CHICAGO FUNK AND GROOVE FESTIVAL

One of the major benefits of having recently moved to southwestern Michigan is that I am a mere 2.5 hours drive away from Chicago. I am a newcomer to the wonders of this great city, a city filled with wonderful music venues, restaurants, parks, shopping and people. This past weekend Chicago played host to a myraid of musical choices, including the Chicago Jazz Festival in Grant Park, the AfroCentric Festival in Washington Park, and the Funk-n-Groove festival presented by Chicago's own Silver Wrapper.

Funk-n-Groove featured several shows at different venues throughout the city. I missed the Wednesday night performance of Living Daylights as well as the Thursday night performance of Fareed Haque.

Cheme & Melvin Sparks
©2001 dino perrucci
Friday evening's performances started at the Metro with Robert Walter's 20th Congress with special guest Melvin Sparks and Boulder's Jive in the opening slot. The Metro is an excellent venue that is wider than it is deep and features an excellent sound system, an ornately carved stage, an open dance floor as well as a balcony. Jive got things going with an inspired set of tight horn driven funk-n-groove. This band continues getting tighter and tighter as they cross the country with their rigorous tour schedule. Jive consists of 2 sax players, guitar, bass, drums and percussion, on this night there was a keyboard player sitting in as well. Jive is a band that will get your booty shaking with their tasty grooves and inspired enthusiasm. 20th Congress, another very hard touring ensemble out of the San Diego area came to play. 20th Congress features Robert Walters on the Hammond organ, Fender Rhodes and piano, Chris Stillwell on the bass, Cochemea "Cheme" Gastelum on alto sax and flute, George Sluppick on drums, and Chuck Prada on congas and bongos and as this night they had very special guest Melvin Sparks on guitar. Melvin is an old school jazz/funk guitar player that has played with everyone from Lou Donaldson, Grant Green, Charles Earland, and more recently Karl Denson; Melvin also has his own band. Walter's rollin keyboard style lays on top of syncopated tight grooves to create the heart of 20th Congress' soulful funk style. Add to that the intensity and in-the-pocket guitar delivered by Melvin Sparks and you have got a wonderful evening of dancing and listening pleasure.

Eddie Harris/Les McCann Salute Jam
©2001 dino perrucci
For late night entertainment Silver Wrapper and Cheme (20th Congress sax player) put together an inspired jam session tribute to the legendary soul-funk-jazz composers and players Eddie Harris and Les McCann. Presented at the Logan Square Auditorium, the idea of this "Salute Jam" was to assemble a group of players from the jam scene to pay tribute to the body of work left behind by these musical giants. Les McCann's soulful hard-bop keyboard and vocal styles were somewhat under appreciated during his heyday in the 60's, but lately his work has been embraced by a new generation of musicians with many of his songs, such as "Compared to What," being covered by a number of JamBased artists. Eddie Harris is known for pioneering the use of the electric sax, but most often he is remembered for his compositions. So many of his tunes are standards today, like "Listen Here," "Freedom Jazz Dance," and "Mean Greens" to name a few. Band-leader Cheme was greatly inspired by both Eddie Harris and Les McCann which led to this Salute Jam.

Eddie Harris/Les McCann Salute Jam
©2001 dino perrucci
This session featured an incredibly talented lineup: Cheme on alto sax and flute, Melvin Sparks on guitar, George Porter, Jr. on bass, Zak Najor on drums, and James Hurt on Fender Rhodes and Clavinet. Most of you are probably familiar with George Porter, Jr. from the Meters and his countless sessions with everyone under the sun, some of you probably know Zak Najor from his days with the Greyboy Allstars and Karl Denson's Tiny Universe but I would guess that unless you hang in the New York jazz-funk scene the name James Hurt is a new one. This guy is incredible, he uses his hands in blaze of percussive beats that is at the same time trancy and soulful that added a fractal psycheledic quality to his solos that left me staring in awe a number of times throughout the weekend. This was a wonderful evening of music, whenever you have George Porter, Jr. on bass you know it is going to be a special night, George laid it down heavy all night with a tight intensity that is his signature sound, he also sang a couple of tunes. Zak Najor, who has been busy reinventing himself, was an excellent choice for this session, his tasty syncopations and San Diego cool groove was just the right thing for this session. Of course Melvin Sparks soulful style was a delight out front, this was my first time seeing Melvin and I was very impressed indeed. Cheme pulled it all together as band leader and with numerous forays on the alto sax.

