Though some fans focused on the good-timing jam-band characteristics of the Allman Brothers Band, the long-running celebrated group from the American South had its roots in jazz. Though fully embraced by rock audiences as a more melodic exponent of the musical aesthetic of the Grateful Dead, from the very beginning the Allmans were influenced as much by John Coltrane as anything else. While sizzling guitar solos were an undeniable draw, the complex musical interplay that lay at the heart of their sound is what made the band truly special.
And a key component of that mix was always drummer/percussionist Jai Johanny Johanson. Known near universally as Jaimoe, Johanson came up through the ranks of Otis Redding’s touring band; he also played with legendary Stax soul duo Sam & Dave. But jazz has always been at the core of his approach. And that’s reflected on an intriguing new release, From the Roots to the Sky. Co-leading a group with friend and longtime associate Joe Fonda on bass, Jaemoe helms a group of Italian jazz musicians through a collection of exploratory (yet often accessible) jazz compositions. The shortest track here—a medley that includes a reading of Little Feat’s classic “Dixie Chicken”—clocks in at nine and half minutes; the lengthiest number tuns nearly a half hour.
An open-minded approach is best brought to a listen of this disc, as avant-garde pieces like the Zappa-esque “Roz, See You on the Moon!” are challenging, dense works. Fans of Miles Davis’ Jack Johnson and Bitches Brew albums are likely to welcome the more abstract works. Yet those whose tastes are more song-oriented will still find plenty of tasty music within the record; the cool jazz of “Gone Too Soon” is a real treat. The album’s title is an apt descriptor for a record that takes the willing listener on a varied musical journey.