Well it's March in New York and that means March Madness. Sure, there's plenty of NCAA basketball on the tube to watch all day long, but more importantly, the Allman Brothers are in town for their annual Beacon Theater run which means plenty of fun to be had for the NYC concert goer. In 1998, we got a Wetlands Power Jam which featured the first ARU reunion show and jamming well into the morning. Last year we got plenty of Derek Trucks Band dates sprinkled throughout the month chock full of guest appearances and a tour of the city's venues.

This year the fun began before the Allmans had played one lick of music with a show billed as Jason Crosby & Friends at the Wetlands last night. And with friends like these...

The show featured a core band around Jason Crosby and Lo Faber, David Diamond, Jeff Mattson, Steve Finklestein and others. The real story of the night, though, was the "friends" that included: jazz-guitar innovator Stanley Jordan, groove giant Melvin Sparks, NYC jam staple Eric Krasno and fresh-in-town Allman Brothers Band members Derek Trucks and Oteil Burbridge.

I will say right off that I had never heard Crosby before and was duly impressed with his range of talents. He treated the audience to work on keyboards (including piano, organ and synth), fiddle, trumpet and back-up vocals. His breadth was also impressive touching country, jazz, funk, rock and simple pop - playing within the context of the songs, taking great solos and exchanging licks with the other musicians.

Unfortunately, the show had a real identity problem. It couldn't decide if it was an all-out "super jam" or a straight up band playing songs off their latest album. Crosby had assembled a great range and number of musicians - apparently many or all of them helped on his latest album. I felt that he worked too hard to get every song with the people who played them on the album which required a mass shuffling of people on and off the stage. Some people stayed on the stage too long and some left too quickly.

The range of talent also set up some strange juxtaposition. The show started with the core and Jason firmly in the lead. After 3 songs or so, Sparks and Oteil were invited on the stage and the band promptly broke out in Faber's God Street Wine tune, Hellfire. While this certainly pleased the die-hard (and perhaps a tad too vocal) GSW fans in attendance, I likened it to getting Joe Montana and Jerry Rice to play with your JV football team and then insisting on running the ball for the entire game. While the meat of the band was solid in it's own right, Sparks (and those who followed) immediately put the stage presence on a higher plane. It is a shame he was not accomodated and had to fight for a little slice of the stage. He left after one song I believe. (Be sure to hit Melvin's birthday bash next Thursday which will certainly proove to be a higher quality jam session).

This isn't to say that the show didn't feature and moments of brilliance. But these were only deceptive patches of clear road to zip along for a minute or two before getting mired back in bumper- to-bumper traffic. Derek's work, as to be expected, was exemplar but was such a tease we could only lament that there don't appear to be any DTB shows scheduled for the month. Oteil added his groovy je ne sais quoi to the mix but insisted (much at Crosby's urging) at taking a scat/bass solo during every number. While I can't complain about having the opportunity to have my nose in his Modulus the entire night, he was much better kept to holding down the fort and leading the charge than adding one more tired solo to the pot.

Mostly the problem was too many musicians on stage. At any point during the night you might have seen any or all of 6 guitarists, 3 bassists, 3 saxophone players... At one point there were 5 guitars and 2 basses on stage at once including a full horn section. This would work well if there was some direction and actual jamming but surprisingly the resulting sound was rather wimpy.

Stanley Jordan made his presence felt with his unique brand of finger hammered guitar work. Although technically it was quite astounding, it was indicative of the patchwork feeling of the evening where you could go from a funky horn section to a Jordan circus act to a jazzy fiddle solo to a Trucks slide opus. There were moments in there to smile at but they were suspended individually without connection to the evening as a whole.

The highlight of the night was definitely a tune called Maybe Thursday. It was a slow, intense tune that featured one of the more beautiful slide guitar solos I think you'll ever hear. Derek made noise out of silence and was able to create a presence that shushed and paralyzed the superfluous musicians on stage. What resulted was a glorious interplay between Derek's slide and Jason's fiddle. Quite wonderful.

Another moment of inspired interaction was during the encore of the Meter's Look A Py-Py, which managed to shed some of the musicians from the bulk. Jordan took this moment to infuse himself into the mix wholeheartedly and had some tasty give-and- take with Crosby.

It was a long night of music and the highlights more than merited the wonderfully cheap price of admission. I'd venture to say that the opening act which featured members of the Zen Tricksters and others playing mostly standards as an acoustic band was worth the ticket itself. For the most part it was very solid with a heavy version of Neil Young's Mr. Soul as it's highlight. This set also featured the rotation of guests on and off of stage (including the hard-working but ever-smiling Jason Crosby) which added to the surplus of musicians to grace the Wetlands stage Wednesday night.

March Madness is upon us alright. This show makes me think back to a Seton Hall team full of young would-be All Americans who were supposed to be fighting for a national title right now. While the team looked good on paper and had their moments during the season, the chemistry never worked out and the team is now at home thinking about next time. Looking forward to plenty of other superlative action over the next couple of weeks.

"Writing about music is like dancing about architecture" - FZ

Aaron Stein
JamBase NYC Correspondent
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[Published on: 3/16/01]

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