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Published: 2015/12/29
by Jeff Tamarkin

Jazz Is Dead
Grateful Jazz

One thing has always set Jazz Is Dead apart from other Grateful Dead tribute bands: Rather than trying to reconstruct the Dead’s music, they use it as a launching point, a framework, and then go their own way. After all, why waste this level of musicianship and ingenuity on imitation when creation is so much more rewarding? Grateful Jazz is JID’s magnum opus, started before the passing of keyboardist T Lavitz, then abandoned for some time and now completed. The group’s fluid lineup has settled in here as Lavitz, guitarist Jeff Pevar (who also contributes Dobro, mandolin and banjo), bassist David Livolsi, drummer Rod Morganstein, along with current bassist Alphonso Johnson, soprano saxophonist Bill Evans and violinist Jerry Goodman. From the start of “Cumberland Blues,” the opening track, it’s apparent that this is a take-no-prisoners endeavor. It’s actually closer to the song’s Appalachian roots than the Dead’s original studio version—Pevar is on fire on lap steel—but also wholly electrifying, Morganstein pushing the pace to near-exhaust levels. Further down, “Attics of My Life” retains the serenity and solemnity of the GD’s arrangement until, about two-thirds through its nine minutes, it goes unexpectedly ethereal, then calms again. The “Mr. Charlie”>“One More Saturday Night” jam is pure rock mania and “Dark Star,” saved for last, is unlike any the Dead ever played: equally experimental and sonically adventurous, but owing as much to classic ‘70s fusion as to anything that ever came out of Kesey’s place. Inspired stuff, this.

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