prefer not to be compared to the Grateful Dead
in any respect, which is understandable up to a point, yet it's fair to say each band's respective legacy has its own momentum including twists and turns of evolution that inevitably result in parallels and intersections illuminating the process(es).
So it is that Jazz Is Phsh follows in the footsteps of Jazz Is Dead
as the former group interprets the Vermont band's material. Yet, in a subtle nod to the root group's stylistic inclinations, co-leaders drummer Adam and guitarist Matthew Chase take their group in a more traditional jazz direction different than the jazz-rock fusion of the ensemble originally including Mahavishnu Orchestra
drummer Billy Cobham
(and subsequently guitarist Jimmy Herring
as well as one-time Weather Report
bassist Alphonso Johnson
This wholly instrumental debut work, engineered and mixed by Bryce Goggin (who has worked extensively with the Vermont jamband throughout their history), consists of appropriately intricate arrangements including horn sections involving musicians who've also collaborated directly with Phish-trumpeter Michael Ray (ex-Sun Ra
Arkestra), for instance, was a member of the 'Giant Country Horns' road accompaniment in 1991-and other equally well- known names like saxophonist Jeff Coffin
, who toured extensively with Bela Fleck
& the Flecktones before joining the Dave Matthews
Consequently, it should come as little surprise that, rather than bolt from the gate to begin He Never Spoke A Word
, the ensemble adopts a somewhat leisurely pace on "Ghost" in keeping with the funk underpinning of the tune. Flute from Kofi Burbridge (currently in the Tedeschi Trucks Band
), electric piano and organ season a plush sonic mix that might well make the record (its name deriving from a line in this particular song) worth hearing on its own terms, that is, if there weren't other notable attributes.
One of the most significant of which is the fluidity with which the slightly varying instrumental lineups interact, each in its own inimitable fashion, on these dozen cuts. It speaks volumes for the individual players' familiarity with tunes like "Cars Trucks Buses," but as much or more so the generosity of spirit that places egos behind service to the songs, some of which, like "Lawn Boy" and "46 Days," rise above the comparatively slightly level at which they reside in the hands of the band that originally wrote and recorded them. It's a unique pleasure to follow the interweaving texture on such cuts.
Notwithstanding the fact the former tune is the name of the second Phish studio album, the group itself treats it like kitsch in concert. In the hands of Jazz Is Phsh, however, it is anything but, contrary to the coy cover art nod to drummer Jon Fishman's doughnut design stage attire. And "Foam" illustrates how the siblings who founded JIP rarely call attention to themselves despite the fact these recordings so heavily emphasize rhythm, anchored by drummer Adam or, for that matter, even when Matthew takes a healthy guitar solo.
His playing there leads directly to the witty cold stop, the whimsical attitude of which is perfectly in keeping with the authors' own mindset (as is the album closing segue) and certainly no small accomplishment for Jazz Is Phsh, who also posit themselves perfectly self-aware with the tease of a Dead staple, Bobby Blue Bland's "Turn On Your Lovelight," near the end of "Alumni Blues." How seriously can a band take songs titled "Dog Log" or "Meat?:" each of those tracks display a thoughtful approach allowing for focus on ensemble playing in the former and in the case of the latter, featuring the bright piano of a like-minded Phish fan in the person of Holly Bowling: even with her sparing contribution to the latter tune, the psychic connection to this music is clear.
It should be noted one of that woman's records is comprised of all Grateful Dead songs, Better Left Unsung
(Royal Potato Family, 2016), but equally importantly, that her presence on He Never Spoke A Word
is emblematic of the way great music attracts great musicians. No more than their JID forebears (whom they graciously and openly acknowledge), Jazz Is Phsh is hardly a novelty, but the antithesis thereof, a hearty extension of a still- evolving contemporary musical heritage.