On June 22, 2000, the inaugural Jammy Awards occurred at New York Citys Irving Plaza. Organized by the industrious folks at jambands.com, the Jammys initially began as a response to the absence of a jam band category at the Grammy Awards. Although not prone to making multi-million dollar videos and comparing their Rolexes, the members of the jam band scene are undoubtedly the most talented musicians out there. The Jammys was organized to pay tribute to those musicians. The evening was an all-star extravaganza that featured live performances by Deep Banana Blackout, The Disco Biscuits (Featuring Les Claypool), Soulive (Featuring John Scofield) and Strangefolk (Featuring Merl Saunders). The award presenters included some of the most important people in promoting jam band music: Richard Gehr (The Phish Book, The Village Voice), Kirk West (Allman Brothers archivist), Lee Crumpton (Home Grown Music Network founder), Sam Kopper (Phoenix Presents) and awards were given out for a variety of categories such best "jam" of the year (The Disco Biscuits), Best Live Release (Moe), Best New Groove (Fat Mama), Best Fan Site (www.etree) and Lifetime Achievement Award (BB King). The folks at jambands.com should be given applauded for putting together this event. They have already accomplished so much through their website and the Jammys was an extra push that will elevate jam band music from underground phenomenon to a legitimate musical genre.
In honor of the Jammys, here are some new and old releases by jam bands. Some of the bands were nominated at the Jammys (Slip, New Deal, Umphreys McGee) while some other bands are on the rise (Yamagata, Freebeerandchicken, Three Hour Detour, Tree o Frogs). And there are some legends that pre-date the jam bands era (Maceo Parker), but their music is definitely an influence on the development of the idiom.
One of the featured performers at the Jammys was Rhode Islands The Slip. To pay respect to the great influences of the jam band scene, the Slip dabbled with Bob Dylans "Dont Think Twice, Its Alright." We are talking about the way that Peter, Paul and Mary dabbled with the tune, but a dabbling in the jam sense of the word. In just a short few years, the band has risen from a local favorites to a band of national recognition. Consisting of Marc Friedman (bass) and brothers Andrew (drums) and Brad Barr (guitar, keyboards), the Slip has been riding on the laurels of their 1997 album From the Gecko and they have enjoyed memorable performances at festivals across the country and great jams with other jazz-rock band like Bostons the Miracle Orchestra and Seattles The Living Daylights. The Slip recently released Does(Flying Frog Records, 2000)which is a logical extension of From the Gecko, as the band maintains their melodic jazz-fusion instrumentals and spiritual lyrical pieces. The band sustains their fine line between jazz and rock, which is most evident in their recent touring schedule. One night, they are playing in Cambridges Scullers Jazz Club, which brings in acts like Dave Brubeck, Mose Allison and Roy Hargrove. A few days later, they will play at Providences Lupos, which probably has a Floyd Tribute band playing there on any given night. Its bands like the Slip that are the excellent ambassadors for the jam band scene their sense of improvisation and ability to craft their show towards an audience will give jam bands even more credibility. www.theslip.com
Memphis is a city where there is plenty of R&B, country western and the shadow of Elvis Presley looming over every music entity in sight. Not the case for Yamagata (named after a Japanese shogun), a trio that pushes their creativity forward to spawn their own progressive-jazz-funk sound. When looking for schools of influence, the Meters, Weather Report and King Crimson come to mind. Yamagata knows how to stretch the cerebral and also get down in the funk. The core group of Yamagata consists of Joe Austin(guitar), Jim Britt (drums), Matt Kirby (bass) and Andrew Neely (bass) but their new album, Eveland (Mempho Records, 1999), has eight guest musicians filling in with sounds of trumpets, trombones, Hammond B-3s and vocals. On songs like "Alpena Dorsal Fin" and "BFU", the hard driving progressive sounds come to the surface. Think of Englands great 1970s Progressive bands like Collosseum or National Health, and you may get an idea of the progressive jazz mix of Yamagata. On songs like "Parachute Day", the cool grooves of Cassandra Wilson and Dee Dee Bridgewater are present with the beautiful guest vocals of Kelly Hurt while the opening "Chinese Ants" captures a quasi-Galactic groove. It seems that the guests provide the funk and the trio provides the complex music structure. Since the recording of Eveland, Yamagata has been augmented by saxophonist Jeff Waldon and guitarist Perry Osborne, so all of the excellent melodic yet intricate instrumentals (and occasional vocal) found on Eveland will continue on with their stage shows. www.yamagatamusic.com
The latest release from this saxophone veteran is Dial: M-A-C-E-O ( What Are Records, 2000) and once again, Maceo Parker shows us that there is no substitute for the funk. We may be hearing a heavy revival of the funk these days (Just about everybody plays a funky jazz these days, dont they), but this album reaffirms that Maceo Parker is the master purveyor of the funk vibe. "Rabbits in the Pea Patch" may be the unofficial sequel to "Pass the Peas" while "Coin Toss" has Ani Di Franco and Maceo sharing the vocals. So much for stereotyping Di Franco as an angry folk-punker for she has plenty of soul. The slow and sexy "The Greatest Romance Ever Sold" features . yes, I am going to say it ..Prince on vocals and all instruments. When cutting an album with Maceo, I think that Prince should have abandoned all of his pretentious "symbol" B$#%shiT, but the Minneapolis showboat plays by his own rules. Regardless, its is Maceos flute playing that takes the song. Maceo sons Corey, who has brought the house down at numerous live performances with his "Sexual Healing", gives a little rap for "Black Widow" (Maceo on flute again!). Corey shows up again for the straight-ahead rocking soul of "Ive Got Work To Do." The instrumentals "Simply Tooley" and "Homeboy" are the rawest funk pieces on the album that bring a New Orleans party quickly to mind. Maceos band for this album is as tight as ever with great Hammond B-3 playing by Bill Boulware and guitar playing of Bruno Speight. Dial M-A-C-E-O is a flawless album that will get any party going.
