The J. signifies Jaimoe, one of the founding drummers of The Allman Brothers Band. The F., bass player Joe Fonda, leader of an Italian jazz ensemble packed with enormous talent and wide-open vision. “Me and the Devil” differs from last year’s soul-drenched “Cajun Blue” as much as that album did from The J. & F. Band’s 2018 debut, “From the Roots” to the Sky, which took straight jazz on a circuitous, thrilling ride. This time, Jaimoe, Fonda, drummer Tiziano Tononi, keyboardist Paolo “Pee Wee” Durante, sax player Jon Irabagon, and violinist Emanuele “5P” Parrini, have built significantly on their jazz foundations by weaving in robust, flexible rock, blues, and R&B — often within the same song. Guest guitarists Bobby Lee Rodgers, David Grissom and Scott Sharrard color the seven sprawling numbers with vibrant personality.
“Tizville” ignites the album with a stretch of be-bopping funk that highlights each player’s expertise, and calls to mind Tower of Power, right down to author Bobby Lee Rodgers’ urban vocalizing. Next, a completely captivating, avant-garde take on Robert Johnson’s “Me and the Devil Blues” ensues. Two minutes of melody-razing settles into a spooky groove perfectly befitting Johnson’s lyric, “Hello Satan.” Scott Sharrard is the final link in the chain of incredible, uniquely-tasteful “Allman” guitarists, having spent nine years in Gregg Allman’s band and several of those as his musical director. But he’s also one hell of a soul singer. Here on this classic blues, and later when he leads the band through a tremendous, dangerous slink through Little Feat’s “Spanish Moon” (Sharrard’s now a member of Little Feat), he proves himself a master of nuance through voice and strings.
Jaimoe, a jazz disciple who played with Otis Redding and Sam & Dave before joining the Allman Brothers, provides the nimble swing throughout the album, Tononi its explosive power. At the outset of “Seven Seas Crossing,” their four sticks flutter and fly in tribute to jazz great Max Roach, with Irabagon accenting the workout with blurts of Ornette Coleman on his sax for good measure. But once the song takes off, it’s on a stout, fascinating journey. Similarly, “Hendrix Lane Long” begins as if in space, the scratchy flourishes of notes a reminder of Jimi’s mindset perhaps. But it suddenly blossoms into a marching, theatrical rock number, its unusual groove kept earthbound by David Grissom’s guitar, stinging like a bumblebee buzzing around a Lone Star roadhouse.
The 20-minute finale, “Nothing Matters,” builds to its takeoff with interpretations of melodies within “Amazing Grace” and Dickey Betts’ Allman Brothers opus, “Les Brers in A Minor.” Once airborne, the mesmerizing, twisting and turning improvisation of it includes smidgeons of Grateful Dead here, Santana there, and Return To Forever everywhere. The guitars scrape, horns squawk, and Parrini’s violin saws as if torn between the hills and an elegant concert hall. Durante’s piano solo provides sharp, beautiful focus.
The scope and complexity of “Me and the Devil” startles the senses. These are serious players, playing seriously and with abandon at once. Fans of jazz, blues, and jam, and certainly any true Allman Brothers enthusiast, will find so much to immerse themselves in here.
- The J. & F. Band
- ‘Me and the Devil’
- Label: Long Song Records, Italy
- Release: April 6, 2021