Jimmy Herring and the Invisible Whip, featuring local nova Jeff Sipe on percussion, opened the first night of a two-night stand before a packed house at Isis Music Hall Friday night. Drawing on a variety of influences, The Invisible Whip offered up a delectable combination of crunchy jams, mind-melting guitar and avante-gard jazz.
I’ve watched a few YouTube clips and read interviews that Herring has given about this project, but that’s only taken me so far. By Herring’s account, it should be billed somewhat as jazz without limits, some form of melding jam and jazz.
This is clearly the early tone and the crowd, stuffed in as tightly as they are, loves it. It’s not dancey, but truth is, there isn’t anywhere to dance anyway. The show is clearly oversold, but the music is making up for not being able to see anything.
Honestly, part of me wonders if this wouldn’t have been better as a seated show. I know the ticket prices would have to have been outrageous, but the musicians are so talented, it’s hard to not want to be able to watch in awe.
Herring is shredding and Sipe, deliberate and measured, toms dexterous, cymbals powerful. He’s holding it down as only he, and a handful of other drummers in the world, can.
The set-list wavers between some classic jazz standards and more Allman Brothers Band style jams. Some of the songs are complicated, but in the spirit of Colonel Bruce Hampton, many of the strongest tunes are built upon simple riffs, allowing the musicians to take them wherever they like.
Between songs they tease everything from The Grateful Dead to The Beatles to Pink Floyd. Even the more obscure numbers offer something for everyone. This might as well be an Intro to Jazz 1o1, taught by some of the greatest musicians playing today.
I wonder to myself if Ram Mandelkorn (the lead guitarist for The Digs) is in attendance. I imagine that if he is he is wetting himself over the running baselines and jazz guitar constructions.
I go out to look for him but as I do I hear Herring and his band launch into a song I am certain is a cover of a Jon Stickley Trio tune. I run back in and catch a tight and punchy version of Slopes, a song written by Bela Fleck and Mark O’Connor for their band Strength in Numbers, but that, judging by the reaction, is best known in Asheville for Stickley, Lyndsay Pruett, and Patrick Armitage’s superb adaptation of it.
Wandering back out the door after the song is done I bump into Mandelkorn. Sure enough, he is slightly catatonic, one great guitarist just soaking up the vibes from another great guitarist.
To be fair, this is the vibe of the entire night. This was not just a chance to come out and shake it a little. This was about the music, about the transitions and the keyboard licks and the heavy organ backing The Wizard’s flawless guitar playing. This was about great musicians playing great music, and an audience that was completely wowed by their creativity, craftsmanship, and collaboration.
I just wish they had sold a few less tickets.
Caleb Calhoun studied writing at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and music at a plethora of clubs and bars across the southeast. He is the host of Soundcheck Radio (Thursday’s 3-5 on 103.7 WPVM) and the publisher of Rosman City Blues. He currently lives in West Asheville with his woodland mermaid, Dr. Gonzo.