The Jammys are typically a bloated mess, having jumped the shark three years ago. The lineup tends to create odd blends of pop artists with improvisers, often resulting in no jamming, whatsoever. But occasionally there have been ingeniously bold pairings who threw caution to the wind and risked it all in a wild free-for-all. Anyone who saw Robert Randolph and DJ Logic sit in with the Del McCoury Band (at the second Jammys) knows what I’m talking about. The look on McCoury’s face when he turned to watch DJ Logic take a turntable solo in a ripping cut of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” well, that about sums it all up. Risks can lead to greatness or failure, but improvisational music is all about risk and reward, so I always hope The Jammys will offer bold combos who aren’t afraid to fall on their face.
For the last couple of years, The Jammys’ lineup seemed to underwhelm more and more, and this year continued the downward trend. A lack of plentiful A-list names caused little to no enthusiasm in hipper NYC circles, and after a friend bailed pre-show, I struggled mightily to find someone to take my extra ticket for free. Unable to find anyone who needed a ticket minutes before the show, I wound up giving it away to a guy in the long Will Call line because he wanted to leave the venue and have a way of getting back inside.
This year, thanks to the magic of the Treo650, I decided to write my review as I watched the show, and after making a couple of edits, it’s being posted here. If names or songtitles are incorrect, feel free to suggest corrections, and I will change them throughout the day. Also, I’d be happy to hear your thoughts on the show, but if you’re going to email me about the inane nature of grading subjective musical performances, just blow it out your ass.
The Sixth Annual Jammys began at 8:04 on April 20, 2006. If you weren’t aware that the day was 4/20, you were reminded several times throughout the evening by a several individuals with an apparent passion for the Roman calendar. The early-ish start played to a theater that was 2/3 empty.
Initially, it was hard to overlook the sponsorship of TimeOutNY, a magazine that enjoys ripping on the jamband scene in their catty homosexual-indie-snob style. Now they were suddenly sponsoring the very music they claim to hate. I guess they’re little more than bitchy whores.
On with the music and the report card.
Richie Havens with The Mutaytor – Opening with “Freedom” was predictable, but with the aid of 9 or ten musicians (including 6 percussionists) behind him, the old codger locked everyone into a climactic tribal groove. The thunderous finish was punctuated by Mr. Havens’ surprisingly agile karate kick.
The Mutaytor – During a sonically montonous, percussion-led jam, performers came onstage and belly danced, fire-danced, and did odd things with hula hoops. In “Montonous Jam#2,” 6 additional djembe players came out along with a Chinese Dragon. Eh. At least the eye candy prevented me from falling asleep.
Blues Traveler with DJ Logic– This band should be renamed John Popper and His Mediocre Backup Band, and their “NY Prophesie” was dull. Was DJ Logic even doing anything? Would it have made a difference? This band answers an old algebraic equation: Heavy Metal + Bad Songwriting + Unintelligible Lyrics + Mildly Interesting Harmonica = Sheer Boredom.
Blues Traveler, DJ Logic, and Bettye LaVette – Bettye LaVette sang about wanting her joy back. Funny. I wanted the same thing. I decided to leave and go try to find my joy in a Jameson & Ginger. Unfortunately, the sound of the band followed me into the concourse, preventing me from finding said joy. When I returned, they did a short version of “Magic Carpet Ride.” At least the composition was good.
When introduced as hosts, Mickey Hart & Bill Kreutzmann received a nice ovation.
New Groove of the Year: Grace Potter & The Nocturnals
Bela Fleck & The Flecktones, McCoy Tyner, & Savion Glover – At last! One of those weird-ass combos that you only find at The Jammys. It took them a while to get going with only Fleck’s solos being of any interest before Victor Wooten and Glover engaged in a strange bass-tap dance duel. With everyone being spread out onstage and somewhat unfamiliar with each other, no one was exactly sure when to step up and and take the lead. The second number was a much more bouncy swing that was highlighted by Tyner’s counterpoint against Jeff Coffin’s double saxed (ala Rahsaan Roland Kirk) horn lines. There were some genuine go-for-broke moments in this number with Tyner seemingly having a blast. It was sometimes ragged but always risky.
