And why not? Although no one would ever have classified the Southern rockers, who flourished for nearly a half-century through numerous personnel changes, as a jazz outfit, they were jazz-schooled and certainly knew their way around an improvisation. But until now no one has thought to go there—let alone a 15-piece big band.
That it’s a larger ensemble bringing the Allmans’ music into the jazz realm, rather than a smaller combo, is a curious but ultimately brilliant ploy. In lesser hands it might have swerved into novelty, but the payoff comes right away, via a gutsy, chunky take on “Statesboro Blues,” the 1920s Blind Willie McTell composition that the Allmans first unveiled on their landmark At Fillmore East in 1971. Here, in an arrangement by Wycliffe Gordon (who contributes a soprano trombone solo not to this track but the next, “Don’t Want You No More”), the slide guitar of Matt Casey supports the considerable horn section, giving the performance—which features a robust vocal by Marc Broussard—the heft of a classic Muscle Shoals soul session. Ruthie Foster, who also contributes vocals on two tracks, is especially strong on “It’s Not My Cross to Bear,” a song dating to the ABB’s 1969 debut.
Each of the 10 tracks spotlights at least a couple of soloists: “Hot ’Lanta” allows the band’s resident keyboardist, Andy Nevala, to pay tribute to the late Gregg Allman with an intrepid Hammond B-3 offering, while trombonist Chad Fisher blows hot on several tunes, most notably “Dreams,” which swings easily but confidently. Showcase tracks like the 12-minute closer “Les Brers in A Minor” and the inevitable “Whipping Post” are also highlights, the former giving the band carte blanche to go way outside, shifting from free exploration to Latin rhythms and beyond.
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