Bill Kreutzmann/Oteil Burbridge/Scott Murawski: Higher Ground, South Burlington, VT 6/07/08

Of the four original surviving members of the Grateful Dead, drummer Bill Kreutzmann has kept the lowest profile since the untimely death of Jerry Garcia in 1995. But now this long-standing resident of Hawaii has elevated that profile considerably this year with his work in the trio format with bassist Oteil Burbridge (Aquarium Rescue Unit, ABB) and guitarist/vocalist Scott Murawski (Max Creek).

As KBM demonstrated in Vermont, the last stop on their current tour, the three have plenty of potential and need only to structure their firepower to maximize its impact. They are fearless in more ways than one, fully capable of doing justice to Dead staples like “Bertha,” –which galvanized their playing and ignited the happy crowd early in the first set—as well as sagely choosing diverse covers including Los Lobos “Mas y Mas” and The Neville’s “Yellow Moon.”
To be sure, the presence of Page McConnell on keyboards and vocals had much to do with the excitement level of the audience, but more important was the degree to which he provided direction and additional texture during the time he shared the stage with the trio

When Kreutzmann, Burbridge and Murawski get up a full head of steam, they’re impressive instrumentally on their own. The bassist and guitarist never lose track of each other no matter how high rise the lines of their respective instruments and Kreutzmann’s stamina is matched only by his own ingenuity: he can stay in constant motion as he furthers the momentum of the group at any given moment.

That said, a slightly more disciplined approach to their setlists would prevent the loss of momentum that occurred in the second set, this despite the appearance of Mike Gordon on bass, then electric guitar, then keyboards. Take the threesome’s foray into space that included “The Other One:” they went into overdrive after the body of the song only to encounter inertia they might’ve conquered had they returned full-bore to that ever so familiar riff. Their take on “Scarlet Begonias” had twice its impact with a restatement of the theme of that tune.

But the wisdom of such choices, in advance or in the midst of the spontaneity of the moment, should come almost inevitably to Kreutzmann, Burbridge and Murawski the more they play together. They clearly love to collaborate and their chemistry should allow for the necessary adjustments. Given a little time to reflect upon what they’ve accomplished so far, then rest their bones, they can get back truckin’ on…no doubt at an even higher level altogether.

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