NEW YORK When many people think about jam bands, they picture tie dye, hacky sacks and earthy, organic music filled with instrumental noodling. But lately, musicians have been expanding the boundaries of jam music by infusing elements of techno, hip-hop, avant-jazz and prog rock into their songs.
The goal of the second annual Jammy Awards, held Thursday at the Roseland Ballroom, was to celebrate the growing diversity among jam bands and to encourage artists from different backgrounds to join each other onstage and let fly with the spirit of spontaneous invention. Bluesmen collided with alt-rockers, rappers joined pop stars, turntablists merged with bluegrass twangers, and three-chord punkers dueled with drum'n'bass artists. Regardless of the styles they explored, nearly all the acts held true to the jam edict of pinpointing an emotional moment and stretching it out for minutes at a time.
The house act for the proceedings was the Derek Trucks Band, fronted by the nephew of Allman Brothers Band drummer Butch Trucks. Derek, who replaced guitarist Dickey Betts in the Allmans last year, set the tone for the evening with music that ranged from soulful blues with slippery slide guitar leads to freaky Zappa-esque workouts and covered various strains of funk, free jazz and Latin music in between. During its various sets, the band was joined onstage by Col. Bruce Hampton, pedal steel player Robert Randolph and former "Saturday Night Live" comic Jim Breuer, who led the group through an impromptu blues rendition of his routine "Party in Your Stomach."
First to take the main stage was the Del McCoury Band. Accompanied by Randolph and DJ Logic, they played a Southern-fried bluegrass version of "Swing Low Sweet Chariot." While the dense blend of mandolin, violin, keyboards, banjo and acoustic guitars left little room for Logic to scratch, Randolph's frenzied pedal steel playing gave the music a fiery charge even though the country-hick harmonies eventually wore thin.
With a career batting average of .304 and four Golden Gloves to his name, New York Yankees center fielder Bernie Williams won't be in need of a new job for years to come, but during his brief (by jam band standards) set he showed that when he leaves the majors he can probably find work in the music biz. Joined by the Jazz Mandolin Project, Williams batted out some impressive John Scofield-style guitar licks on a version of Ornette Coleman's "Ramblin'."
Adhering more closely to traditional notions of jamming, the Steve Kimock Band and Trucks played extended and sometimes overly indulgent funk-jazz excursions.
One of the highlights of the Jammy Awards was the Tom Tom Club, who performed a percussive reggae-fueled version of Phish's "Sand" before being joined by Michael Franti of Spearhead for the Club's "Genius of Love" and "Wordy Rappinghood."
The most incongruent performance came from spontaneous combo Lake Trout, who played moody music that incorporated elements of ambient electronica, drum'n'bass, prog rock and avant-jazz. The band's first jam ended with torrents of distorted vocals and epileptic beats that sounded like a slightly less amped-up Atari Teenage Riot. Then the combo was joined by Ramones drummer Marky Ramone and Misfits bassist Jerry Only on vocals for two storming Ramones tunes, "I Wanna Be Sedated" and "Blitzkrieg Bop."
An ambitious but ultimately unsuccessful collaboration between Meters bassist George Porter Jr., Roots vocalist Black Thought and Soulive on Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" and James Brown's "Soul Power" ranked as the only major disappointment of the show.
Far more kinetic was Les Claypool's Frog Brigade performance with "Late Show" keyboardist Paul Shaffer and string-slinging maverick Junior Brown. The combo burned through a bizarre, uplifting version of the Beatles' "Taxman," slipping in snippets of Primus' "Wynona's Big Brown Beaver." During maniacal solo breaks, Brown strangled a whirlwind of sound from his double-necked guit-steel guitar, Shaffer played intricate organ runs and Claypool thrummed out a variety of rhythmic, funky bass passages. Claypool ended his band's set with a galactic version of King Crimson's "Thela Hun Ginjeet."
The last band of the evening was Disco Biscuits, who along with Blues Traveler singer John Popper and jazz virtuoso guitarist Stanley Jordan played Jane's Addiction's "Three Days" and Led Zeppelin's "Bring It on Home." On the former, Jordan provided angular texture to the band's dusky, moody playing and Popper filled in the sonic gaps with wailing harmonica solos.
The Jammys concluded with various artists including Popper, Jordan and the Derek Trucks Band jamming to the Meters' "Cissy Strut" after Porter won the Lifetime Achievement Award.
Other award winnners included:
- Release of the Year - Ladies and Gentlemen, the Grateful Dead
- Jam of the Year - Phil & Friends with Mike Gordon (12/31/00)
- Live Performance - Phish at Deer Creek in Noblesville, Indiana (7/11/00)
- Live Album - Live Frogs, Set 1, Les Claypool's Frog Brigade
- Studio Album - Farmhouse, Phish
- Mimi Fishman Memorial Award - Mockingbird Foundation
- Festival of the Year - Gathering of the Vibes
- Fan Website - www.etree.org
- Radio Show - "Jam Nation"
- New Groove of the Year - Yonder Mountain String Band