Ken Dashow and some other DJ from Q104 came out and were booed mercilessly for the second year in a row.
Song of the Year: Tea Leaf Green “Taught To Be Proud”
Live Album of the Year: Widespread Panic – Live at Myrtle Beach (Thanks to corporate sponsor, Vonage, Todd Nance accepted via telephone. However, the bad reception of his call was the worst possible commercial for a phone service.)
Steve Kimock, Joe Satriani, Stephen Perkins, Willy Waldman, and Reed Mathis – Who doesn’t love ear-splitting heavy metal guitar wankfests where everyone plays as loud as possible and no one listens to each other? Oh, that’s right– I don’t.
Grade: C (and I’m being generous)
Steve Kimock, Joe Satriani, Stephen Perkins, Willy Waldman, Reed Mathis, and Grace Potter – Holy shit, this Grace Potter has one helluva set of pipes! She came out and wailed her ass off on “Cortez the Killer.” Satriani and Kimock had some great solos and Waldman tried to play his trumpet over everyone and then jumped around, pumping his fist in the air, looking like a jackass. Trumpet playing douche aside, this one was far too short.
Chick Corea presented the Lifetime Achievement Award to Frank Zappa and drew big cheers for saluting Frank’s tireless quest to defend freedom of expression.
Zappa Plays Zappa – Opening with Dweezil doing a nice riff about needing the soundman to turn up the vibrophone, it was clear that this segment would be an authentic tribute to the humorous nature of Frank. “Inca Roads” was sounding lush and perfectly enjoyable with Napoleon Murphy Brock sounding very smooth until Chick Corea snuck into the band, playing cowbell. As he shifted into the keyboard seat, Corea took things to another level. Chick Corea just put on a goddamn clinic. He created weird sounds with his nimble fingers that dove and plunged across odd clusters of blacks and whites. Hands skipping across various keyboards with hyper delight, he displayed a veritable zest for life in his playing. His solos were easily the tops for the night. “Florentine Pogen” featured guest guitarist Jake Cinninger unleashing a very nasty solo. It resulted in a ferocious tension-and-release duel with Dweezil that certainly ripped but didn’t quite peak. Dweezil’s technique was pretty solid, and this aggregation played crisply. They won’t make anyone forget about the original, but this is complex music, and they performed it well, even bringing the Zappa trademark sense of humor to the performance. The tribute formed a nice soundtrack for my first post-Passover beer. Yeast never tasted so good.
Archival Live Album of the Year – Phish – Live at Madison Square Garden 1995 (Mike Gordon accepted in a funny speech that talked about hearing the album for the first time through a P.A. system at the release party at BB King’s. It being his first Phish experience from the audience, he repeatedly texted Trey throughout the night to tell him how great this band sounded.)
Manute Bol gave a rambling, barely intelligible speech in which he thanked America and said “America, you are good” over and over so many times that I felt like I was at the Republican National Convention. Relix’ Steve Bernstein meekly tried to get Bol to wrap it up, but Bernstein clearly feared the man who towered a solid two-and-a-half feet above him. Somehow this was an intro for Babba Maal winning Global Rhythm World Music Award.
Peter Frampton and Guster – They did some inoffensive poppy yawner. Was I supposed to be impressed? Blah.
Peter Frampton, Guster,and Martin Sexton – “Do You Feel Like We Do?” Fuck yeah, man! This was the night’s first reason to stand up and get on our feet. You know, there’s a certain feeling you get the first time you see a legend perform his major hit live. It’s as if you’re crossing them off your Lifetime Musical Goals List. Frampton shredded up his classic and did that funky thing with the talk-box microphone in his mouth that reminded me of how cool it was to be nineteen years of age to hearing song for the first time while stoned.
Studio Album of the Year: Mike Gordon & Leo Kottke – Sixty Six Steps
The First Green Apple Music Award (for environmental causes) – Jack Johnson
moe. – The Clash’s “The Guns of Brixton” was a nice and dark reggae groove which went for a while and then shifted right into “Buster,” which was both invigorating and beautiful. The lengthy song was aided by The Mad Professor, who tweaked dials and created assorted sounds from a barely visible position inside the audience soundboard.
