Jam-band elites mesh innovative musical styles

The Grand Pecking Order
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Jam music fans must have asked each other what would happen if Phish, heirs to Grateful Dead’s jam throne, and punk-funk pioneers Primus got together and produced a record. Oysterhead’s The Grand Pecking Order arrives as the slightly unsatisfying answer to such queries.

The Grand Pecking Order (Elektra) is a collaboration between Trey Anastasio, lead singer/guitarist of Phish, Les Claypool, lead singer/bassist of Primus, and Stewart Copeland, the accomplished drummer of the long-retired Police. Anastasio and Claypool share a surprisingly perfect balance as far as vocals go, but there is no mistaking one singer’s voice or lyrical style for the other’s work. The result is a mish-mash of two clearly distinct signature styles – part Phish, part Primus, but never close to a singular sound.

“Army’s On Ecstasy,” a stellar Primus song in which Claypool dominating the track, follows “Radon Balloon,” a luminescent Phish track. Claypool and Anastasio vie for space on each song, edging out one another minute by minute. This competitive edge does bring out some memorable solos from Anastasio, and the album displays some of Claypool’s sharpest bass lines in years.

Underneath it all, Copeland proves to be more than just a relic from a once-great band. The quality and creativity of his drumming holds as the most reliable element of The Grand Pecking Order.

The collaboration of great musicians always will be appreciated, and jam music remains the last bastion of creative improvisation in these days when most new jazz has gone stale. Still, one wonders why Phish and Primus should stay on hiatus when their members have such a bevy of new material. No one would complain to see two new CDs in stores rather than just one.

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