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Jazz Is Dead at Nectar's

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Jazz Is Dead
Nectar's
Burlington, Vermont
June 4, 2024

Originally spearheaded in 1998 by drummer extraordinaire Billy Cobham (Mahavishnu Orchestra, Miles Davis), Jazz Is Dead has incorporated more than a few different personnel configurations over the course of its quarter-century plus existence. Having coalesced most recently to feature guitarists Steve Kimock and Bobby Lee Rodgers, bassist Alphonso Johnson (Weather Report) and drummer Pete Lavezzoli , the group celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary by hitting the road in 2023.

This same lineup has now embarked upon what is dubbed the 'Right Outside This Lazy Summer Home' tour, at its very outset including a propitious stop at Nectar's. The so-called 'House That Phish Built' has offered more than a few Grateful Dead tributes over the years, but perhaps none so enthralling (or high-spirited) as this early summer occasion.

Occurring a day prior to the official kick off of the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival, the performance may well have contained more sustained improvisation than many of the shows announced for the aforementioned annual event. Yet it was a testament to the professional savvy of this JID quartet that, in its friendly engagement of those present, it refused to rush itself into or around its choice of vintage selections from the iconic band's reputable canon.

"Uncle John's Band" thus emerged from an atmospheric interlude commencing the initial set of two and, not surprisingly, led to the first of a few audience singalongs of the evening. This famous cull from Workingman's Dead (Warner Bros., 1970) was also typical of the foursome's general approach to its renditions of select material from the iconic band's canon: introduction of familiar motifs here, as on "Shakedown Street," invariably led to more open-ended improvisation, these instrumental explorations—sans singing and histrionic showmanship—subsequently giving way to a return to the signature progressions.

These back-and-forths served dual purposes. Jazz Is Dead took the time to regroup for more sources of inspiration to jam, while simultaneously snatching back the attention of the audience packing the main area of the venue (and spilling over into one adjacent space adorned with three video screens to watch the action). The resulting ebb and flow sounded natural all around.

After an abbreviated break, beginning and ending right on time like the very commencement of the show, the dynamic was much the same for the second set. Except that, after the volume of conversation in the room rose appreciably once the band left the tiny stage, it only decreased slightly as JID flew through "Estimated Prophet," then "Stronger Than Dirt," obviously energized by its short rest.

The 'concert' thus became a mere background for socializing. As such, its virtues might well have been lost on those in attendance, except for a vocal minority who withstood sweltering heat to occupy the floor directly in front of the musicians. The conflicting atmosphere no doubt accounted for the fact that nothing resounded quite so loudly during this second interval as the rousing segue of "Help On The Way">"Slipknot">"Franklin's Tower" that closed the first segment on such a high note.

But then Kimock, Rodgers, Johnson and Lavezzoli weren't cowed by the lack of attention. Disciplined and knowing as they are, the band simply chose to please the crowd more overtly (if a bit more superficially) through straightforward closing takes on "U.S. Blues" and "Cumberland Blues" (where Rodgers played an adroit yet unobtrusive banjo and Kimock stood for the first time all night).

Prior to that, Jazz Is Dead otherwise offered a tacit, multi-leveled invitation to those watching and listening (plus drinking and talking) to follow the group through some more extended instrumental expeditions within and beyond "Scarlet Begonias." In the course of those intervals, earlier occurrences of which Kimock held sway with the quick precision of his playing, Johnson led the way with his own expansive and emphatic runs. Meanwhile, Lavezzoli's snappy work on his kit bolstered his bandmates' imaginative expertise: this drummer took an economical approach to his kit as he supplied punctuation to the interplay.

This particular collective display was a gesture forging tangible community with the fans. A sign of faith in the attendees' knowledge of Grateful Dead discography, it also served as an indication of JID's own confidence in their collective and individual abilities. Plus, it was a thank you not only to those who paid to get in, but also to those paid to aid JID on tour (and rightly so as the audio was clear and full throughout, doubtlessly aided by house soundman Sergei Ushakov).

Accordingly, it was no surprise to hear the effusive tone of Johnson's voice in his closing expression of thanks to the crowd, particularly as it was his second mention of the Nectar's show as the first of the tour. Remarkable as were the most memorable moments of the foursome's nearly three hours on stage this early June date, it only stands to reason that many more such instances will occur on subsequent stops on their itinerary.

Brave as the quartet sounded this hot summer night in the state of Vermont's Queen City, it is certain that Jazz Is Dead will continue to test its mettle in order to fine tune its chemistry as time goes on. And given the mutual affection that arose in this tiny club over the course of the evening, it is hard not to hope such displays of courage will flower in front of music lovers as discerning and enthusiastic as those in this most famous nightspot of Burlington's.

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