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In this age of snooze jazz radio and the retro mainstream, kick-ass fusion is all but dead. Given the climate, it's great to have the Dixie Dregs back in action and rocking the house down.
California Screamin' is a live overview of the Dregs' sporadic 25-year existence. The players really seemed to enjoy this reunion, which was recorded over three concerts at the Roxy in Los Angeles last August. The qualities that originally made this band so effective agile interplay, a blending of disparate genres, humorous touches are all in evidence.
Yes, there's a hint of dinosaur rock to the Dreg's sound, but their musicianship is so flashy and their energy level so high that it really doesn't matter. Fact is, this 13-track release is one of the Dregs' best.
The Dregs' music falls somewhere between the Allman Brothers and the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Guitarist Steve Morse remains the center of attention, and he's still a wizard on the frets. Like Jeff Beck, Morse has carved out his own special realm between jazz and rock. And he still refuses to cut those long locks that got him expelled from high school 30 years ago. On Screamin", Morse is clearly inspired by the presence of Jerry Goodman, former violinist with Mahavishnu. Their interplay is very impressive. Also terrific is the keyboard work of veteran T. Lavitz.
Screamin' showcases most of the band's best-known tunes: the intricate anthems "Wages of Weirdness" and "Freefall," spacy numbers "Night Meets Light" and "What If," and brawny cuts "Aftershock" and "Refried Funky Chicken." The band also serves up heady covers of Frank Zappa's "Peaches en Regalia" (with Zappa scion Dweezil guesting on guitar) and the Allman Brothers' "Jessica." Humor punctuates "Dixie" and the "The Bash," the latter a wild newgrass medley of "Wabash Cannonball" and "Rocky Top." (Check out the licks traded by Morse and Goodman on this sucker.) Newer tunes "Sleeveless in Seattle" and "Ionized" rock out just as hard as the band's old warhorses.
By combining Southern rock, jazz, bluegrass, funk and metal, the Dixie Dregs still epitomize the word "fusion," and they're still one of the hardest-rocking jazz bands around.
I know it's early in 2000, but this could well end up as the fusion release of the year.