During the presentation for the Industry Insider Award (formerly the Grahamy Jammy), Jake Szufnarowski introduced Wetlands Preserve founder Larry Bloch by saying something like “I think it’s a crime that the Benevento-Russo Duo didn’t win a single award. It’s fixed! If Joe and Marco had been here, they would tear this fucking place down.”
Jeff “The Dude” Dowd introduced The DVD of the Year as if he were on speed – Bob Dylan’s No Direction Home was the winner.
Rhythm Devils with Mike Gordon, Charlie Musselwhite, Baaba Maal, Angelique Kidjo, Steven Perkins, Steve Kimock, Bettye LaVette, two guys on iMacs, five hand clappers/vocalists, a lot of The Mutaytor, a shitload of percussionists, etc. – Mike Gordon’s omnipresent basslines were the major standout of this lengthy, techno-ized Afrobeat jam. It segued seamlessly into a thrilling “Jingo,” which Hart led with tremendous flair. This was followed by a funkier “Voodoo Chile” that featured a very sexy, limber dancer. I wish I could tell you more about the song, but I can’t because the dancer was very, very hot. “Iko Iko” was a fun closer, and this was the first time that I can remember Mickey Hart delivering tolerable vocals…perhaps that’s because his mic was off for most of the first verse.
Tour of the Year: Big Summer Classic (Bill Nershi accepted the award. Oddly enough, he never played any music throughout the evening’s festivities, but he did lead the crowd in a Group Hoot, which got a better than expected response from the audience.)
Live Performance of the Year: moe. Tsunami Benefit at Roseland Ballroom, NYC, 2/10/05 (with Trey Anastasio, Sam Bush, Jennifer Hartswick, John Medeski and Ray Paczkowski) , a performance that raised $150,000
Mickey Hart provided the best comedic moment of the night by attempting to shush the crowd and them seriously telling the us that the biggest threat to our lives is global warning. He admonished everyone to “see this movie about global warning. It’s called…uh…it’s called…what’s it called?…Well, you’ll know it when you see it.” Three cheers for burned out hippies!
Little Feat with Hubert Sumlin and Charlie Musselwhite – “Apolitical Blues” was bluesy but nothing to write home about. It sauntered into “The Sky Is Crying.” There was nothing special about these standard blues grooves, aside from the fact that they sounded as if they needed the late Lowell George.
Little Feat with Charlie Musselwhite, Steve Kimock, Ky-Mani Marley, Stephen Marley, Mickey Hart, Bill Kreutzmann, Bela Fleck – Bob Marley’s “Jammin'” did what “Jammin'” does and went nowhere but had a fun time traveling in a circle.
At 12:13A.M., Pete Shapiro came out to announce that the show was supposed to end, but it was going to now continue thanks to some last-minute additional sponsorship from American Spirit.
Thank God for the tobacco industry.
DJ Logic then joined the fray but wasn’t really audible. “Dixie Chicken” was short and quickly segued into “One Love.” For the second year in a row, an overzealous vocalist did their best to destroy the final jam. However, this time the perpetrator/rapper Consequence was foiled, disappointed by his inability to get the crowd to chant “Hell yeah!” He continued to freestyle interminably over everyone’s playing. It was a shame because he started out tasteful, but I guess he ran out of ideas, and instead of stopping, he decided to be irritating. Satriani, Frampton, Kimock, and Fleck highlighted the “jam” with a little round. Just like that, it was all she wrote.
Suddenly, The Jammys were over at 12:23. American Spirit’s cancer-causing generosity had only bought ten more minutes. With the show ending 7 minutes before an even cut-off point (12:30), and with the knowledge that last year’s show ran until 12:45, it sure seemed as though Shapiro had lied. Either that or American Spirit made the worst business deal in New York history since the Lenape Indians received 24 bucks and a box of trinkets from Peter Minuit.
This Sixth Annual Jammys featured even less true jamming and risk taking than that of years’ past. Most acts played it safe, and while that caused most of the acts to be at least decent, no one was overwhelmingly brilliant (although moe. was pretty impressive). Nevertheless, it was primarily an enjoyable evening with few real duds.
Overall Grade: B