When a fusion band plans a live recording with a professed interest in "stretching out" and "seeing what happens," and then adds the forced enthusiasm of an exclamation-pointed title, the warning flags go up. Well, pull them all down and consider this a false alarm. With Live!, Jing Chi, a power trio founded by bassist and Yellowjackets cofounder Jimmy Haslip, manage to stretch out without the attendant slack. The band delivers uncluttered and lithe fusion with few loose ends.
Haslip and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta aren't out to set your ears on fire, but they do lay out a spacious, no-frills rhythm foundation that rarely calls undue attention to itself. They leave guitarist Robben Ford plenty of space for his largely effective, patient solos, and on a few tunes, his passable rock vocals. The band prefers straightforward rock structures and power chords to tricky time signatures and busy funk, and they don't push the music's harmonic wrinkles and knots to the front of the music. Colaiuta's drums, set back in the mix, and Haslip's simple bass lines keep the bombast to a minimum, and what emerges is a streamlined, brainy blues-rock. Things only threaten to unravel when guest keyboardist Otmaro Ruiz occasionally succumbs to fusion's more baroque modes of expression.
High points include a tribute to Ford's old boss, Miles Davis, with "Blues MD"-from whom Ford surely learned a thing or two about economy of expression-and a surprising cover of Bob Dylan's "Cold Irons Bound."