There’s an awful lot of information to be gleaned from merely looking at Jimmy Herring’s latest disc, Subject To Change Without Notice. The album’s title seems to be a wry allusion to the 10 stylistically distinct tracks found within, setting the stage for variety. It was produced by southern studio stalwart John Keane, features Jeff “Apt. Q-258” Sipe on drums, lists Col. Bruce Hampton in the acknowledgements, and was released on Cary, NC’s own world-famous prog/fusion label, Abstract Logix. Thus, if you know any of Herring’s work, it’s not hard to discern before hearing a single note that Subject To Change Without Notice is a clean, big-sounding, complex album with loads of virtuoso musicianship.
Herring fans often wish the note-mongering master would strike out on his own more often, and this intimate-sounding album should give them plenty to chew on for a while. It’s striking how easily Herring and the core band (Sipe, bassists Neal Fountain and Etienne Mbappe, and keyboardist Matt Slocum) shift gears and incorporate guests here; the whole hour just breezes by like one of Herring’s signature leads. Seven Herring compositions and three telling covers by The Beatles, Mahavishnu Orchestra, and Jimmy McGriff make up the program, and the bearded six-string savant is transcendent throughout. “Red Wing Special” gets the blood pumping with speed-bop structures, frenetically walking bass, and scientific shredding from Herring and fiddler Nicky Sanders. “Kaleidescope Carousel” finds Herring relentlessly exploring a sweet, loping groove not unlike those he works with in Widespread Panic - simple and spooky, yet calming. The sound of Herring layering his slide guitar and rhythm parts together is astounding, the impossibility of two Herrings playing together joyously realized.
Beyond the inherent instrumental nirvana found in the genre-hopping jubilance of disparate tracks like “Bilgewater Blues” (southern-fried Sly and The Family Stone) and “Emerald Garden” (nearly new-age acoustic guitar bliss), special guests contribute greatly to the record. B3 organ legend Ike Stubblefield steps in for a take on Jimmy McGriff’s “Miss Poopie” that’s so funky it will leave listeners needing a shower, and also lends his soulful touch to the soaring “Aberdeen.” Herring’s son Carter adds mood-enhancing cello to the band’s oddly rhythmic take on “Within You Without You,” and Bela Fleck sounds nothing short of perfect on the country-jazz number “Curfew.” Producer Keane even gets in on the act, using pedal steel to complement Bill Evans’ sax work on Mahavishnu Orchestra’s “Hope” a track that unfurls in elegant splendor under Herring’s guidance. Subject To Change Without Notice is certainly a guitar record first, and that can be a dangerous thing in the wrong hands. Fortunately, Herring has the humility and common sense to showcase the rest of the players as well, making this album so much more: one of the most notable instrumental releases of the year.