Up Here – Soulive
In 2001, at the North Sea Jazz Festival, as Slobodan Miloasted away in a jail cell in another part of The Hague, Soulive played to an ecstatic crowd of approving Dutch fans. The group grooved deep within the tradition of classic Hammond B3 trios, but with a modern edge, though not so modern as to shuffle off the over-30 crowd, as Nils Petter Molvr and his Zeppelin-meets-Miles-Davis band did later that night. To say I was impressed is an understatement. Their performance at that festival is still as memorable as John Scofields, Herbie Hancocks, Brad Mehldaus, and even Van Morrisons. In the near decade since, Soulive has gone through several degrees of change. So many ideas have made their entrances and exeunts, a list of them would be a laborious push not worth the pull, so lets settle for staying in the now and positing Up Here, the groups seventh studio release, is a record that couldve persuaded Frank Zappa to rescind his famous line: Jazz isnt dead, it just smells funny.
The album has, as they say, nothing but the funk. This is readily apparent on Too Much. Nigel Halls funk-soul-brother-number-one vocals, Eric Krasnos affably dirty guitar, and Ryan Zoidis and Sam Kiningers savory horn blasts form a track that would be number one on the R&B charts if terrestrial radio wasnt hell-bent on booming its way towards irrelevance and bankruptcy. The funk hole is dug deeper and deeper with tracks such as For Granted, Backwards Jack, and Tonight. The latter of which again features Nigel Hall on vocals. Krasno and the Evans brothers, Alan and Neal, drums and organ respectively, pump consistent geysers of danceable and thinkable psalms and ditties that gratify and testify by turns.
And now I must admit I wasnt being completely honest when I wrote there nothing but the funk. Let me explain: in Chicago in the 90s, there was a crappy radio stationwhich still may be therethat went by the handle B96. At times, they spun what they would call slow jams. The tunes were, in point of fact, slow; but computer-constructed beats and auto-tuned urban yodels may have many qualities that please a certain quantity of cretins, but one thing they dont do is jam. That is why much praise should be heaped in Soulives general direction for creating two genuine slow jams. With PJs and Prototype, Soulive has concocted the Platonic ideal of this form: baby-making music for a rainy Sunday afternoon. The overall effect is to create an album that is as tight as a tick in your bum, and as plump as a homegrown tomato in July.