In a Silent Way
Don’t Want You No More ->
Every Hungry Woman
Woman Across the River
Come & Go Blues
Good Morning Little School Girl
intro -> Done Somebody Wrong
No One Left to Run With -> killer jam
IMOER -> Jabuma -> bass -> IMOER
The band takes the stage, Oteil chimes, Derek joins in, a melancholy, jazzy bebop jam that is clearly an overture, swelling in the way “High Falls” does as an opener but with a vaguely Miles Davis feel… then, clearly, it is “In a Silent Way.” Derek plays lines that are evocative of the Beatles’ “Within You Without You.” A Jaimoe jaunt, an Oteil vamp, Derek spats out sparse lines, the band finds a bop groove, Derek doing his play-the-guitar-like-a-horn thing over the top, all peaceful and Zen bebop. Warren pushes the piece to an almost-“Birdland” space (Oteil observes between sets, “Zawinul wrote both songs.”) For those of us that pay attention, it is a sublime opening, but not surprisingly the magic is lost on much of the crowd.
The band pulls up out of “Silent Way” and hits a hard “Don’t Want You No More.” Gregg’s playing is crisp; Derek plays some slide, then Warren steps forward, then hard on the outro riff… except that the blues note that pierces through is not the one you expect; no, it is the introduction to “Desdemona.” That piercing intro note seems sour at first, playing against the expectation your ears have for “Not My Cross,” but then it seems just exactly right. Warren plays some groovy, wavy guitar on his solo, then amps up the urgency to 11 before segueing into the transitional lick. Ovation. Derek takes at least four breaths before entering, plays bendy, twisty notes against the melody, then finds his way to the edge of madness before a sweet pull-up back into the verse.
The front line is like a locomotive on “Every Hungry Woman.” Derek and Warren trade furious licks and rhythms; as one tosses off a lead, the other seamlessly picks up the rhythm chording. It is like they are juggling, slinging lead and rhythm back and forth at daredevil pace without missing a beat; it is musical acrobatics. Then they fall onto the harmony licks, the band tumbles head over heels with forward momentum to the close.
Derek’s early solo in “Woman Across the River” pushes against the blues from the sour side, some nice work. Then on the play-out, suddenly the guitars are like two runaway trains and you snap to attention… stinging playing… the band jerks forward, half-a-step ahead of the song in fiery off-kilter drunken glory… all around you, moneymakers are shaking… then bam! on the close. The final section pulls the tune into the stratosphere.
A nice “Come and Go Blues” is up next, followed by the dark and snaky “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” (disclaimer: your humble correspondent is a total sucker for the ABB dipping into the Howlin’ Wolf song book.) Derek and Warren lay out a little fire and ice (you can guess which was which.) Warren skronks out a long bluesy bubbling solo that pulls you along like you’re water skiing in mud, then back into the vocals. As Derek takes his solo the band falls away; his lines are subtle comments. Then he drives the band hard into a frenetic waltz time, Oteil can’t be contained, the wheels are coming off—then snap! Back into the baby elephant time of the verse. Beautiful.
Gregg comes in early on the vocals for “Wasted Words,” then a strong performance. On the extended front line play-out, the fingers on Derek’s right hand are a blur. Out of “Wasted Words” the band plays an extended blues jam on one chord, Derek playing all easy breezy over the top, then it turns over into a hyper-jaunty “Done Somebody Wrong,” featuring strong vocals by Gregg. As lights come up, Oteil and Butch huddle behind the drum riser, and I hear Butch saying, “I think we’re on to something.” I don’t know what he’s referring to—song, set—buy I think he’s right.
