Never Odd Or Even backwards is... nevE rO ddO reveN. Ahhh, what an appropriate title to capture both Kyle Hollingsworth and his new solo album. The palindrome connotes a perfect balance and flow and that is exactly what Hollingsworth delivers on his remarkable debut.

Whereas most jambands struggle in the studio trying to "capture lightning in a bottle," Kyle and his all-star band have created a wide open space where "live" passion is translated into 13 individually refined yet highly explorational masterpieces. Using groove as the common denominator, The String Cheese Incident's moonlighting ivory ironman has assembled a wonderfully coherent and cohesive album proficiently blending funk, jazz, soul, gospel and electronica.

Hollingsworth and all his album-mates have toured before as Remarkable Elba Kramer - another palindrome. Besides Kyle, all of the other band members are also current or former players in The Motet. Additionally, drummer extraordinaire Dave Watts and guitarist Ross Martin played with Hollingsworth in the Theory of Everything. Matt Spencer adds a funky and infectious bass while Jans Ingber plays percussion on Never Odd Or Even.

"Prevolution" cleanses the mental palate and is a launching pad for the rest of the album as yoga-esque chanting overlaps Hollingsworth's mellow keyboard trance. A seamless segue delivers "The Crusade," which begins with a downtempo, spy noir vibe before settling into a sly, acid jazz groove thanks to Joshua Redman's saxophone sensibilities.

SCI's familiar "Seventh Step" follows, the intro sounding like a psychedelic Sesame Street. The musical expertise and minimalist theory of the entire band is displayed here as Hollingsworth's Medeski-like organ sermon is scorching and Spencer strategically drops fat bass bombs. Martin's guitar work is sizzling throughout the album and is particularly funky here, as Watts switches drumming styles from rattling tin can to herd of elephants charging. Soothing, powerful and melodic, "The Bridge," featuring Robert Randolph on pedal steel guitar and Yvonne Brown on vocals, is the most potent soul and gospel song one will ever hear from a white conductor. Slowing the album's flow, the silky female background voice intertwines with Hollingsworth's strong piano work as Randolph pours emotion into his strings, the resulting cry transforms into a preacher's voice.

A brilliant transition, "The Preacher" is next on the album as a new age sermon is delivered over tribal drumming, dizzying keyboard loops and smokin' electric mandolin licks from SCI's Michael Kang.

"Not Yet" adds a Latin feel to the already eclectic musical mosaic. This piece has a familiar feel to it - think SCI's "MLT"/"Latinismo"/"Yo Se" rolled into one. Those "moos" that come next are really cows... in the studio! Hollingsworth brought four cows into the session to get a down home farm feeling while recording "Boo Boo's Pik-a-nik," a rollicking, good time, bluegrass number.

Last but certainly not least, "bam!" launches the listener into the stratosphere of funk. "bam!" conjures up vivid mental images of Herbie Hancock's Thrust and Headhunters. Hollingsworth does more than an adequate job of paying tribute to the funky, fusionist forefathers who paved the way for so many jambands. In fact, this studio version of "bam!" has earned Hollingsworth and the song a rightful place upon the legendary altar of groove alongside his elders and idols. With Kaptain Kyle at the wheel of this sonic voyage, the sky is not the limit... it's only the beginning.

John Smrtic
JamBase | New York
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Listen to: Never Odd or Even
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[Published on: 12/6/04]

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