Jazz Is Dead

Tribute albums became very popular in the 1990s, but the members of Jazz Is Dead sidestepped the accompanying clichés of most tributes with their 1998 Grateful Dead concept CD Blue Light Rain. The four jazz fusion veterans -- bassist Alphonso Johnson (Weather Report), keyboardist T Lavitz (Dixie Dregs), guitarist Jimmy Herring (Aquarium Rescue Unit), and drummer Billy Cobham (Mahavishnu Orchestra) -- performed instrumental versions of Grateful Dead classics, at once showing the influence of jazz fusion on the Dead and the quartet's playing and arranging prowess. Cobham, Johnson, and Lavitz were known commodities through their previous band affiliations, but Blue Light Rain proved to be a coming-out party for Herring. A player of immense skill who had subbed for Dickey Betts in the Allman Brothers, Herring was nonetheless underrated through the relative anonymity of his primary groups, Aquarium Rescue Unit and Frogwings. On tracks like "Crazy Fingers," "Dark Star," and the closing, live "Blues for Allah Medley," Herring soars over Lavitz's tasty keyboard work and the rhythmic muscle of Johnson and Cobham.

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