“Melissa” opens the second set, pretty and breezy. Then the Bo Diddley beat of “No One Left to Run With.” Derek plays an extended solo over the Diddley beat outro, there is a brief hint of “Mountain Jam,” less a tease than a reference, then the band falls from the hard rhythmic riff to a melodic groove. Derek pushes the envelope, then pops sideways straight out of the groove with searing lines. The band follows him into a sweet, dark misty minor key chord progression and jam, more and more pronounced, aligning around the melody defined by Oteil’s cool yet flashy bass line. Warren takes the reigns and solos over this great new song that they are composing on the spot, a majestic, dramatic, elegiac piece that has virtually nothing to do with “No One Left to Run With.” On and on… finally Derek and Warren find a pair of twin licks, bending the “No One Left” lines all out of shape to fit this new tune. Somehow the band uses these licks to find a path back to the Bo Diddley beat, and hits the shuffle hard to close. The song, specifically the improvisational jam section, is just eye-poppingly great. “Oteil!” calls Gregg over tumultuous applause.
“Rocking Horse” is tight, taut with strong vocals and great precision in execution. Warren’ solo is comprised of incendiary, cascading lines, but at end he just sort of stops, no transitional riff… the band gets all spacy… Derek plays over Oteil and drums, the drums lock on… it almost seems as if maybe they’ll go to Jabuma… but no. Derek goes off on an atonal exploration. Warren offers some light accompaniment, Derek pushes on, and suddenly it becomes clear this is a back door into his solo. He is frenetic, flying into the harmony licks. As Warren sings the back end of the verses, the magnitude of the piece hits you in a “whoa! moment.
Out of the Horse Gregg counts in with the familiar, “1, 2, 1-2-3” that heralds “Statesboro Blues.” It is a welcome release, the pay-off to the Horse. Out of the embers the band lays the space for “Elizabeth Reed.” There are Drums of Fire driving behind the opening theme section. Derek takes a fun, fat ringing solo, he plays the Beacon like a yo-yo on a loose string, his tone full, white-hot, the lines spot on. Then the transitional riff, and Gregg solos over just the drummers. Derek joins, chording; Oteil joins, and with their backing Gregg’s solo becomes the song again. Warren solos over a dense percussive bed, then builds to a sizzling boil, piercing your heart with blue arrows of light. “Hey!” you think as you become aware of some movement downstairs. “Who’s groove thang is that?” Then the drums, Oteil starts out up front on a big (I’m guessing) kettle drum; it is fascinating to see the host organism respond to his presence; he moves to Butch’s kit and sends ripples and waves through the Jabuma space-time continuum. For his bass section Oteil plays nice round jazzy lines, soon joined by Derek on rhythm, Oteil solos high over the top of the Derek/drums base, then back down under. Derek takes a brief solo as the rest of the players return, Warren sets up and trades majestic lines with Derek, a solid little jam section that leads inexorably back into the theme. Sweet. I had felt that “Elizabeth Reed” suffered as a drum solo song because there wasn’t enough song left after the solos, but this Derek/Warren guitar interlude extended the back end and made the song.
At this point, the band has been so adventurous with the set list over two nights that I have no inkling of what the encore might be. It is “Revival.” The riff slows as Derek plays cool metallic lines over the top, he plays around with the song’s melody line with a nice Gregg vamp underneath. It becomes another extended forum for Derek soloing over the band’s freewheeling rhythmic expressive jamming, then a round of short licks punctuating the “Love is everywhere” refrain. Nice.
It was a show where the highlights were outstanding—“In a Silent Way,” the back end of “Woman Across the River,” “Schoolgirl,” and especially “No One Left to Run With.” “Elizabeth Reed” was a revelation with the extended back end. It is inevitable that a band taking such risks with the set list will have some pacing issues, because you can only test a set list in front of a live audience. I thought “In a Silent Way” might be better served by placement later in the set—second to last number of the first set, or maybe in the “Dreams” slot in the second set. (Although I understand why they wanted to open the run with it, and hey, who knows if they’ll even play it again…) But these are minor quibbles. I honor the band for taking these kinds of chances, and when things hit right—like the work on the new jam window in “No One Left to Run With”—the results are nothing short of incendiary magic.