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New Groove

Published: 2005/02/04
by Chris Clark

Brotherhood of Groove

New Orleans has long been known as fertile grounds for a plethora of musical acts making a name for themselves through late-night Mardi Gras parties and Jazz Fest funk fests. The Crescent City, home to American jazz and its freaky cousin funk, has spurned countless talented acts over the years, from booty shaking pioneers The Meters right on through this month's New Groove of the Month, Brotherhood of Groove. With an insatiable Deep South flare and a ripping guitarist-singer-songwriter in Brandon Tarricone, BOG is true tribute to the Bayou's flavorful funk and soul.

Formed in 2001 while Tarricone was finishing his jazz degree from Loyola University in New Orleans, BOG has steadily risen from the Bayou lowlands and onto the national scene, helped in part by a constant, coast to coast touring schedule and several celebrated players. With a now solidified line-up that includes Stewart McKinsey on 8 and 10-string bass, Jon Massing on drums and a powerful horn section led by Geoff Vidal, Sam Kininger and former James Brown saxophonist Jeff Watkins, they are equipped to bring the funk.

Over the last four years, the band has had multiple "big cats," as Tarricone would say, join in the mix, such as Watkins (member of the James Brown Band for the last 13 years), John Stewart (The Motet), Michael Ray (Phish, Sun Ra), John Ellis (Charlie Hunter Quartet), Dave Grippo (Giant Country Horns, Phish) and countless others. In doing so, Tarricone and his Brotherhood of Groove collective have evolved from jazzy New Orleans band to a funked-out, high energy celebration.

Brotherhood of Groove is the brainchild of Boston native Tarricone, who made the move to New Orleans eight years ago to attend Loyola on scholarship to study under jazz greats like Johnny Vidacovich (one of Stanton Moore's drum teachers as well). Getting his musical start on the saxophone, he began at an early age and progressed to a steady repertoire that included heavy doses Grateful Dead and Phish tunes with, "no understanding of guitar beyond some Bob Dylan chords," said Tarricone.

"The first guitarist I ever studied with was John Scoffield. I'd had my eyes opened to jazz through him, and of course it opened the doors and allowed me to get my foot in," continued Tarricone.

After a few years at Loyola-where Tarricone laughingly admitted that he was the worst musician in the whole class to start-he formed the band in his senior year and soon Tarricone was playing the teacher. From the start, the band was focused on more jazz-based textures, sticking with the traditional song structures and strict compositional styles. It was how he'd been taught and where Tarricone and his Loyola classmates were at musically at the time. But it would only be a matter of time before the BOG began to develop their own sound.

"All those original compositions I wrote in college were a reflection of studying jazz in school," Tarricone said. "I was concentrating on the rules and regulations as far as what I was studying in school.

"But then I was lucky enough to get Michael Ray and John Ellis to get into my energy and work ethic. From then on, I would try to hire heavy weights to play this stuff-they were my teachers," he continued.

Soon enough, Tarricone and his band would be playing five nights a week in small clubs in New Orleans for little or no money, but a reputation would begin to take hold. Musicians and fans alike would begin to take note of the young, funky guitar player and soon it became time to depart the Bayou and tour the country. As Tarricone would admit, "you can't stay in New Orleans and be successful."

Gradually, Tarricone would incorporate additional heavy hitters that frequented the New Orleans jazz-funk scene and get as many great musicians involved in the Brotherhood of Groove as he could. He would soon record and play with such respected and well-known players as Sam Kininger (Soulive, Lettuce), Michael Tucker (Pat Metheny), Eric Traub (Dr. John), Steve Bernstein (Sex Mob), Marco Benevento (Benevento-Russo Duo) and Ivan Neville (The Meters). It became almost commonplace for any of these musicians to periodically join the mix, as would Michael Ray, John Ellis and countless others. Through his incessant hard work and musical prowess, Tarricone developed quite a name for himself in New Orleans and beyond, and through it he became someone everyone wanted to play with.

Over the last four years, BOG has acquired a much grittier, funk flavored rock appeal then at the time of its inception. In that short time, they've transformed from your run-of-the-mill jazzy New Orleans groove to a high-powered, guitar-driven soulful funk that crosses The Meters sultry smoothness with the power of Warren Haynes' guitar tone and the color of James Brown's horn section. Tarricone, widely regarded as one of the premier guitar players on the scene, is oozing with creativity, from his complex compositions to his soulful vocals and ear-challenging arrangements. Though heavily steeped in New Orleans funk and traditional jazz, BOG venture much deeper, delving into serious doses of rock and incorporating elements of reggae, modern jazz and even some soulful R & B.

"We don't want to just be a funk band out of New Orleans," Tarricone admitted. "Categories screw everyone up in the long run, why does everyone have to be labeled anyway? Jamband is just a generic term, where every band in that scene has there own vibe. We're very different than The Disco Biscuits, but we still fall into the same category of fan base."

Presently, the band is in the midst of a large scale national tour, seeing them transverse the country from Montana through Wisconsin and the Midwest on through New York and Vermont. Now solidified with the vibrant rhythm section in McKinsey on 8 and 10-string bass, Massing on drums and Vidal, Watkins and Kininger rounding-up the horn section, the Brotherhood is fully capable of blowing up any room with their explosive, out of the Bayou flavored funk. Sam Kininger, who's been lending his dynamic and smooth R & B sax skills to the work of Soulive and Lettuce and his own Sam Kininger Band of late, joined the band for the entirety of this tour, and with him, he brings a soulful, complimentary appeal.

"Sammy's alto tone is killer. He's not really a bee-bop player, but more like Curtis Mayfield, so much more soul. The vibe is just really thick, when he starts playing the whole audience is aware of it," said Tarricone. "Jeff (Watkins) is a genius. His playing is phenomenal, all his horn arrangement knowledge and producing skills blow me away. Having him onboard is so valuable; he's such a teddy bear, Santa Claus type of dude-no ego at all."

With two albums, Pocket Full of Funk and BOG Style, and several successful national tours already under their belt, BOG is poised for much more future success. Their creative blend of balls-to-the-wall energetic funky rock and complex compositions written by front man Tarricone meet sweaty, smiling faces throughout the country. Live they carry the heat, bringing with them the New Orleans Mardi Gras flavor capable of keeping crowds dancing all night.

As for the future of BOG and the music scene in general, anything is possible. "The music industry is changing," Tarricone alleged. "Record sales are becoming a thing of the past. I think what the Internet and the digital music age does is puts the power back in the artists' hands. It takes the power away from the record executive who was never about the music anyway. The new business model puts the power back in people like me."

He concluded, "That gives me some hope that I can work my ass off and continue to be inspired and write and have somewhat of control over my musical career. It's a lot easier to be Justin Timberlake, but at least it means I have a chance of doing it without someone else being in control of it."

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