March 2002

Jazz Is Dead - Great Sky River
Zebra Records ZD44023
Released: 2001

by Bill Brooks

Musical Performance ***
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ***

[Reviewed on CD]"Play It Loud"

These are the instructions, printed on the inside cover of Jazz Is Dead’s newest release, Great Sky River. This can, and should, be taken as a large hint as to what lies buried in the aluminum disc inside.

For those unfamiliar with this jam band’s history, JID began as an idea in the "deadhead" of producer/manager Michael Gaiman. "I was daydreaming of an all-star lineup to play Grateful Dead material," explains Gaiman. The resulting band consists of keyboardist T Lavitz (Dixie Dregs, Jefferson Starship), bassist Alphonso Johnson (Weather Report, Santana), drummer Rod Morgenstein (Dixie Dregs), and axe master Jimmy Herring (Allman Brothers, Bruce Hornsby). This is the third release for Jazz Is Dead on the Zebra Records label.

Talent oozes from the edges of this CD. The individual efforts showcased here could serve as a portfolio of each player’s ability.

Jimmy Herring obviously ranks among the greatest guitar players of the day. It's not hard to hear the influence of some of his early heroes such as Hendrix and the Allman Brothers. In "St Stephen/The Eleven" his strings provide the guiding voice that sometimes leads with a soft grip, and later pushes hard with both hands. He later sets the sky ablaze with scorching licks on "Terapin 2." He is probably the greatest talent in the band, and, considering the other members, that's saying a lot.

Alphonso Johnson probably has the most "jazz" experience of the group, having performed with such greats as Weather Report, The Crusaders, Chuck Mangione, George Duke, Wayne Shorter, and many others. He handles the rhythms of funk, reggae, and rock with equal aplomb.

Rounding out the band are T Lavitz and Rod Morgenstein of the Dixie Dregs, one of the great all-time fusion bands. This is a band worthy of waking "the Dead."

If it feels like I’m about to add a "but" to all of this, you’re right. Don’t get me wrong. There are moments of individual brilliance. The recording is live in the best sense of the word. It was recorded live at the IMAC Theatre in Huntington, NY. There is a special purity in a recording like this.

However, Great Sky River just seems like one of those times where all the parts added together just don’t seem to make up a satisfying whole. There a tremendous amount of talent on display here, but great albums require more than just talent. This is a band that has evolved and seen changes in members and style. Perhaps this is just a taste of better things to come.