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.
I love jazz because it is both challenging and exhilarating, and the endeavor of improvisation is the highest form of art.
I met so many great musicians--including my two earliest heroes, Maynard Ferguson and Dizzy Gillespie--by attending concerts
and being willing to treat them with the respect they deserve.
The best show I ever attended was the Pat Metheny/Ornette Coleman Song X concert at Cornell University.
The first jazz record I bought was an RCA compilation by Dizzy Gillespie.
My advice to new listeners is to not be afraid to listen to something because you're not familiar with the artists or the band or
the genre or anything - this is music that is best experienced through discovery.