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Published: 2005/10/03
by Dan Alford

Sam Kininger, Tribeca Rock Club, NYC- 9/23

Sam Kininger is one of those players that always keeps you guessing. While he made his name as a member of Soulive a few years back, he’s since forged a new identity as a premier groove saxophonist and bandleader in his own right. He’s surrounded himself with a veritable Justice League of cats, and his music seems to bend and shift depending on the line-up. Certain nights are filled with seriously heady free jazz, others with a post-bop vibe and still others with the uncut funk.

For a Friday night at Tribeca, Sam brought regular bassist, the fleet fingered Aaron Bellamy and former Project Logic front man Casey Benjamin on Rhodes and sax. Casey was a special treat as he’s kept a low profile, at least on the new groove scene, since the Project stopped playing. His bright, clean tone, and long but intelligently developed solos were always favorites for my ears, and even if he almost exclusively played keys with Sam, his presence and approach were welcome. Equally welcome was longtime cohort Adam Deitch on the drums, who walked with the others already onstage, put down his tom, screwed on his cymbals and simply started to play. Deitch is one of the very best drummers playing music today, and his greatness comes from a combination of stunning technical skills, innovative ideas about texture and rhythm and a laid back attitude that lets him sink right into the groove. During the opening number, his crash stand slowly bent forward so that the cymbal was eventually perpendicular to the floor. Sam made to fix it, but was waved off- Deitch was doing just fine as it was.

The set was largely of the straight ahead funk variety, with a pass the peas approach to solos and little in the way of ensemble jamming. A fine show, but I had hoped for something more majestic, it being Trane’s birthday and all. The quartet’s one big reach beyond itself was during the central cover of Herbie Hancock’s “Butterfly.” A beautifully broad interpretation, the individual members seemed to respond to each other in a more organic way, comping, teasing and adding sweet fills. Finally Sam thrust himself out in front and just wailed out a long deluge of notes, careening up and down, cutting and swerving, and then with a quick nod to Aaron, sliding back to Herbie’s tune. Such playing bodes well for Sam’s slew of upcoming dates across New England, and two nights at the Blue Note in November.

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