In the past decade, Jimmy Herring has simplified his musical approach.
The North Carolina-born guitarist, known for his intricate playing with such groups as Aquarium Rescue Unit, Project Z, The Derek Trucks Band, Phil Lesh and Friends and, most recently, Widespread Panic, has been focusing on solo work in recent years. His first solo album in his three-decade career, 2008’s “Lifeboat,” found him specifically trying to not make a guitar-based record, although there’s plenty of guitar on the album.
Instead of creating vehicles for soloing, Herring concentrated on the songs. His second solo album, “Subject to Change Without Notice,” released in August, takes a similar approach, while opening him up to genres such as gospel and funk that he hadn’t worked with much before.
Jimmy Herring Band
with the Victor Wooten Band
Where: The Egg, Empire State Plaza, Albany
When:7 p.m. Sunday
How Much: $34.50
More Info: 473-1845, www.theegg.org
“In the past 10 years, I’ve had the great opportunity to play with a lot of song-based musicians — singer-songwriters, piano players who like tunes — and I’ve had to play a lot of just straight-up, normal music,” Herring said recently from a tour stop in Wilmington, N.C. “I really love it, and I always have, and so there’s a few songs coming from that place on this record. Of course there’s gonna be some stuff that’s kind of like fusion in some ways — it is instrumental music. But quite a few of the songs could have been vocal tunes; I just used guitar to do vocal-ish kinds of lines.”
Longtime fans need not worry that Herring is losing his musical edge — his quartet, featuring drummer Jeff Sipe, keyboardist Matt Slocum and bassist Neal Fountain, has been tackling plenty of the free jazz and fusion styles live that Herring is known for. But Herring is mixing and matching styles more and more in his sets. The group is on a U.S. tour with the Victor Wooten Band, which heads to The Egg Sunday night.
Keeping material special
“I guess people expect when I go out and do something that’s not with Widespread Panic, or The Dead, or Phil Lesh, automatically that it’s going to be jazz fusion, there’s gonna be a million notes per second all the time,” Herring said.
“Of course I can’t play a million notes per second, but people expect a lot of guitar solos all night. . . . But what they don’t expect is the ballads and other stuff we’re doing. We sat down and talked about it, and I’ve been wanting to go this way a long time. I feel like if we don’t vary up the material, it won’t be special anymore. The idea is to not have every song going to the same place every time we improvise, and the way to do that is to have songs.”
Perhaps surprisingly, this is Herring’s first tour with like-minded jazz fusion bassist Wooten. The two bandleaders have been collaborating with each other on the tour, and Herring is looking forward to more of this.
“I sat in with them one night, and they came and sat in with us in Durham [N.C.], so we had both bands on the stage at the same time. It was crazy,” Herring said.
Different every night
The material from “Subject to Change Without Notice” has been evolving on the road, too, as the band stretches out with improvisations. Two of the album’s covers, The Beatles’ “Within You, Without You” and Jimmy McGriff’s “Miss Poopie,” have become live centerpieces, with different dynamics in place every night.
“It’s a little bit looser; I may not quote exact melodies off the record the same way,” Herring said. “The Jimmy McGriff song we do, ‘Miss Poopie,’ that’s gonna be different every night — it has the same riff, but the solo sections may be short one night and long another night; it could go completely away from the song for a moment and come back to the song. The same thing is happening with ‘Within You, Without You.’ ”
Herring had initially hoped to play the material live for some time before recording it. In fact, almost the opposite happened, with Herring writing some of the songs “literally two days before the session.” However, the recording sessions, with producer John Keane at the helm, went at a much more leisurely pace than sessions for “Lifeboat.”
“The nice thing about taking weekends off [during the sessions] was that I got to go home Saturday and Sunday, go home with the rough mixes of what we had already done,” Herring said. “I was able to write melodies at home and while sitting in the studio too. It gave me time to focus a little bit, which was great, so I didn’t feel like I was shoved against a wall with a loaded gun at my neck, like, ‘Play it now or don’t play it.’ ”
Sonically a step up
For his solo debut, Herring focused on making a statement of intent. This time out, he wanted to represent what his group does musically, live, and also made a conscious decision to introduce new elements to his sound.
“A tune like ‘Aberdeen,’ which is sort of a gospel blues — I didn’t have any gospel-type stuff that I had ever recorded, or not written, anyway,” Herring said. “That was important to me — I wanted it to be, sonically, a step up from the last record. I wanted to work with a real producer, and John Keane is a real producer, someone I’ve really respected for a long time. And I knew, I wanted to just represent a diverse batch of music, instead of several songs from the same kingdom.”
The always-busy Herring is focused on his solo material for now, but by the end of the year he’ll be on to other projects. He’s gearing up for more touring with Widespread Panic, a band he joined in 2006, replacing George McConnell. He also hinted at a project brewing for February, although he couldn’t give too many details.
“It would be something I’ll really want to do, but until it gets confirmed I don’t want to say anything about it,” Herring said.