Without a doubt, this upstate New York State sextet warrants credit for having a clever name. In the beginning, the band has probably experienced full houses of hungry and thirsty individuals. In reality, the name is a tribute to a John Lee Hooker who would let people into his shows for free as long as they brought the above mentioned items. Regardless of what attracted to you to the concert hall, free food, the love of blues or good drink, it all becomes secondary to the music itself. Freebeerandchicken is an Albany band that masterfully combines jazz, country rock and the blues. Their album, / Fruition (F,B&C Productions, 1999), is one of the best sounding, independently released album that I have heard, is a product of great musicianship and capable producing. Guitarist Chris Sullivan takes the band through melodic Dickie Betts inspired solos on the opening "Sugar Plum". The song also has fine 3 part harmonies that also allude to the retro 1970s sounds of fellow New York jamophites, God Street Wine and Ominous Seapods. Sullivan is a man of many musical masks as he plays the guitar with a touch of Keith Richards rhythm , the funky licks of the Average White Bands "Picking Up the Pieces", Garcia/Santana lyrical melodies or Walter Becker inspired jazz-rock fusion. The rhythmic acoustic guitar and lead vocals of Damian Ubriaco gives the two tunes "Packing My Bags" and "Take It Easy" an uptempo country rock feel while the talented Seth Rostan adds jazz to the whole equation with his saxophone and flute playing. The man behind the keys, Kirk Jubas, is another key element who is responsible for Freebeerandchickens array of sounds and styles. His Fender Rhodes playing on tunes like "Living in the City" harkens to the wonderful 1970s Steely Dan days. His acoustic piano contributes to the swinging Latin jazz of the instrumental "78 Colors". For, "Going Away Blues", Jubas lays down a harmonica solo of Jack Bruce proportions (think Creams "Traintime/Toad" jams and you have a vibe similar to this tune.) Bassist Ken Jubas and drummer Skaticus have the difficult job of following the band through all of these styles and techniques. The truth of the matter is that the two are probably the true leaders. The instrumental "Traffic Jam" really brings out the best of the band. While Jeff Becks "Traffic Jam" made the listener think of deadlock, Freebeerandchickens version has a boogaloo sound that resembles Weather Report meeting up with the Greyboy All-Stars. Check out more about the band at www.freebeerandchicken.com
South Bend, Indianas Umphreys McGee is a quintet that has been together for three short but highly productive years. The band consists of guitarist Brandon Bayliss, keyboardist Joel Cummins, bassist Ryan Stasik and percussionists Michael Mirro and Andy Farag. These guys are all in their mid 20s and their potential is just beginning to be tapped into. In 1998, they released the live CD Songs for Older Women (Street Gold Records) in 1998 and is now distributing a live demo CD from a recent show in January. In this short period of time, Umphrey's McGee transformed themselves from Notre Dame local favorites to continuous crowd pleasers on todays demanding club circuit. In the course of a concert, this band covers the whole breadth of musical styles. This best shown in their original "Phils Farm", which transforms from hard driving chordal progressive workouts to high paced bluegrass romps to 1970s Fender Rhodes/Wah-Wah pedal funk to tight and soaring psychedelic solos. These same eclecticism can be found on other songs like "Der Bluten Kat" which once again shows the bands ability to move from complex progressive instrumentals to upbeat funky pieces. Although the band consists of equals, guitarist Brandon Bayliss deserves kudos as he can change his playing style from Robert Fripp to Eddie Van Helen to Jerry Garcia to John McLauglin to Carlos Santana to Trey Anastasio on the drop of a dime. The spirit of improvised live music is alive and well in Americas heartland. Check it out at www.umphreys.com.
