Jimmy Herring : Subject To Change Without Notice

Written by Tom Speed

September 29, 2012

Jimmy Herring has been playing guitar in bands since high school, but it’s just now, on just his second solo record, that he seems to be claiming his own artistic voice.

He’s spent much of his career performing other folks’ music as a go-to ringer for jam band stalwarts the Dead, the Allman Brothers and Widespread Panic, his current gig.  But his personal leanings have tilted more to the jazz side, demonstrated on  his first solo record, 2009’s Lifeboat, and in his contributions to Jazz Is Dead, a jazz-fusion group that covered songs by the Grateful Dead.

On Subject To Change Without Notice, Herring puts together an inventive grab-bag of original instrumental tunes and a handful of covers that belie his broad musical interests.  In fact, the title could just as well refer to the ease with which Herring and company jump genres. One minute they’re playing swinging gypsy jazz, a minute later it’s down-and-dirty funk. It’s an approach more closely aligned with his work in the seminal jam group Aquarium Rescue Unit than with any of his subsequent work.

Like that band, the players assembled here delve into bluegrass, blues, funk, and any number of other styles. Many of these players have ties to Col. Bruce Hampton, the curator of a legion of bands steeped in the “zambi” ethos, an approach to music of keeping the songs simple to make room for pure improvisation by ridding one’s playing of the ego. In the process, zambi music can fearlessly draw from all styles of music with equal appreciation and zeal. For instance, the slow-burn gospel of “Aberdeen,” with its swirling organ by Ike Stubbefield, is followed by the Indian sounds of the Beatles’ “Within In You Without You,” during which the maestro Herring makes his guitar sound like a sitar and tags on a stunning solo that never existed on this song before.

The core group consists of drummer Jeff “Apt. Q-258” Sipe, bassist Neil Fountain and keyboardist Matt Slocum. But in addition to Stubbefield, guests include banjo master Béla Fleck, Nicky Sanders (Steep Canyon Rangers) on fiddle, Etienne Mbappe (Mahavishnu Orchestra) on bass, Bill Evans on saxophone and pedal steel by John Keane, who produced the album. There are also a couple of appearances by Herring’s son, Carter, on the cello.

Elsewhere, this ensemble tackles jazz fusion (“Twelve Keys”), country swing (“Curfew”),  and funk (“Bilgewater Blues”). Other covers include songs by Jimmy McGriff and John McLaughlin. The most impressive thing about all the style-swapping is how cohesive the record is; there’s a connective tissue throughout these disparate styles, and it is made of equal parts proficiency, reverence and zambi

Subject To Change Without Notice is out now on Abstract Logix.