To celebrate half a century of the Allman Brothers Band’s debut album, New West Records releases Big Band of Brothers: A Jazz Celebration of the Allman Brothers Band on 22 November. The collection offers up big band interpretations of Allman Brothers Band classics with vocals from Marc Broussard and Ruthie Foster. Joining in is guitarist Jack Pearson, who performed as a guest on numerous occasions and joined the group in 1997. Wycliffe Gordon (of Jazz at Lincoln Center fame) is also featured as a soloist. Gordon is consistently ranked among leading trombone players in the Downbeat critics poll (and has topped the list at least five times).
The connection between the Allman Brothers and jazz is evident across the Georgia collective’s output. One need only listen to the archetypal Allman Brothers Band song, “Whipping Post”, one of the earliest tunes Gregg Allman penned for the band, to hear its exquisite blend of rock, classical, gospel and modal jazz. The musicians gathered for this release honor the group’s wide musical reach and singular voice across interpretations of classics such as “Don’t Want You No More”, which spotlights Gordon’s inimitable solo style, “Hot ‘Lanta” and “It’s Not My Cross to Bear”. Foster’s performance on the latter tune proves worth the price of admission alone, while Broussard’s take on the aforementioned “Whipping Post” redefines the term showstopper.
What comes to the fore is the undeniable prowess the individual members held as composers. Witness the closing Dickie Betts-penned “Les Brers in a Minor”, rendered here with equal parts affection and imagination, guaranteeing that the music of the Allman Brothers Band will live on for at least another half-century.
The best so-called tribute albums are real conversation-starters, recordings that ask us to appreciate the depth and range of the artist in question. Think about the Red Hot organization’s work with the music of Cole Porter or the Grateful Dead. Each asked us to hear the music in a new way and yet appreciate the genius of the originators. Big Band of Brothersstrips away the mythology surrounding the group and asks us to consider the sheer beauty, drama and, yes, genius of the music as it was conceived, performed, and sent on its journey to fame. This recording is as entertaining and scintillating as Coltrane’s “Live” at the Village Vanguard, the Brothers’ own Eat a Peach or those legendary Fillmore East sets.
Project creator and co-producer John Harvey says, “For the Big Band of Brothers album we began with timeless Allman Brothers Band classics, commissioned brilliant big band arrangements for them, and brought them to life through passionate performances, all sweetened by contributions from distinguished guest artists. Vision realized. The original Allman Brothers Band undeniably ranks among the very best bands born in America, and their melding of blues, rock, gospel, and jazz was unique. Their collective genius left behind a musical legacy as rich as any I can think of. It is my hope that our big band jazz re-imagining of their works reflects the reverence we hold for that genius.”
Producer Mark Lanter adds, “I am so excited about and proud of Big Band of Brothers. It swings, it’s funky, it’s drenched in the blues and laden with passionate solos and accompaniment. It features cutting edge arrangements that point both to the past and the future, and stellar vocal performances. It has a unique southern swagger. It moves your soul.”
Co-Producer Charles Driebe gets to the bare essence of the set, saying, “Big Band of Brothers is the realization of a tremendous and straightforward idea – big band jazz versions of classic Allman Brothers Band songs. Now that it exists, one can’t imagine the world without it. As big band jazz great Duke Ellington once said, ‘There are two kinds of music. Good music, and the other kind.’ Big Band of Brothers is good music!”