As a listener long hooked on jazz and the Allman Brothers Band — the latter’s performance at the 2010 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival remains on my list of favorite all-time shows — I was naturally susceptible to the musical pleasures of “Big Band of Brothers: A Jazz Celebration of the Allman Brothers.”
The 2019 album scored plenty of good reviews and airplay on jazz, blues and jamband radio shows, and other FM formats. But for one reason or another, I never dug into it.
In recent months, I caught up to the disc, and reveled in the creative, sophisticated arrangements of Allmans music as played by the likes of singers Ruthie Foster and Marc Broussard, trombonists Wycliffe Gordon and Chad Fisher, and Jack Pearson, a slide-guitar wizard who played with the ABB from ’97 to ’99.
The touring version of Big Band of Brothers — essentially Sammy Miller and the Congregation plus original ABB drummer Jaimoe, singer Lamar Williams Jr., son of the one-time ABB bassist, Drew Smithers on slide guitar and other musicians — was similarly appealing during an exuberant show last Thursday night at the Capitol Theater in Clearwater.
With just seven horn players aboard, Big Band of Brothers is less full big band than little big band, sort of like what one might hear if the ABB had played with a really big horn section. Sonically and in terms of shared musical roots, the Tedeschi Trucks Band, who coincidentally played sister Clearwater venue Ruth Eckerd Hall the night before, might be thought of as a musical first cousin to BBOB; after all, Jaimoe and TTB’s brilliant Derek Trucks worked together in the ABB. I halfway hoped that Derek might sit in, but he was probably already on to the next tour stop.
The 14-piece group opened strong with “Statesboro Blues,” one of many to benefit from the unique, tangy sound of slide guitar topping thick horn textures and riding a heavy blues-rock groove, with mighty rhythmic propulsion driven by the twin drummers. The nearly 80-minute set continued with rambunctious versions of “Don’t Want You No More,” “It’s Not My Cross to Bear,” “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed,” “Don’t Keep Me Wondering,” the funky, soul jazz-tinted “Stand Back,” “Whipping Post” and, as an encore, “Ain’t Wasting Time No More.”
Before playing a sprawling “Dreams,” which opened with an extended showcase of bassist Corbin Jones‘ unaccompanied arco playing, Jaimoe talked about the influence of Miles Davis’s classic “All Blues” on the former song: “Gregory (Allman) came up with the melody. Everybody would get a piece and pretty soon we had a tune.”
The performance featured impressive solos by Smithers, musical director Miller, Jones (on upright bass and bass guitar), pianist/organist David Linard, guitarist Lake Jiroudek and the horn players — trumpeters Alphonso Horne and Noah Halpern, trombonists Isaac Kaplan and Herb Bruce, tenor saxophonists Ben Flocks and Kenny Anderson (my friend and former UF jazz bandmate, recently seen with the Marshall Tucker Band), and bari sax player Margaret Banton. Anderson, Banton and Bruce are all based in the Tampa Bay area/Central Florida.
Miller’s own group opened with an infectious, eclectic set of early jazz, modern jazz, blues and gospel, including “Just a Closer Walk With Thee,” Fats Waller’s “Ain’t Misbehavin’ ” and Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer.” It was an effective mix of hard-grooving music and sometimes silly humor, with the audience playing straight man to Miller’s perfectly timed one-liners.