Jazz Is Dead rolled into South Orange, NJ last night bringing a ton of tasty Dead with them. There wasn’t much Jazz but there definitely was plenty of Dead. The 5 piece band ripped through unique renditions of some of our old favorites with the kind of inspired originality they’ve always been known for possessing. The South Orange Performing Arts Center provided an intimate environment that encouraged and enabled interchange between artists and audience throughout the evening. It was a tremendous night of music provided by top shelf musicians.
I remember seeing Jazz Is Dead several times throughout the years and with a couple of different musicians. Terry “T” Lavitz (Widespread Panic, Jefferson Starship, Dixie Dregs and many more) played Keys and Jimmy Herring played with them in the late 90s to early 2Ks along with Alphonso Johnson on bass. Alphonso plays like he has 8 fingers on each hand and makes it look easy as sleeping. He’s one cool character. They’ve always had drummers that were absolute beasts on the kit starting with Billy Cobham then moving to Jeff Sipe. The next as well as the current Rhythmic Octopus is Rod Morgenstein. That brother blasted through the night with intense authority and no shortage of shit getting endlessly blasted. He will never be accused of not being busy enough. They’ve been dormant since Lavitz’s unfortunate passing 5 years ago but they’re back now and better than ever!
Jeff Pevar came onboard after Jimmy and is an incredible guitarist. His command of the stage and his instrument is awe inspiring and his talents were on full display. From intricate finger picking to just plain slaying it, Jeff is someone you need to get a good dose of if you haven’t already. The originality of his interpretations along with the delivery of them had me smiling from ear to ear the entire night.
Chris Smith, a highly decorated player, took on half of the keyboard roles. He was animated and completely immersed in the music throughout the entire night.
The real treat of the evening is the addition of Tom Constanten on the other half of the keys. TC is the wise elder of the group and it was a joy to see him. Most notably, our favorite band’s keyboardist for less than a year and a half (November of ’68 to January of 70), Tom was engaged in the experience and savored the moments. When a musician solos, it’s an opportunity to look inside the depths of their core. When Tom wound up for his solos, this sincere and humble sound came through him. Not really colored it seems by much regret or bitterness. Just this pure albeit extremely laid back sound for this group of abundant note players. It’s probably the reason he didn’t work out very well with The Dead. While I know that none of us are perfect, Tom just didn’t have enough Sin in his Sound for a band like The Dead. One of my favorite qualities about Garcia was his uncanny ability to deeply feel everything he sung about regardless of who wrote the original. His sound resonated with the things of Christ just as well as they resonated with the qualities of a criminal. He had the perfect combination of just enough pain and more than enough pleasure to color everything he sang with unmatched passion. Either way, It was great to see TC on stage doing HIS thing.
The show featured 2 sets of the most blazing and originally flavored Grateful Dead Music that can be found. Being mostly instrumental, other than Sugaree and New Speedway Boogie sung by Jeff, the room for exploration, improvisation and innovation was vast. One More Saturday Night closed the first set and was packed full of solos from the entire band and was a definite highlight for me. Estimated was probably the closest manifestation to The Dead’s original take on the tune and opened the second set as powerfully as the first set was closed. Songs like Sugar Mags and Attics were so originally crafted that they weren’t even easily identifiable initially. Once they found their strides, morsels of familiar sounds emanated from deep within their complex structures. Help On The Way-> Slipknot filled the room with pure sonic joy before painfully leaving Franklin’s out of the fun. I hate when bands do that… Deja Vu…
At times, I thought the band could more appropriately be called, Metal Is Dead. The hard driving jams often resembled Hard Rock much more than Jazz. An extremely straight laced woman sitting next to me commented to her husband as we walked out, “Oh dear… That wasn’t Jazz at all”. Apparently, they were some local folks drawn out of their house on a Thursday night by the keyword “Jazz” at a local theater. I don’t know what they’d call the hybrid form of jams that we all took in last night but I do know what I’d call them… OUTSTANDING!!! They were OUTSTANDING songs played by OUTSTANDING musicians in an extremely unique and OUTSTANDING way. Do yourself a favor and catch Jazz Is Dead at a theater near you. You’ll leave feeling refreshed, renewed and completely satisfied by the experience.
Dead To The Core,
Dean Sottile (pronounced So Tilly)