Herring/Lavitz/Hayward/Gradney: Endangered Species (2002)
A new breed of jam band, combining the outward-looking aesthetic of the Grateful Dead with the Southern-fried funk of Little Feat. Herring and Lavitz, members of the Dead-tribute collective Jazz Is Dead, met up with the Feat's rhythm section for an edgy, exciting session that stands with the best of Tone Center's releases so far.
This is a seriously vital combination. By sticking to the organ and piano instead of cheesier synth options, Lavitz ties the two faces of the band together perfectly. Herring's quirky musicianship was tempered in the cauldron of Aquarium Rescue Unit, preparing him well for just about any project that comes up. And while Little Feat has long held the stigma of being a sort of one-trick pony, Hayward and Gradney put the lie to that perception with their surprising versatility here. They're up to any task their bandmates might pawn off on them.
On tracks like "The New Berkley Park" Herring's deft picking keeps us hanging on every note, and the group interaction throughout the album seems unfailingly telepathic. Gradney's big moment comes on "Cats Out Da Bag", whereupon he lays the funk on thick. "Pickled Hearing" was composed by Herring and Lavitz but is tailor-made for the Feat rhythm boys, one of the firmest successes on this disc. Same with Lavitz' mighty "Justice", which quickly scoots into an up-tempo country-kick feel. "Lockwood Folley" leans towards prog with its multitracked acoustic and electric guitars, densely woven melodic figures and Lavitz' orchestral piano. Endangered Species is a fascinating listen from beginning to end, with all the suspense one expects from a good jam band but none of the ennui that comes from overbearing chops. A true bulls-eye.
Track Listing: Headstrong; The New Berkley Park; Slowlo; Pickled Hearing; Lockwood Folley; Justice; Cats Out Da Bag; Camel Lope; The Gospel Truth.
Personnel: Jimmy Herring, guitar; T Lavitz, organ and piano; Richie Hayward, drums; Kenny Gradney, bass.