Words by Brian Bavosa
Jazz is Dead :: 03.19.06 :: B.B. King's Blues Club :: New York, NY
Back when I was a senior in college, I implemented a Sunday night ritual among my housemates. It usually revolved around us cleaning up, cooking dinner, and piecing ourselves back together after a long weekend. Since I cannot cook a piece of toast, I was in charge of setting the table and most importantly, the music. Sunday, I always chose the omnipotent Grateful Dead. I liked to call Sunday night in our house on the beach, "The Grateful Dead Dinner Hour." I always preferred the slower, laid-back sets for this activity, and to my surprise, so did the rest of the household.
On Sunday night, B.B. King's Blues Club in New York City hosted a band that would have fit that dinner scene perfectly — Jazz is Dead. Consisting of T Lavitz (keyboards), Jeff Pevar (guitar), Jeff Sipe (drums), Rob Morgenstein (drums), and Dave Livolsi (bass), Jazz is Dead took Sunday to gracefully explore The Grateful Dead's 1975 album Blues For Allah as well as some other tunes.
Jazz is Dead
The show began with a solo rendition of "Friend of the Devil" by Lavitz. This was a nice, refreshing spin on an old favorite. He was then joined by Sipe, Pevar, and Livolsi for a spirited take on "Tennessee Jed." The first taste of Pevar's wide array of guitar sounds whet the audience's appetite. Even though there were no lyrics sung, the line "Drink all day and rock all night / We'll come to get you, if you don't walk right, still managed to get to me.
Next up was a beautiful "Attics of My Life." Once again, Pevar took control, and this tune featured some heartfelt guitar work. An absolutely infectious groove driven by Lavitz on the keys got me moving after "Attics." Then, a prominent "I Know You Rider" jam ensued with just a hint of reggae or calypso. This was the first tune where Jazz is Dead began to live up to their name; however, this was not your typical version. While holding true to the traditional form of this number, the band really got the crowd rocking with the addition of powerful jazzy elements, like sprinkling keys and thunderous drums.
Jeff Pevar - Jazz is Dead
After a brief pause to allow the second drummer, Morgenstein, to join the band and to sit down behind his tie-dye-colored kit, the first notes of "Morning Dew" resonated through the speakers. "Morning Dew" did not deviate from the standard form too much but still had the crowd smiling form ear to ear and managed to evoke all sorts of powerful emotion — the way it was meant to be played.
A fiery, jazzy "Scarlet Begonias" was easy to dance to, and it was a perfect example of what Jazz is Dead does best. My favorite thing about the band is how they take a well-known Grateful Dead tune, strip it down to bare essentials, loosen it up, and really make it their own. It even included a fierce drum duel in the middle. Now, with four hands banging the skins, another element was added to the mix, which often resembled a game of cat-and-mouse between the two. This was the first time throughout the night where the jam really took off and devolved, making me ask myself, "What song is this again?" That is Jazz is Dead in a nutshell.
When it seemed that the band was finally getting comfortable, they busted into the trio everyone was waiting to hear - "Help On The Way" > "Slipknot!" > "Franklin's Tower." "Help" again saw furious playing from Pevar, complete with slide guitar. "Slipknot!" was pretty standard and helped build the pace and tension leading up to "Franklin's Tower," which saw a raging intro by the drummers. Livolsi chimed in, and Pevar took a light stroll across the top of the rhythm section. This man is truly a magnificent guitar player with a plethora of sounds to call on. This tune also saw a slight breakdown in the middle, allowing Lavitz to add his two cents to the conversation.
Jazz is Dead
Another tune off of Blues for Allah, "King Solomon's Marbles," thundered up next. The Dead version is drum-driven, but Lavitz, Sipe, and Morgenstein added an extremely unique and enjoyable calypso move to it. I again reminisced of my days living on the beach during this sunshine-filled groove.
"The Music Never Stopped" came hot on its heels. Now let me be clear, it arrived like a bat out of hell. Easily the "hottest" tune of the night in my eyes, I almost fell over when the band busted into one of my perennial favorites. It was no mistake that it slid into "The Eleven," an old school Dead tune that is absolutely rocking. There was nice chatter again between the drummers, with Lavitz conducting all, and flying high. They were seemingly men on a mission.
"The Eleven" gently found its way into another of the night's highlights, "Crazy Fingers." There is no denying the fact that Jazz is Dead is the brainchild of Lavitz, and on this number, he showcased his simple, straightforward, yet extremely complex understanding of "less is more." He gently stretched the keys from A to Z, and Pevar seemed to follow his lead, as he did much of the evening.
T Lavitz - Jazz is Dead
The closing sequence of the show was a "Blues for Allah" sandwich. It included "Sage and Spirit," a drum duel solo for about ten minutes, an attack on the cowbell by Morgenstein, a little lettuce, tomato, and mayo. The drum duel was not the usual fare and featured playful interaction between the two band mates. The entire closing was infused with elements of Middle Eastern influences, free-form jazz, and a slow spiritual flavor. A perfect, relaxing way to end the two-plus hour set. (Some may even claim that there was a "Truckin'" tease in there, too.)
The encore was "Dark Star," which resembled the way The Dead used to play it with Tom Constanten. Lavitz played the simple, repetitive series of notes that T.C. used to wear out, over-and-over on early versions. Pevar added one last batch of solos while Livolsi tossed-in a nice bass run, and the drummers continued to do their sweat-soaked thing.
Overall, Jazz is Dead was an extremely enjoyable time. They have an uncanny knack for taking the classic songs of the Grateful Dead and adding elements of jazz, reggae, calypso, and funk, exploring each of them in a simple, yet fascinating way. It was a very relaxed Sunday night, which had me thinking of a certain beachfront living room scene several years ago.
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