After touring for just over a year, Jazz is Phsh has shattered any preconceived notions about tribute bands lacking creativity. Led by drummer Adam Chase, the super group’s debut album He Never Spoke A Word dropped last week, interpreting 12 songs from Phish’s repertoire in jazz form.
Chase originally came up with the idea for Jazz is Phsh while daydreaming one day, when he reimagined the Phish song “Foam” with steel drums and horns. As the idea solidified, Chase recognized that the vision was also inspired by a Grateful Dead tribute group known as Jazz is Dead. Chase stewed over the idea for a while, not wanting to follow directly in the footsteps of the name Jazz is Dead, until Trey Anastasio played lead guitar at the Grateful Dead’s Fare Thee Well shows in 2015, when it occurred to him that “it was the right year to launch it,” being that the worlds between the Dead and Phish had officially collided.
With the advantage of the many friendships he formed over the years as a touring drummer, Chase was able to recruit some of the best musicians for the job, including Dennis Chambers, Jeff Coffin, Michael Ray, Chris Bullock, Carl Gerhard, Kofi Burbridge, Grant Green Jr., and others. With the exception of trumpet players Ray and Gerhard, who toured with Phish as part of The Giant Country Horns, Chase and his brother Matthew were some of the only members of the group were familiar with Phish’s music. The album itself also features the talent of Holly Bowling, Jonathan Scales, Anthony Wellington, Chris DeAngelis, Lenny Pettinelli, Josh Thomas, Scott Flynn, and Derrick Johnson.
Why Phish, and why jazz? According to Chase, “their sense of improvisation is very jazz oriented, in my opinion.” Having grown up listening to Phish, and later studying jazz music in school, Chase quickly made correlations between the genre and Phish’s music. “For me, it was a natural fit to bring jazz and Phish together.”
As phans might have guessed from the reference in the title, “Ghost” is the first track on the album. Immediately reminiscent of the Phish version, this song is one of the album’s several that tends to take the music in a different direction than the original. “46 Days” and “Alumni Blues” also lend themselves to creativity likely spawned by the diversity of the group, while tracks like “Weigh” sound comfortingly close to the original composition. Throughout the album, the horn section takes on the role of the melodies and vocals, with a strong bass back bone to keep the groove.
“I’ve always felt that Phish’s vocals were under-appreciated for the actual rhymes and harmonies they were writing, especially in relationship to how complex the music is,” Chase said. “To be singing those types of harmonies overtop of already complex music is something that has always inspired me. So, being able to put that into horn arrangements and show it off in that respect I think really shines light on just how strong their writing is.”
Written by Meredith Warfield
He Never Spoke A Word Track Listing:
Ghost; Cars Trucks Buses; Weight; Foam; 46 Days; Dog Log; Lawn Boy; Meat; Camel Walk; Magilla; Alumni Blues; A Letter to Jimmy Page>Alumni Blues.