Imagine what would result from a recording session in which top-drawer musicians who favor improvisation are given no boundaries, rules, restraints, pressures, or expectations when they head into the studio. Imagine how psyched Jimmy Herring, Jeff Sipe, and Ricky Keller were when that opportunity presented itself. The three are among the top players on the scene, and they -- and listeners -- have Atlanta-based Terminus Records owner Jeff Bransford to thank for giving them free reign to take the ball and run with it. Bransford is a longtime fan of Aquarium Rescue Unit (ARU), a band both Herring and Sipe are former members of. He was also no doubt witness to the Monday-night jam sessions in Atlanta in which Herring, Sipe, and Keller allowed no discussion of songs or style prior to plugging in, which is where Project Z was born. The recording debut from Project Z is all instrumental and all original. Terminus told the artists they could record anything they wanted to and it would be released, and although no particular audience was targeted, the album has some similarities to the trio's former bands (ARU, Jazz Is Dead, Phil Lesh & Friends, the Allman Brothers, and Leftover Salmon). It is experimental, progressive, funky, and a barrel of fun. The intrinsic communication between the three musicians is staggering (for example, on the opening track, "Raging Torrent," Sipe uses the bell of his cymbal to accent some of Herring's guitar licks the instant they begin to emerge). "Mud Bug" is a New Orleans blues groove that features Derek Trucks on some great slide guitar. Halfway through the tune, the band switches gears, heads into double-time, and then goes back to square one to bring it all back home again. Herring puts the pedal to the medal on "Augusta's Ankle" with a lively dose of smoothed-out funk, and lets loose with some monstrous rapid-fire licks on "Separated Gestures," while "Albright Special" is all about swingin' bebop. You'll also find some drifting acoustic sounds here, as well as three very short fragments of Herring's de-tuned guitar bickering with itself ("Guitargument I, II and III"). The godfather of jam bands himself, Col. Bruce Hampton, makes a few twisted and mysterious vocal contributions. Rev. Oliver Wells tears it up on keys, and Count M'Butu furiously raps the congas. Highly recommended.
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