The idea of the super group can be a tricky concept. Powerhouse musicians of their craft all accomplished individually, collaborating together as a new ensemble. Ego, style, and ability can clash. True cooperation is easier to envision than to execute properly. In the jazz world it gets even more complex. Since jazz is inherently less about similar personnel compiling a unit and more about open collaboration and musical conversation, creating jazz “super-group” is a delicate operation. In the minds of certain open players, it could be more powerful than any other medium, if achieved that balance without egocentrism. The Ringers is the epitome of that careful line of coexisting amongst true titan virtuosity. The band debuted in early 2013 and word of their power has spread quickly between music lovers and industry cohorts. A triple threat guitar team of Jimmy Herring, Wayne Krantz and Michael Landau brings together the most innovate masters of the axe, backed by the phenomenal rhythm section of six and twelve string fretless bassist Etienne Mbappe and drum powerhouse Gary Novak. How could these five sharply diverse jazz-rock prodigies possibly create something unified? Audiences have discovered their collective power on strong tours across the U.S. since last year. Last week, it was Boulder and Denver’s turn to be in the know first hand.
The Fox Theatre isn’t exactly the premier jazz venue of Colorado, but then again, The Ringers is not a sit down fusion show. The audience had plenty of personal space and awesome sight lines (graduation weekend at University of Colorado might have thinned attendance to other non music oriented activity) but the real fans showed up in full support of their favorites from five different walks of music. Maybe most currently famous is the shockingly speed accurate Jimmy Herring whose built his own impressive solo career aside from his “day-job” as lead guitarist of Widespread Panic and common collaborator of Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh. But he certainly shared the guitar work and stage respectfully next to more jazz-fusion purist (if such a thing exists) Krantz and session guitar wizard Landau. All three wove a web of melody and often a backdrop for a developed solo when the time was right to move in that direction. Bassist Etienne Mbappe, one of the best jazz bassists working, tours with John McLaughlin and the 4th Dimension. He is truly a brilliant player whose fretless dual harmonic work is reminiscent of Jaco Pastorius while serving his fellows as a true standby rhythm man. Gary Novak’s cymbal and tom hits reveal a supple approach at the heaviest of jazz-rock. He will carry the music as a lead musician alongside Herring, Krantz, and Landau.
Last Thursday’s show treated attending audiences to a standout opening set from The Congress, whose consistent touring and creative energy are bringing them to big moments onstage before their fans. With the crowd already jazzed up, the Ringers took stage for well over two hours, no set break, no dragging moments. Admittedly I was too caught up in the instrumentals and sheer talent to remember the few song titles they revealed to the Fox crowd. It seems that a studio album is in the works for this year and the band keeps announcing new shows, currently touring the Midwest in Milwaukee, Chicago, and Columbus. A play-by-play could never do these masters justice. Do expect for everything you might know about these true virtuosic players to be ammunition for their musical potential, which revealed itself naturally and energetically last Thursday in Boulder and continued strong for two nights at the Oriental Theatre in Denver. Grateful Web thanks the guys for the invite. We certainly reaped the sweet musical benefits.