Modern Groove Syndicate : : Vessel

Funk, groove jazz, acid jazz... the devil goes by many names and guises and there seems to be a never-ending supply of musicians willing to do his bidding. Some might say too many musicians, which makes finding the ones that are actually worth digesting difficult. On their new release Vessel, Modern Groove Syndicate has all the ingredients for a tasty cake full of boogie and delivers the entire dessert cart for good measure. The album seems to hit every subgenre imaginable, mixing in a variety of influences to good effect like offbeat add-ins in a new Ben & Jerry's pint. Let's see... there's straight guitar-organ-sax funk, straight grooving Wurlitzer, straight jazz piano on top of greasy pork rind bass lines, syrupy smooth soprano saxophone on top of standard funk beats, dancing melodies on top of near-techno drumming, etc., etc. etc. But instead of letting the influences overwhelm, the Syndicate simply brushes them on for a light dusting of flavor--a hint of the past and present while giving their version of the future.

Vessel is in the category of CD that you'll hear in a bar or at a party and after not fully paying attention for the first three tracks you'll suddenly feel the urge to blurt out "Who is this!?!?" Your body just moves. Which isn't to say this is the best shit ever... just that it's better than a lot of the other shit out there. Indeed the disc seems to hit a lull about halfway through, but recovers admirably with a final stretch that includes some heavy grooves and some nice surprises. So often an already pigeonholed band of this nature will try to overcome today's blandness in funk by overthinking and overwriting their music until it becomes overwrought with spontaneous and too-abrupt changes. The result is completely nauseating. Modern Groove Syndicate has found a way to bring a fresh voice to a stale genre with really smart composition and really smart grooves that won't be denied. Sometimes it's the little things: my favorite track is the disc's finale where a string section magically appears mid-stream and adds perfect embellishment to the tune. Just goes to show that these guys know what's what from top to bottom.

File between the 20th congress and Galactic.

Aaron Stein

[Published on: 5/20/04]

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