Soulive | ©2001 dino perrucci
After the Saturday night Funky Meters and Soulive show at the House of Blues, Silver Wrapper presented a late night show with Soulive at The Note. I was very happy because this was to be my first Soulive show, and I have been looking forward to seeing this band for sometime. Soulive is Neal Evans on Hammond B-3 organ, Wurlitzer, and piano, Alan Evans on drums and cymbals, and Eric Krasno on guitar. For this special gig Sam Kininger on alto sax and James Hurt on Fender Rhodes and Clavinet where added to the lineup. Soulive takes the traditional organ trio and stretches and elongates by adding elements of soul, hip-hop and R&B. These guys have some serious chops, Eric Krasno, brings a style that reminds me of Wes Montogmery and Grant Green as he weaves between the monsterous left hand of Neal Evans and the intense cymbal crashes and syncopations of Alan Evans. Sam Kininger, who can be heard on Soulive's Blue Note Records release Doin' Something adds depth with his lyricism and melodic solos. And what can I say about the amazing James Hurt who I would like to nominate for MVP of the Funk-n-Groove festival? This guy is astounding! He does this two handed thing that will turn your head to say, "What is that guy doing?" Very unique, very trippy, and for these hears, totally fresh.

ReBirth Brass Band
©2001 dino perrucci
Sunday night it was the Brass Band Blowout featuring Dirty Dozen and ReBirth at Park West. These are my two favorite brass bands and this was my favorite venue of the weekend's festivities. ReBirth came out first pulling no punches. ReBirth, known for their loose, street carnival approach was tighter than usual. The self-proclaimed Heavyweight Brass Band of the World consists of the baddest backline in New Orleans with Phil Frazier on sousaphone, Keith Frazier on bass drum & cymbal, and A.J. on snare and cymbal. These guys lay down the rich syncopated New Orleans secondline rhythms that can make a deadman dance the dog. I apologize for not having all the names of the front line which consists of two trombones, two trumpets and tenor sax. These guys come to party but they also come to play their asses off. I have seen ReBirth many times, but I was very impressed with the vocal harmonies on this night and the overall tightness of the front line, something which I believe is vital for ReBirth to take it to the next level.

Dirty Dozen w/ ReBirth
©2001 dino perrucci
Next up was the Dirty Dozen, which was the first brass band that I ever saw when they opened for the Grateful Dead during Mardi Gras back in 1987. The Dozen has continued to do cross-over shows most recently with Widespread Panic and The Black Crowes. The Dirty Dozen are pioneers and have always broken past the boundaries of the traditional brass band. Most recently they have added James Mclean on guitar, a move which is shocking to most fundamentalists, but one that makes sense in the context of their continuing work with rock-n-roll acts. Dirty Dozen also features Terrence Higgins on a full drum kit instead of the traditional snare player and bass drum player, these enhancements allow for a fuller but less traditional sound. The horn section is incredible with band leader Roger Lewis on baritone, soprano and alto saxaphones as well as flute, Kevin Harris on tenor sax, Efram "E.T." Towns on trumpet and flugelhorn, Sam Williams on trombone, and Julius McKee on sousaphone. These guys were tight, tight, tight as they rolled through their catalog of favorites and crowd pleasing numbers. For the finale of the weekend it was *ALL* the members of ReBirth and Dirty Dozen on stage at the same time for a wild and wonderful jam. I had never seen this before and given that it was my two favorite brass bands on stage at the same time, I was a very happy camper indeed.

All in all a tremendous weekend of music in The Windy City. I wish I had time to catch some of the other events that were going on, but one can't do it all. My thanks to the folks at Silver Wrappe. These guys are working very hard to bring the very best of jam music to Chicago and I wish them all the best in the future!

Alan Dorchak
JamBase | Chicago
Go See Live Music!

Thanks to Dino Perrucci for the great photos!
Visit Dino's website for more Chicago Funk & Groove photos at DinoPerrucci.com
[Published on: 9/7/01]

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