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Published: 2004/03/26
by Sarah Buchweitz

Melvin Sparks Band / The Boston Horns / X2, Mexicali Blues, Teaneck, NJ- 3/20

Melvin Sparks’ Birthday Party featuring X2 and Melvin Sparks Band

Neil Young and Jeff Blackburn wrote "it's better to burn
out than it is to rust." Melvin Sparks showed no signs of
doing either at his recent birthday party. Smile gleaming,
the night radiated the musical energy and positive vibe
shared by the musicians on stage and enthusiastic crowd
that packed Teaneck, NJ's Mexicali Blues.

Driven by Peter Maclean on drums and Dave "Wolf" Wolfberg's
frosting-thick bass , The Boston Horns wasted no time
kicking the night into high gear. Mike Dansereau's
keyboards and Jeff Buckridge's guitar enhanced each
rhythm-spackled melody, which was complemented or led
funkily by Henley Douglas Jr. on tenor saxophone and Garret
Savluk on trumpet.

X2 soon took the stage. The duo is composed of Matt Abts
(Govt. Mule) on drums and the inimitable Johnny Neel
(Johnny Neel Band, formerly of ABB, renowned Nashville
studio player) on organ, piano and clavinet. Opening with a tune aptly titled "Melvin's Groove" the
band's enthusiasm resembled a runaway train; the set
erupted into a sonic game of cat and mouse deftly narrated
by Neel's dances with ivories and Abts' drum solos, all of
which conveying a measured frenzy even at their wildest
moments. The set closed with a moving rendition of "The Long And
Winding Road" by Neel, followed by foreplay in the form an
explosive "Have Mercy" featuring Melvin Sparks Band's Joe
Hrbek on alto sax and The Boston Horns' Douglas and Savluk.
A funky good time was in store, and the swelling crowd was
as excited as it was ample.

Featuring Melvin Sparks on guitar, Erik Kalb on drums, an
organist introduced only as "Jerry Z" and Joe Hrbek on alto
sax, the moment Melvin Sparks Band hit the stage, the
birthday boy's infectious grin swept across the audience.
The fluid nativity with which Jerry Z integrates into the
band is nothing short of remarkable. It was as if he'd been
playing with the band his whole life. The night rolled on,
with Melvin teasing the theme from "The Flintstones."
During the third tune, Jerry Z teased "Oh, Susanah," and
Melvin kicked things up a notch with a breathtaking solo
before announcing that Mike Clark (Mike Clark's
Prescription Renewal) was in the house, and he came on up.

Johnny Neel (X2) and Clark joined the band for a rousing
number, after which Bernard "Pretty" Purdie took his place
behind Matt Abts' drum kit. The look of delight on Abts'
face was priceless. Purdie and Sparks worked together as
recently as 1995's "In Tokyo," part of Purdie's Jazz Groove
Sessions series. Purdie was at ease and a mutual admiration
society was clearly meeting on stage.

The Boston Horns' Douglas Jr. joined the band, tenor sax in
tow for a rousing rendition of "Pick Up The Pieces" to
which Purdie and his Mrs. got their dance on before
catching a flight to Spain. The pace heightened with an
extended "Thank You (Fallentinme Be Mice Elf Ag'in)" which
offered ample opportunity for solos, followed by a funky
"Gimme The Night."

It was cake time, and Melvin blew out the trick candles on
a beautiful chocolate sheet cake just in time for Johnny
Neel to launch into "Something In The Water," a new tune
about New Jersey and the blues with a special birthday
verse in Melvin's honor, much to his amusement.

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