One of America's hottest jam bands continues to mine the bottomless repertoire of the Grateful Dead. On their third album, Jazz Is Dead breathes new life into classics that Deadheads haven't ever gotten enough of. The intuition between guitarist Jimmy Herring (Aquarium Rescue Unit, Allman Brothers Band, Phil Lesh & Friends), bassist Alphonso Johnson (Miles Davis, Weather Report, Billy Cobham, The Other Ones), and keyboardist T Lavitz and drummer Rod Morgenstein of the Dixie Dregs has become more uncanny over the past few years as they have immersed themselves in the Dead's post-psychedelic canon.
Great Sky River was recorded live at the IMAC Theater in Huntington, NY, and it's their most accessible and well-executed disc to date. "China Cat Sunflower is the ideal way to kick off such a set, jumping right into the thump and grind to give the uninitiated something to latch onto. "St. Stephen/The Eleven is appropriately meditative and groovy by turns, and Johnson's solo reconfirms his status as a bass genius. Lavitz runs hell bent for leather through "Blues For Allah , boggling the mind even without controlled substances, and the vibe of "Terrapin Station is right on the money. They venture just deeply enough into "Dark Star to light the fire without totally wearing out one of the Dead's most fatigued sacred cows. Initially, "Morning Dew seems a bit too reserved to close out such a solid set, but the energy builds in the last couple of minutes to finish up on a strong note.
There's not much to quibble about here. The absence of vocals on "Estimated Prophet and "Terrapin Station is a bit unsettling at first, but the band manages to develop the melodic content exceedingly well to cover that gap. The "Drums & Jam segment falls a little short of the usual Dead expectations, if only because the dual force of Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann was so hard to live up to. No disrespect meant to Morgenstein, who handles the task as well as possible. This is difficult material to revisit convincingly, even if your name is Lesh or Weir. Jazz Is Dead continues to ensure that the music of Garcia and company doesn't fade into foggy, nostalgic oblivion anytime soon.
Personnel: Jimmy Herring, guitar; Alphonso Johnson, bass and Chapman stick; T Lavitz, keyboards; Rod Morgenstein, drums.