Project Z: Lincoln Memorial (2005)
Warts and All, the title of the popular jamband Moe.'s series of full concert releases, signified that the whole thing was there, unedited, with mistakes, wrong turns, everything. Project Z leader Jimmy Herring is very familiar with this philosophy. His early musical education came on the road with Col. Bruce Hampton and his Aquarium Rescue Unit. Says Herring, "[Hampton]'d say, 'Life ain't always good. Why should music be?' If you're tapped into it and you're really giving it everything you've got emotionally, it shouldn't be the lottery every night."
And that is the philosophy with which Project Z went into the studio three years ago. Not intending to record an album, they jammed to their heart's content. When the jams were given track numbers and put on record in their pure form, they paid homage to Col. Bruce's philosophy, and Lincoln Memorial is pervaded by that sense of humor.
But this is no jamband record. At its core is jazz; the communication between the musicians is astonishing at times. Herring is joined by the late Ricky Keller (bass), Jeff Sipe (drums), Jason Crosby (keyboards), and Greg Osby (sax). Herring, Keller, and Sipe are all veterans of Hampton's bands, while Crosby plays with Robert Randolph, and Osby is a pure jazz man. With such a diverse set of musicians, the results are bound to be either astonishing or a train wreck. The fit squarely in the former camp.
Herring's guitar is the focal point of the record. In the various Grateful Dead-related bands he has joined in the past few years, Herring has been more laid back, his tone less piercing. With Project Z he is not afraid to be out front, and his tone is perfect for the fusion of jazz and the jamband aesthetic.
The record begins modestly enough with Keller playing a walking bass line and Herring sketching a jazz melody. But this quickly devolves into a collective improvisation, each musician contributing his specialties to the mix. Sipe is a monster on drums, at times drowning out even Herring, but his drumming is always a reaction to what the other players are doing. Crosby never comps like a true jazz pianist; he plays fills and leads that coax the music those last few steps to where it needs to go. Keller's eccentricity is channeled through his fingers. The bass is not used in conventional fashion; in fact, Keller's bass delivers the most conventionally melodic statements present on this album. And Osby gives a veritable lecture on when to play and when not to.
At various times, the music on Lincoln Memorial can sound like a Led Zeppelin mid-song freakout, a Grateful Dead mid-"Other One" jam, a stripped-down and electric version of one of Ornette Coleman's collective improvisations, straight funk, or the middle of a great jazz fusion jam. This is the album that Herring has always had the potential to make, combining all of his diverse influences into a cohesive musical statement. Warts and all.
Track Listing: Departure; Miso Soup; Stale Salt Lugs; Freener Frolic; You Do; Sister Barbie; Slaif; Sad Sack; 'Ol Bugaboo; Zamb Fear; Microburst; Lincoln Memorial; Arrival.
Personnel: Jimmy Herring: guitar; Ricky Keller: bass; Jeff Sipe: drums; Jason Crosby: keyboards; Greg Osby: saxophone.