On Laughing Water, the fusion ensemble Jazz Is Dead one-ups the band that it sets out to honor. Laughing Water is a superior remake of the Grateful Dead's rather ordinary rock album Wake of the Flood.
Jazz is Dead's core musicians Jimmy Herring (guitar), T Lavitz (keys) and Alphonso Johnson (bass) trade melodic licks as they reinterpret the Dead's modal tunes from 1973. Fortunately you don't have to be a Deadhead to appreciate this album. Laughing Water not only fuses jam-rock with jazz, but it possesses a country-bluesy Americana flavor, thanks in part to the presence of bluegrass legend Vassar Clements (violin) and new Allman Brother Derek Trucks (slide guitar).
Drummer Billy Cobham is replaced here by two drummers, Rod Morgenstein and Jeff Sipe, paralleling the Grateful Dead approach. Donna Jean Godchauz (vocals) and Steve Kimrock (guitar) also appear.
The songs on Laughing Water are long and improvisational, but they seldom grow boring. From a purely technical standpoint, each musician in Jazz Is Dead is a a superior player to his counterpart in the Grateful Dead. But unlike many pop-jazz remakes of rock albums, Laughing Water manages to capture the rock 'n roll animus of the original. The communal carefree spirit of tie-died counterculturalism lives on in this music.
Not only should Deadheads come away happy, but fusion freaks and aficianados of improvisational rock should, too.