Referred to in a recent Relix feature as “The Jamband Velvet Underground,” the influential dada-jam trailblazers Col. Bruce Hampton & the Aquarium Rescue Unit will return to rattle the landscape this summer with a series of live performances – than band’s first since a much-talked-about 2011 reunion at the Georgia Theatre in Athens.
With the daring, iconoclastic Hampton at the helm, the Aquarium Rescue Unit played a seminal role in fostering today’s vital, thriving improvisational music community. And their presence is still felt: Since Hampton and the band parted ways in 1993, the band’s members have gone on to both inspire and enliven the music of the genre’s most revered practitioners: Herring (guitar) with Widespread Panic,The Dead, Jazz is Dead, the Ringers, and his own solo project. Burbridge (bass) with his band the Peacemakers and with the Allman Brothers and the Tedeschi Trucks Band; and Sipe (aka Apt. Q-258, drums) with his own trio and collaborations with Phil Lesh, Béla Fleck, Susan Tedeschi, Trey Anastasio, Jazz is Dead, Alex Machacek, Debashish Bhattacharya, and many more. For these dates, the ARU will also be joined by keyboardist Matt Slocum, who performed with them at the 2011 Georgia Theatre show.
Which leaves the good Colonel (retired)...a seismic catalyst of the first order, Hampton’s presence was first felt as a member of the cult Georgia ensemble the Hampton Grease Band. From there, Hampton – a mesmerizing blues-inflected vocalist, freewheeling guitarist, and caustic ringmaster – applied his boundless energy, cosmic wit, and fearless exploratory zeal to pursuits as varied as standup comedy, wrestling, and music ranging from free jazz to hillbilly blues. The Aquarium Rescue Unit coalesced during a weekly jam session in Atlanta before taking their act on the road, signing with Capricorn Records, and helping to found the first H.O.R.D.E
“Bruce is a visionary that has enriched the life of anyone that's worked with him,” says Jimmy Herring. “He gives you an outlet that encourages finding your own voice, but he's quick to point out that freedom can be a prison…”
“Being a part of Bruce's musical world is a liberating experience in that he entices the players to discover their true and full expression,” explains Jeff Sipe. “With Col. Bruce there's always the threat that something radically different is going to happen midstream,” Oteil Burbridge adds.
Periodic Aquarium Rescue Unit reunions, both with and without Hampton, have taken place over the past two decades, but these shows represent the band’s first sustained run of dates since 2007. The sets will feature a mix of new and old material. Most crucially, every performance will be recorded for a possible live album release on the Abstract Logix imprint.
While listeners and musicians are already salivating at the potential of this reunion, no one is more excited than the ARU members themselves. “While the youthful ARU was exciting live, I think the more experienced ARU can have more of an impact,” Burbridge reflects. Sipe concludes, “After 26 years, we’re all friends and are still inspired. Getting together again is for me a rare privilege and one that's filled with magic, because each of my friends are so brilliant and truly awesome.”
When asked for his thoughts on the upcoming reunion, Hampton simply responded, “Activate.”