Project Z's Daring Jazz Release of 2005


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Perhaps the most musically daring experiment of the year was conducted by guitarist Jimmy Herring (formerly of the Aquarium Rescue Unit and the Allman Brothers Band and currently of Phil Lesh & Friends and the Dead). Together with his group Project Z, the phenomenal guitarist combined aspects of the jam-band scene with more aggressive, free-form elements that were jointly inspired by Ornette Coleman and the band's musical guru, Col. Bruce Hampton.

On Lincoln Memorial, its long-awaited follow-up to 2000's self-titled debut, Project Z has fashioned a kind of daredevil music that may jump-start a new subversive movement. For this recording, Herring and his Atlanta-based cohorts--former Aquarium Rescue Unit drummer Jeff Sipe (a.k.a. Apt. Q-258); Robert Randolph's current keyboardist, Jason Crosby; and former Aquarium Rescue Unit bassist Ricky Keller--gathered at the studio with no game plan, no preconceived guidelines whatsoever, and just rolled tape. Often such spontaneous music-making results in sheer chaos. Yet, these adventurous kindred spirits tapped into some kind of near-telepathic chemistry that allowed forms to take shape strictly in the moment, at the session, from boppish cookers to slash 'n' burn onslaughts, from noise-thrash freak outs to fragile, zen-like moments.

Project Z's stream-of-consciousness approach to collective improvisation recalls Miles Davis' electric bands of the '70s, as typified by Bitches Brew, Live-Evil, and the Agharta and Pangaea live recordings from 1975. (2004's extraordinary DVD, Miles Electric: A Different Kind of Blue, documents this carte blanche approach at the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival in a seamless, 38-minute jam by his band, which Miles dubbed “Call It Anything.")

A key element in the success of Project Z's freewheeling outing was the presence of alto saxophonist, composer, and musical provocateur Greg Osby, who brings a kind of spikey quality to the fray--similar to Ornette Coleman's work with his early-'80s electric Prime Time band. Watch for Project Z to up the ante on tour this year, with bassist Matthew Garrison replacing Keller, who died before the release of Lincoln Memorial (the album is dedicated to the late bassist, who was dubbed Lincoln Metcalf by Col. Bruce Hampton during their stint together in the Aquarium Rescue Unit).

Right now, the music scene needs this kind of spirit. Expect more open-minded musical renegades like Herring, Sipe, Osby, and company to cross over to the jam-band camp in 2006. Then step back and watch the sparks fly.

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