Endangered Species – Jimmy Herring./T Lavitz/Richie Hayward/Kenny Gradney
Tone Center 40202
Jimmy Herring is like an athlete who gets picked for all the all-star teams.
The former member of the seminal Col. Bruce Hampton and the Aquarium Rescue
Unit – in hindsight, also an all-star band because of where its members
ended up later – has graced the lineups of the Allman Brothers Band, Phil
Lesh and Friends, Jazz is Dead and Project Z — all long-term or one-off
combos featuring "name" players.
So, it should come as no surprise that Herring has teamed with friends T
Lavitz (Dixie Dregs, Jazz is Dead), Richie Hayward (Little Feat) and Kenny
Gradney (Little Feat) to record Endangered Species.
The nine-song all-instrumental record furthers all four players' reputations
in the jazz-rock genre. And while this type of music often comes close to
cheesy Muzak wankery – Jazz is Dead is sometimes guilty of this – the
Endangered Species band rarely enters that territory.
The record reunites Jazz is Dead members Herring and Lavitz, and here the
duo display an intuitive chemistry – sometimes playing in tandem, other
times subtly sparring – not always realized on JID's recorded output.
Another plus is Lavitz's selection of keyboard tones. His repeated
jazz/fusion synthesizer sounds with JID often sucked the life out of the
band's otherwise spirited performances. Here, he relies primarily on
organic, vintage organ sounds, and the payoff is clear from the get-go.
It's also worth noting that this album, while similar in philosophy to
Project Z – Herring's other 2001 outfit, with Ricky Keller and Jeff Sipe – It's not nearly as experimental.
Species kicks off with Herring's "Headstrong". Lavitz takes the lead
with some melodic Hammond organ runs and Herring adds some obtuse, choppy
guitar noises, a far cry from his flowing jazzy lines with Phil and Friends.
Near the end of the tune, Herring plays a minor key solo over his overdubbed
hard-rock rhythm riffing.
"The New Berkley Park," a Lavitz composition, finds Herring back in full
Phil and Friends form, tearing through jazzy "King Solomon's Marbles"-type
licks. His style here is instantly recognizable – that fleet-fingered yet
effortless playing that sounds like his fingers are moving faster than his
mind – but his tone isn't. Here – and on much of the disc – Herring's sound
is very low-maintenance and free of any distortion or much sustain. It's not
nearly as warm as his tone with Lesh's outfit.
And speaking of Lesh, one of Herring's solos on "Park" features a tease,
maybe unintentionally, of the Grateful Dead's "Slipknot!"
The third track, "Slowlo", unfortunately finds Lavitz resorting to his Muzak
muse. His synth sound here is neither warm nor organic and has more in
common with shopping mall background music than the stuff you'd expect from
this quarter. Nonetheless, Herring soldiers on and catches fire. Again, it
sounds like the music is playing him.
The track recovers from the early synth debauchery and in addition to
Herrings melodious playing, the rhythm section funks hard, invoking some
Southern magic a la Feat.
In short, Endangered Species doesn't break any new ground and isn't
the strongest music released by any of its four esteemed members. But if you
want to hear one of rock's best yet mostly unheralded guitarists, a
versatile keyboardist who nearly won the chair in the Dead eventually
claimed by Vince Welnick and a tight, expressive rhythm section, this disc
is for you. No flashy soloing, no histrionics. Just a solid instrumental
rock record. And that, in and of itself, should be enough to make this album
worth your while.