LIVE: Jaimoe’s Jasssz Band @ The Egg, 2/23/18
Review by Don Wilcock
Photographs by Rudy Lu
Johnny Mathis once told me that one of the hidden benefits of being a legacy artist is that you get to pick who you want to play with. Being one of the original Allman Brothers Band members, Jaimoe gets to do just that with his crackerjack Jasssz Band who played The Egg in Albany last month. Junior Mack is the front
man in the band and carries the heavy responsibility of leading the group as singer and guitarist. Jaimoe plays drums behind the band and doesn’t sing. On Allman Brothers songs like “Too Far Gone” and “Blue Sky,” Mack has some heavy shoes to fill. He doesn’t sound like Gregg Allman on vocals and his guitar work is more fundamental in its Memphis soul orientation than that of any of the Allman Brothers guitarists Duane Allman, Dickey Betts, Warren Haynes or Derek Trucks.
Frankly, I found it refreshing to hear these Allman chestnuts done “straight” in every sense of the word. It made me appreciate just how great Gregg Allman and Dickey Betts were as songwriters. Hearing Allman classics done by an African-American artist who did not soar into long jam-band flights was like seeing a tomboy you’ve known all your life for the first time appear dressed for the prom.
“I play blues. I play jazz. It’s the goddamn same thing,” says Jaimoe, who takes a European attitude toward the relationship between jazz and blues with a repertoire much wider than simply Allman Brothers material. While Americans tend to draw a line in the sand, Europeans blend the two seamlessly. I hear music from my lower chakra, and to me most jazz is a mental, sometimes academic exercise. This band was both academically structured and feral in their jazz licks. And, like Johnny Mathis, Jaimoe picks the best.
Junior Mack is a New Jersey native and longtime staple of the New York blues world. He told Guitar World in 2011, “I’m rooted in the blues, so that’s in any music I play, sing or write, but I don’t really break it down. I just play and try to play what’s right for the song.” He picked up a guitar and taught himself to play at the age of nine and has worked or shared the stage with the Allman Brothers Band, Derek Trucks, Robert Randolph, Dickey Betts and the late David Honeyboy Edwards.
Saxophonist, composer and arranger Kris Jensen has played with Maynard Ferguson, the Allman Brothers Band, Gregg Allman & Friends and Dickey Betts & Great Southern. Trumpet player Reggie Pittman holds a bachelor’s degree in music education and a masters in music technology. He has worked with Babyface, Lionel Hampton and his own bands for a total of more than 30 years.
Bass player Dave Stoltz met Jaimoe in 1990 which led to his joining Dickey Betts touring band and then to auditions for the Allman Brothers Band in 1997. He has also performed with Ellen McIlwaine, members of The Byrds, Eddie Henderson, Houston Person and Grayson Hugh. Music informs Stoltz’s soul and vice versa.
Brian Charette recently replaced veteran Jasssz Band keyboardist Bruce Katz. He is a Grammy-nominated winner of the 2014 Downbeat Critics’ Poll Rising Star: Organ award who has performed with Joni Mitchell, Chaka Khan, Paul Simon and Cyndi Lauper.
Jaimoe told me in 2012 that what kept him coming back to the Allman Brothers even after 41 years of death, addictions, personnel changes, break-ups and personality clashes was the ability to play “something that was free to try. It couldn’t have been anything else.” Actually, his Egg concert with the Jasssz Band demonstrated he’s even freer with his own band to push the envelope deeper into jazz.
By 2012, two years before the break-up of the Allman Brothers, Gregg and Jaimoe both appreciated having their own side gigs, Jaimoe with his Jasssz Band and Gregg with his solo band. “This band is much different,” Allman explained. “It’s on a little bit lighter note than the Brothers, and it’s just great to have because you have one man making the decisions. You got one guy doin’ the writin’ actually, one guy making most of the decisions on things because when you get three head chefs in the kitchen, you’ve got problems, especially when two of ’em are drummers.”
That said, in his autobiography “My Cross to Bear,” Allman calls Jaimoe “the hippest cat in the whole world,” says he loves him like he loved his own brother and states flatly, “Of all the people who have ever been in the band, I love Jaimoe the most.”
Writing about the death of Gregg Allman last year, Rolling Stone called Jaimoe “the spiritual center” of the Allman Brothers. It wasn’t hyperbole.
GO HERE for more of Rudy Lu’s photographs of this concert…