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In the studio with Modern Groove Syndicate

The images accompanying the article were all drawn in the studio with the band and painted on the spot. -“”:

The Richmond, VA-based jazz/funk quartet Modern Groove Syndicate stepped back into the studio this week for the first time in three years. On a quiet farm in Orange, VA, the band gathered for a four day session of recording and mixing. The farmhouse/recording studio is packed to the gills with vintage instruments and recording equipment, and one literally has to climb over rare equipment, microphones and sound dampening walls to navigate the recording space and console room.

The new album takes bold strides in new directions for the band. Bringing together material the band has been working out live over the past year, the album combines well-orchestrated grooves with room for improvisation. Several tracks are thick with overdubbing, which allows a breadth of sound the previous albums have not known.

Saxophonist JC Kuhl sets aside his tenor on a number of tunes, picking up alto, soprano and baritone saxophones as well as flute and clarinet. The variety of instruments is noticeable immediately, with the baritone sax rumbling out the lowest tones like a foghorn, only to be cut through with screaming alto solos.

Daniel Clarke's piano playing shines on many of the tunes, with greasy B-3 grooves augmented by Clavinet, Rhodes, Wurlitzer, Micro-Korg and Melodica to an astonishing effect. “The Original Mack,” one of the band's newer tunes, is a raging groove that grabs your attention from the get-go with a pissed-off organ hook and fast paced saxophone solos.

In-the-pocket bassist Todd Herrington lays a solid foundation for the band to build on, showing remarkable subtlety as well as a penchant for heavy slap lines on his Alembic. While he can casually hang back and provide a supporting role, listening to “Junebug” you'll feel him slap those chops right in your face. The stand-out difference in Herrington's bass playing is his versatility. He switches effortlessly from thumping backbeats to swinging jazz guitar strumming. He often matches fills with the drummer that flash up and down the neck, and maintains a look of practiced confidence throughout.

Drummer Joel DeNunzio hits jazz, funk and rock and roll rhythms that keep the band at a full sprint throughout many tunes. Strongest in raging moments, his fills and rolls possess both dexterity and a strong sense of timing.

This is not a smooth-jazz band. While the song structure and improvisation stem from a jazz sensibility, the tunes are meaty and often agressive. The heavy organ and electric bass matched with four-on-the-floor drumming supercharge the organic tunes with a wide variety of diesel-electric voicings. The songs are well scripted, and while they can be quite complex, a steady groove based out of the blues and rock and roll keeps your foot tapping and fingers snapping throughout.

The album is scheduled for release late this summer, it's third album after 2004's Vessel and their 2002 self-titled debut release with guitarist Frank Jackson. The band plays weekly in Richmond and tours the East Coast regularly, with a number of festival dates scheduled for the summer.

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