Not long ago, a record company executive asked the bassist Jimmy Haslip how he felt about recording some sort of power-trio album. Maybe he could bring in guys like, say, guitarist Robben Ford and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, for example? Haslip, who has a generous spirit, said okay, yeah, how about them?
The three got together at Colaiuta’s house and jammed for a few days. Then they adjourned to a studio and jammed some more. “We’ve all known each other a long time,” Ford said recently. “But then, I was able to play well with these guys the first time I met ’em.” They didn’t have any expectations, but did have a good time, and found the experience liberating. “The only instruction we had,” Ford continued, “was, “Make sure you play a lot.'” The results were recorded and produced by Haslip as Jing Chi, which is cheerfully described on his Web site as “a brand new set of smokin’ bluesy jazz jams!” That seems about right.
In a way, though, it’s also a little modest. Jing Chi is the sort of band they don’t make anymore — a fusion supergroup. Consider the credentials: Colaiuta earned his stripes with Frank Zappa, and has become a sort of Kevin Bacon of drummers — he might be the only musician in the world who Sting, Steely Dan, Duran Duran, and Celine Dion have in common. Ford, who with Haslip was a founding member of Yellowjackets, and who has recorded with El Cerrito-based blues label Arhoolie Records, has miraculously become a guitar hero without becoming a poseur. And Haslip’s picture is probably in the dictionary under “musician’s musician.” Each man’s reliability as an ensemble player matches his ability as a soloist.
What the band finds to be a real challenge, though, is describing its own music. “The players are opening the doors to their creativity,” Ford mused. “And each guy’s creativity is informed by various things.”
A common and justified apprehension regarding groups with which you can’t go wrong is that you’ll go wrong with them. Experiments like Jing Chi, which run the risk of spilling out of their test tubes and making messes, do require controls. But the rapport here is obvious and real, and each of the musicians is sensitized to the fact that it’s one thing to be sophisticated and quite another to be entertaining. Of course the playing is articulate, the technique unimpeachable, but what really matters is that the music is listenable. By and large, the album is nuanced, spirited, and not self-serious. To put it another way, smokin’.
If jing is “focused strength” and chi is “vital energy,” a band called Jing Chi should be good live.
At least it had better be. “We are all psyched to do a tour and play out,” said Haslip. Predictably, they will do some jamming. Joined by keyboardist Otmario Ruiz, the trio plays next week (Tuesday, December 10 through Sunday, December 15) at Yoshi’s, a club described by Ford, who recorded a live album there, as the best venue on the planet. “I think the feng shui there is very good,” he said. You don’t absolutely need good feng shui for good Jing Chi, but it helps. 510-238-9200 or www.yoshis.com