Words by Shane McFarland
Considered by his peers as a pro’s pro, guitarist Jimmy Herring has long staked his claim as one of the jam band scene’s finest and most original players. From his origins in the late 80s and 90s with the groundbreaking Aquarium Rescue Unit alongside the legendary Col. Bruce Hampton to his stints in the Allman Brothers Band, Phil Lesh & Friends, The Other Ones and finally Widespread Panic where he resides now since 2006, Herring has displayed his undeniable virtuosity on any number of different platforms, the most recent with his newly formed outfit, The Invisible Whip.
Consisting of Herring on guitar, drummer Jeff Sipe (aka Apt Q258), Matt Slocum on B3 organ and clavinet, bassist Kevin Scott and multi-instrumentalist Jason Crosby on Fender Rhodes, piano and violin, The Invisible Whip channels the ethos of ARU mentor Col. Bruce and his pursuit of living for the moment on stage. Last Friday, August 4th, Herring & The Invisible Whip put their talents on full display at Mr. Smalls Theatre in Millvale, PA, delivering a multi-dimensional set of music spanning Herring’s illustrious career.
Coming out with a full head of steam on the Slocum-lead “Matt’s Funk” to open the night, it was apparent from the get-go that this was no new project, though on paper it may show up that way. Herring, Slocum and Sipe have been playing together for the better part of two decades and it shined through with dazzling interplay and astute timing all night, everyone in the right place at the right time.
A gorgeous and ripping rendition of the Allman Brothers Band’s “Les Brers In A Minor” followed, a fitting tribute that certainly would have gotten the approval of recently departed ABB founding members, Butch Trucks and Gregg Allman. From there, Herring introduced “Sketch Ballad,” the first of several new songs that will find their way onto his new solo album. A patient, slow-burning jazz composition, this was but a mere reminder that Herring’s talents run far beyond the high-voltage solos he takes nightly with Widespread Panic.
One of the evening’s most engaging numbers came in the form of Miles Davis’ “Black Satin.” If the notion that the best guitar players in the world mimic horn players holds true, then consider putting Herring at the top of the list. His willingness to jump off the deep end into the unknown is a sight to behold. Throw Jason Crosby’s violin into the mix on this one, and you have yourself an instant classic.
Two songs from Herring’s 2008 solo album, Lifeboat, came next in “New Moon” and George Burns’ “Jungle Book,” the former, a heavier, mesmerizing composition, with the latter invoking childhood memories of the classic 1967 Disney film with the same name. A perfect selection for this band, the exquisite musical excursion was traversed with a confidence and ease.
The mellow mood of the evening continued with “Sketch Slow 6/8,” another opportunity for Herring to show off his prodigious jazz chops. The energy got ramped back up during “Sketch Up Tempo,” a light, breezy song that just barreled head-first right into the fusion of “Rainbow,” a tune from 2003’s Project Z, which also featured Jeff Sipe on drums.
Herring & The Invisible Whip got back to some funky territory during a cover of Jimmy McGriff’s “Miss Poopie” followed by Strength In Numbers’ “Slopes,” which was remarkable hearing considering it came from a bluegrass-based band with the likes of Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, Béla Fleck, Edgar Meyer and Mark O’Connor in it. “1911,” another new song that will appear on Herring’s upcoming solo album closed out their set with the intensity of “Scapegoat Blues” serving as the band’s lone encore, an awesome punctuation on the evening’s festivities.
Make no qualms about it, Jimmy Herring & The Invisible Whip are more than just a side project. Herring has surrounded himself with a cast of world-class musicians who share his same devotion to the music and willingness to test the boundaries of what is accepted in the realms of rock, jazz, funk and fusion. Guided by the memory and philosophy of one of jam music’s pioneers in Col. Bruce Hampton, this electric five-piece are guaranteed to take any listener on a rewarding musical roller coaster ride.