The New Deal
The New Deal is another band that played at this Years Jammys. While the Slip paid tribute to Bob Dylan, the New Deal chose Bill Monroe as their prime influence. Not since Rushs explosion in the 1970s has Americans had an opportunity to hear a Canadian trio kick out the live jams. Unlike Rush, who took pride in extended compositional progressive music, the New Deal throw all of their weight into all out improvisation. This trio consists of bassist Dan Kurtz, drummer Darren Shearer and keyboards Jamie Shields and their album is This is Live (self released, 1999). Sometimes, their music resembles the long out free for all jazz-fusion jams similar to Zony Mash or Medeski, Martin and Wood. Check out "Bullet" and "Back to the Middle" to hear some of these New York City-like free funk jams. At times, the trio plays some very jazz oriented grooves and than at the next, they are pushing the avant-garde envelope and at the next they are techno wizards. With Darren Shearer on the drums and beatbox and Kurtz laying down a pulsating bass on tunes like "Navidrome" and "Stinger", the band introduces a techno dance hall element to their sound similar to that of Lake Trout or Ozric Tentacles. It is Shields insane use of keyboard and Moog effects that provide these driving rhythms with their color and character. At times, he sounds like John Medeski at others he sounds like Bernie Worell and at others he sounds like Wayne Horvitz. With a simple twist of the knob, Shields redefines the feeling of the jam and Kurtz and Shearer continue to throw down the pace. Despite all of this overtly electronic feel to their sound, the band used no overdubs with their release. This disc was recorded live in Toronto, Canada and although the disc says there are 14 songs, the overall flow of the recording suggests one continuous jam in which the three ebb and flow between trance inducing grooves and percussive breakdowns. It must have been quite a night in that Toronto bar for this quite a recording. These guys capture the best of both dance worlds they possess the dance qualities of techno-dance music with the feel good, let it all out jams of the jam band scene. Check out more about the New Deal at http://www.sound-and-light.com.
Three Hour Detour
Philadelphias Three Hour Detour is another band that takes redefines the trio format. Comprising of Ray Ashley (Stick, Mbira, keyboards), Joe D-Andrea (drums) and Helen Zisook (electric and acoustic violins), this trio takes their interesting array of instruments and crafts a diverse cocktail of progressive and jam music. Their instrumentals, such as the opening "Creative Hands" and "So We Can See", are exceptionally intelligent yet maintain a comprehensible groove. On a lyrical side, songs like "Omnichrome", "Forbidden Planet" and "Travellar" have a psychedelic "otherworldliness" to them and the jams in between provide the real character. Both "Forbidden Planet" and "Travellar" has subliminal bluegrass/folk tones while "Omnichrome"(sung by D Andrea) is an intense progressive workout. In all cases the jams are highlighted by the unique funkiness of the Stick (this instrument is "tapped" and allows for simultaneous bass and guitar playing), the piercing solos of both the acoustic and electric violins and a wide variety of percussion instruments. For the lovers of obscure music, Three Hour Detour has a sound that resembles a meeting between 1970s Happy The Man and 1990s Sector Nine. For "Nhema Musasa" the band honors the Shona people of Zimbabwe and Ashley plays an infectious percussive groove with an instrument known as the Mbira. One of the finest songs on the album is "Christmas Tree Farm" which has humble beginnings as a "holiday song" with its harmonies and fine piano work. It would even have mom making requests for it at Christmas Eve dinner. The holiday spirit soon disappears with "So We Can See" which is a spacey instrumental that has an assaulting jam which crescendos to a furious meeting of violin, Stick and percussion. The inspiration for the song came from witnessing a sunrise over a Norwegian Fjord but its sounds more like a volcano one the eve of eruption. The band also shows some of its humorous qualities with its closing rocker "McBane", which, if I didnt know better, was a tribute to the Simpsons finest TV Hero. Another attractive aspect of the band is that you listen to these intense jams and you cant even tell what instrument is what. Without a guitarist in the band but plenty of guitar like solos, the mind is left to the imagination. You will not find another band like Three Hour Detour. Their discipline and approach belong in the stuffy progressive music circles but their output is appealing and down to earth.
Tree o Frogs
Lets put it simply: San Franciscos Tree o Frogs should be from New Orleans. The band takes the best of the San Francisco funk bands: Galactic, the Meters, Juice, and All That and add some San Franciscan psychedelia. The quartet (guitarist Scott Royal, drummer Tony Dunn, bassist Brian Shira and saxophonist Michael Myers) just finished an impressive run in New Orleans during New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival where they opened for blues guitarist John Mooney and shared a jam session with Walter "Wolfman" Washington at the Maple Leaf. For those of us who didnt catch them in Nawlins and wont be seeing them at the High Sierra Music Festival this summer, they have released Butter Your Lips (self released, 2000). The album contains eight tremendously funky originals that contain both danceable grooves and incendiary improvisations. Both Myers and Royal are more than accomplished soloists check out "Schneider Man" and rhythm section definitely comes from the Zigaboo Modeliste/George Porter school of thought. The best thing about Tree of Frogs is that they obviously funk it up but they also like to stretch out the jams. It is music for both the dancing and thinking fans. Think of the Meters and the Grateful Dead coming together as one.www.treeofrogs.com
Congratulations to the Jammys winners and special kudos go out to the events organizers. Maybe next year, we will see some of these bands featured at the event.