Through two distinct periods of the bands history, and for better than 30 years now, drummer and percussionist Jai Johanny "Jaimoe" Johanson has been the backbone of the Allman Brothers Band sound. His fluid rhythms and rich experience, which includes 1960s-era tenure in the touring bands of both the great Otis Redding and Sam & Dave, along with his mastery of blues, rock, and jazz styles, has made Jaimoe's virtuoso skills an integral part of the Allman's late-period success.
When he's not banging the cans as part of ABB, Jaimoe fronts his own outfit, the fanciful-named Jaimoe's Jasssz Band, which is both tongue-in-cheek as well as more than a little accurate. Expanding on the jazz band format, Jaimoe and his group of merry pranksters - talented singer and guitarist Junior Mack, the extraordinary keyboardist Bruce Katz, skilled bassist in Dave Stoltz, and a cool, full horn section - explore the boundaries of blues, jazz, and rock music, every performance driven by Jaimoe's imaginative percussion.
While Jaimoe's Jasssz Band has previously released a couple of live albums, the most notable being 2008's Live At The Double Down Grill, the band's recently-released Renaissance Man album represents the band's studio debut, and an exhilarating debut at that. Jaimoe leads his crackerjack band through a ten-song performance that includes mostly original material penned by the band, with a couple of well-chosen covers. The album opens with Mack's "Dilemma," the song seemingly built on the rhythmic framework of the Allman's classic "Whipping Post," but fleshed out with Katz's chiming keyboards, Mack's scorching fretwork, bouncy drumbeat, and dollops of timely horns (courtesy Reggie Pittman, Kris Jensen, and Paul Lieberman - familiar names from a bunch of blues LPs).
While not exclusively a blues collection, per se, Renaissance Man mixes enough blue hue in with its energetic jazz-rock fusion jams to please most contemporary blues fans. A cover of Sleepy John Estes' "Leaving Trunk" is modernized with R&B styled horns and funky rhythms while Mack's soulful vocals and innovative guitarplay nods towards the song's Delta blues traditions. "I Believe I'll Make A Change" is a smoldering, mid-tempo Chicago blues-styled burner with Katz's Hammond B3 providing a subtle counterpoint to Mack's subtle fretwork, while the band's take on the classic "Rainy Night In Georgia" is spot-on, with mournful vocals and nuanced instrumentation adding to the song's emotional impact.
The high point of many such musical moments on Renaissance Man is the band's take on the Allman Brothers' beautiful "Melissa." While certain aspects of the performance mimic those of the original, Jaimoe and crew embellish the arrangement with Katz's ethereal keyboards, Mack's elegant guitar notes, and Jaimoe's own inspired percussion, which expands the song's atmospheric qualities. While not typical fare for us hardcore blues fanatics, I think that many readers might enjoy Renaissance Man for its casual excellence and instrumental virtuosity. Check out the Jaimoe's Jasssz Band website for more information on the band and the Renaissance Man album.
Photo courtesy lil' Johnieboy Records