The Redneck Jazz of Jimmy Herring | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

The Redneck Jazz of Jimmy Herring

"Subject to Change Without Notice," the latest solo venture from Widespread Panic's lead guitarist, delivers a smattering of genres.

"Subject to Change Without Notice," the latest solo venture from Widespread Panic's lead guitarist, delivers a smattering of genres. Photo by Courtesy Abstractlogix

Guitarist Jimmy Herring has made a career as a stalwart of the jam-band scene. He's played with the Grateful Dead and the Allmans. He was a founding member and crucial cog in the wheel of the seminal and highly influential proto jam band the Aquarium Rescue Unit, and he's currently the lead guitarist for Widespread Panic.

But in his solo career, Herring avoids imitating the sounds of his more high-profile gigs. He has always leaned towards the jazzier side of the jam equation. Since high school, his bands have been steeped in the jazz-fusion of the '70s, covering music by the likes of Dixie Dregs and the Mahavishnu Orchestra. He even married the two sides of his musical career in the 1990s with the band Jazz is Dead, which performed jazz-fusion renditions of Grateful Dead songs.

Herring arrives in Jackson Sept. 27 to play a show at Duling Hall in support of his second solo album, "Subject To Change Without Notice." He comes with a stellar cast of compatriots who comprise his Jimmy Herring Band—the same group that performed on the album. Each of them in some way springs from the common nexus of Col. Bruce Hampton, who fronted the ARU and helmed several successive bands that served as a de facto training ground for a generation of improvisational musicians.

Longtime ally and fellow Aquarium Rescue Unit alumnus Jeff "Apt. Q-258" Sipe is the drummer, bassist Neal Fountain played with Hampton in the Fiji Mariners and keyboardist Matt Slocum also plays with Oteil and the Peacemakers, a group led by the Allman Brothers and Aquarium Rescue Unit bassist Oteil Burbridge.

Though each of these musicians is highly accomplished in both formal and informal settings, the music on the all-instrumental "Subject To Change Without Notice" manages to steer clear of academic pomposity. Like the Aquarium Rescue Unit, the Jimmy Herring Band samples a swatch of several styles by mixing them up in an improvisational maelstrom. The 11-track album is full of fun forays into a wide range of genres, shuffling effortlessly between gypsy jazz ("Red Wing Special"), funk blues ("Bilgewater Blues") and gospel-tinged tunes ("Aberdeen").

To capitalize on the talent in the band, the artists kept the eight original songs intentionally simple, Herring said recently via telephone. "I kind of had the ideas of songs," he says. "I'd written eight songs, and I basically just slipped them the tunes and they came up with their own parts."

Whereas Herring's solo debut, 2008's "Lifeboat," fit more firmly in the jazz fusion genre, "Subject To Change Without Notice" is notable for its more traditional song structures featuring prominent melodies that mimic what a human voice might sing.

"It's just where I am right now," Herring said. "I think from so many years of playing with singers and songwriters that it just kind of rubbed off on me."

In addition to the original songs, the three cover songs reveal something about the range of influences that are part of the musical stew, too. The Beatles' "Within You Without You" features an appearance by Herring's 18-year-old son, Carter, on cello. The group tackles Mahavishnu Orchestra's "Hope" with the help of saxophonist Bill Evans and summon a soul jazz groove on Jimmy McGriff's "Miss Poopie," long a concert staple.

With the Jimmy Herring Band, rock, jazz, funk, soul, country and more are all mixed up into a sound that Herring jokingly refers to as "Redneck Jazz."

Jimmy Herring performs at Duling Hall (622 Duling Ave., 601-362-8440) Thursday, Sept. 27, at 7:30 p.m. The show is for ages 18 and up. Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the door. Call 601-292-7121 or 800-745-3000 or visit ardenland.net for more information.

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