Mike Varney’s Tone Center seems to be the label these days that is putting together the hottest progressive fusion supergroups. Recently, we have seen Vital Tech Tones, Gambale/Hamm/Smith, and now this ripping new CD by Endangered Species that features Jimmy Herring on guitar, T. Lavitz on keyboards, Richie Hayward on drums, and Kenny Gradney on bass guitar. If you like instrumental music that is high on technical playing, yet features lots of cool grooves and melody, you can’t go wrong here.
Many will remember my recent praises of guitarist Herring for his work on the Jazz is Dead CD. Here, Jimmy is just as impressive, although he is slightly more restrained overall and adds more jazz and blues flavors to his playing. What is really interesting is to hear how locked in he is with the organ playing of T. Lavitz, as the two trade many intricate yet melodic lines throughout the CD, especially on the funky “Slowlo.” It’s nice to hear Lavitz in a more pronounced role, and he never fails to impress with his thick organ tone or gentle piano touches. Much of the steady groove on each of the nine tracks is due to the stellar musicianship of Little Feat’s Hayward and Gradney. The rhythm duo adds a southern flavor to Lavitz’s prog leanings and Herring’s screaming guitar work. One of the most impressive tracks is the Herring penned “Lockwood Folley”, which has a strong Dixie Dregs meets Chick Corea Elektric Band feel. Featuring lush piano and organ work, fat bass lines, and majestic guitar layers on both acoustic and electric, this song perfectly meshes the jazz and progressive rock styles of this band. Speaking of the Dixie Dregs, the T. Lavitz tune “Justice” has a complex bluegrass feel like classic Dregs, highlighted by a monstrous Steve Morse influenced solo from Herring.
This is one of those releases that gets better with each listen, as these four musicians have perfectly melded melodic tunes with searing instrumental virtuosity. That combined with killer grooves make this a worthwhile addition to any instrumental rock collection.