprised. I for one loved the
first Project Z album - more of that stuff would be fine by me. But
Herring has gone down that road before; why go there again when given
the chance to make his own album? Lifeboat shows that Herring
has a deep love for jazz, and he's very adept at playing that style of
music. Without question, this is one of the most inventive, fresh, and
moving jazz releases of the year, and it's a huge triumph for Herring.
HDNet televised an Eric Johnson performance earlier this year as part of their Concert Series. The show will be re-broadcast this Sunday at 1:00pm CST, but on November 11th you'll be able to purchase a DVD of this gig as well (kudos to commenter Aronchas for spotting this news!). Simply titled Eric Johnson - Anaheim, the DVD is now available for pre-order from the following locations:
How I missed this news, I'll never know. Keyboardist Scott Kinsey's group now features Kirk Covington on drums for his upcoming European tour (check out the tour poster to the left for exact dates and locations). You know what that means fusion fans? Since the band also includes Scott Henderson on guitar, this band includes 3/4's of the landmark fusion group Tribal Tech. The amazing Matthew Garrison will be playing bass (Gary Willis played bass in Tribal Tech). Catch this band if you can folks!