By: Ray Chelstowski
In almost every interview with Phish front man, Trey Anastasio, you’ll hear him singing the praises of other artists, almost all of whom have no direct involvement in the jam space. His influences run wide and they are reflected in the terrific variety of guests Phish has invited to join them on stage across their almost 40-year history. That genuine appreciation for musical talent and creativity really does sit at the center of what jam music is all about. Much in the way that hip hop once so uniquely gathered multiple musical influences and created one remarkably new expression, jam bands are continuing to push through and deliver sounds that are fresh and authentic. This actually all began with Phish. They were really the first to forge a path of collaboration that might very well be what saves rock n roll. This couldn’t come at a more critical time. Over the last several years, some of rock’s biggest stars have publicly declared that “rock is dead,” referencing the lack of any chart-topping hits or presence of an electric guitar in music that’s considered “popular.” Phish never seemed to lend much attention to that kind of talk. Instead in their live appearances are these collaborative test drives that sometimes work, sometimes don’t, but that always demonstrate a sense daring and statesmanship that rock has long looked for from its most prominent players.
For example, take their epic performance with rapper Jay-Z in June of 2004 at KeySpan Park, in Brooklyn, NY. There they provided an economical but sturdy backdrop to Jay-Z classics like “99 Problems” and “Big Pimpin” and leveraged a local hero’s connection to the crowd in a way Phish loyalists couldn’t possibly have expected that night. Jay-Z seemed to emerge out of nowhere and delivered a performance that was uniquely electrifying.
Then there are moments like the Bonnaroo Festival in 2009 with Bruce Springsteen where the material they collectively chose didn’t play to Phish’s musical strengths and a song like “Glory Days” instead of glistening, bright shiny and new, sounded muddy and flat.
That’s OK. In the world of jam music, every night is a new opportunity to set the record straight, course correct and take the music somewhere untouched. It’s a sense of adventure that keeps the band AND the audience on their feet at all times, literally and figuratively.
That’s why Phish is the perfect band to kick off this new weekly series where we’ll be “mining the best of jam.” From bands with a well-established presence, to those making noise on local and regional scenes, we will review albums, concerts and festivals. We will regularly talk to the artists themselves and get a new perspective on their creative process. And we will tackle topics like “merch” and collecting as only Goldmine can.
When Rolling Stone critic Jon Landau famously said in the 1970’s that the future of rock and roll that he envisioned would be built around Bruce Springsteen, he couldn’t possibly have foreseen how jam bands would take jazz, fusion, bluegrass, metal and meld them into a genre that would become so rich, complex, and wonderful — almost like its own world of fine wine. The future that I see for rock and roll has more than 30-minute songs with guitar solos that noodle about within a dizzying atmospheric effervescence. It sits within a genre that is as much defined by its audience and the community they help create as it is by any single band member’s contribution. That in the end is what makes the jam scene work so well, and why you’ll begin to see us celebrate it each week right here.
Lastly, after a terrific amount of input from jam fans, we decided to turn to the internet for help in finding the perfect name for this column and settled on Natural Funk Projekt. Jam is a genre that in part sparkles from some of the most imaginative band names in music. They dazzle the eye like jewelry and create band personas that absorb you. We wanted to get it right and decided to take a gamble on a website quiz. There we answered about a dozen and a half questions, and were fed NFP. In the end, it just felt right, much like Goldmine deciding to get the jam on. So let’s go!