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The Jerry Douglas Band at Thirty One West

by Kristopher Weiss on August 29, 2017

The Jerry Douglas Band does not play bluegrass music.

“That ain’t happenin’ tonight,” the renown, Ohio-born Dobro player, most recognized for his work with Alison Krauss and Union Station, told an enthusiastic crowd of family and fans at Newark, OH’s Thirty One West the evening of Aug. 15. Though he expressed his profound love for his usual genre, Douglass has something else in mind with his self-named septet - namely an eclectic mix of jazz, blues, rock ‘n’ roll and soul music with just a hint of bluegrass-tinged country.

Still, Douglas teased the audience by introducing a cover of Weather Report’s “A Remark You Made” as an old-time bluegrass number that Bill Monroe would have approved of and said the picker probably even played some of the same notes. As it went, “Remark” was a compelling performance, low-key and thoughtful as the players took a series of solos.

Playing a heaping helping of tracks from JDB’s debut LP, What If, “as in, ‘what if a Dobro player had a band like this?,’” Douglas cracked, and tunes from Douglas’ back catalog, the group put on an adventurous performance, stretching songs for as long as 20 minutes and featuring vocals on only three of the dozen or so selections that appeared over the course of 50- and 70-minute sets.

Self-deprecating and funny in his stage banter, Douglas sheepishly apologized for the new tunes - that was unnecessary - pretended to not recall Krauss’ name and said he was so moved by the audience’s enthusiasm that he’d tune up between numbers.

As is typically the case, Douglas put on a Dobro clinic and more atypically, also played electric slide guitar on two of the evening’s bluesier selections, including a rambunctious take on Tom Waits’ “2:19.” He was joined by violinist—not fiddler—Christian Sedelmyer; upright and electric bassist Daniel Kimbro (whose family drove up from Tennessee to take in the show); electric guitarist Mike Seal; trumpeter Vance Thompson; Jamel Mitchell on tenor and soprano saxophones; and Doug Belote, who alternately brushed and bashed his drums as he added a taste of jazz to the rhythm section.

Douglas was a generous bandleader, giving his mates ample room to stretch out and standing toe-to-toe with Sedelmyer and Kimbro—whose bass solos proved the instrument is for much more than just holding the bottom end - as they traded riffs at center stage. Applause filled the tiny performance space after particularly strong individual showcase spots, of which there were many, particularly on instrumental tracks such as “Cavebop,” which Douglas said he wrote after a mushroom-induced dream he had where Fred Flintstone and Charlie Parker were discussing the merits of bebop “even though it hadn’t been invented yet.”

“The Last Wild Moor” was equally invigorating and both tracks allowed the horn and rhythm sections to shine.

The band shredded Jimi Hendrix’s “Hey Joe” blueprint and rendered the song as a full-tilt, triple-time rocker with Douglas singing and playing enthusiastically as his compadres cooked so hard behind him that a lesser band of musicians would have probably run off the rails.

The contemplative “Senia’s Lament” was “Joe”’s antithesis; slowly unfolding over several minutes as the players made a tone painting of the tune. “Who’s Your Uncle?” was as close to pure bluegrass as the show got and was so raucous that the band played one more number—a sort of faux encore without leaving the stage—to send the audience off in a more relaxed mood so concertgoers, in Douglas' words, wouldn’t get speeding tickets on the way home.

Authors: Kristopher Weiss