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Published: 2010/10/25
by Fady Khalil

Otis Grove
The Runk

Ropeadope

For over half a decade, the three members of Otis Grove has been bringing their particular brand of jazz-laced funk to the Boston area, and now, they want more. The eager instrumental trio has set its sights on ever larger audiences, and their latest album, The Runk, may very well be the vehicle to achieve their aspirations. Featuring high octane improvisation, but with song structures that remain cerebral in nature, the album offers a bit of everything to capture listeners’ attention. But in an improvisational market saturated with amazing musicians, can another instrumental trio really prove fresh and enticing? The answer is a resounding, maybe.

For sake of orientation, Otis Grove exists within the same sphere as MMW, but the trio’s focus on experimentation propels them towards the likes of Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey and San Franciscan psych-jazz troupe, Mushroom. However, though overall musicianship is very solid, there still remains some distance to be covered before Otis Grove can properly and comfortably be likened to such progressive-jazz virtuosos. Still, one element in particular sets the Boston troubadours apart – and foreshadows a rather exciting future for the band – that’s their greater focus on funk, and their ability to craft perfectly balanced heavy-rock opuses. In short, throughout their latest album, The Runk, songs hit with a life-size impact.

Album opener “Monark,” introduces itself with a wall of sound bigger than most budget stereo systems – and perhaps your eardrums – can handle. However, a quick transition into a clever passage of sound, takes the song into some bona fide jazz, without the listener necessarily realizing it. And that perhaps is Otis Grove’s single greatest asset, their ability to re-imagine jazz in ways that either aficionados, or those uninitiated, can both appreciate. This affords the band great flexibility to fit in from jamband to jazz, night clubs to festivals, and just about everywhere in between. And whether the smooth Hammond organ of “Uncle Runky” to the coy syncopations of “Bobby Nosox,” the songs throughout always remain accessible and avoid being mired down by over-zealous improvisation.

Otis Grove adeptly walks a line, drawing from the improvisational wisdom of those who’ve come before, while understanding the changing tastes of contemporary listeners. The Runk is a strong and a compelling chronicle of this talented trio’s balancing act with songs throughout – particularly “Plywood Snowshoe,” and “Waiting,” – proving deliberate, focused, and doled out in increments that today’s fast paced audiences would easily find continually engaging. Sharp interactions between instruments further leave a certain awe-factor that proves rather convincing to fans or newcomers. And though this album is just an early indication of the band’s potential, it fairs well amongst the inspiring works of contemporaries in the progressive jazz world, leaving Otis Grove, a band you’ll definitely be hearing about.

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