It's been just over two years since three musicians took their mutual respect into a basement and jammed out what came to be So Live! and Soulive. In that time, the excitement pouring out of the rooms in which they play has increased parallel to everything they've learned from each other. They're a wonder to other artists in the musical community partly due to how quickly their appeal has grown, but there's more. I connected with the explanation put out there by Oteil Burbridge, guest on Soulive's first album, Turn It Out, when he spoke of "natural chemistry."
Soulive doesn't produce setlists when they kick it live which, to me, speaks of creativity with as few limitations as possible. At each show, their music represents what they feel at the moment as well as whatever they were listening to that day. That artistic spontaneity is our scene but that's not all there is. Regardless of how many copies of shows there are flying around now, studio production, with it's equipment that would make the average taper drool, gives musicians a chance to finely mint a project that will represent them forever. Their first Blue Note release, Doin' Something, blows open the slim space between clean efficiency and raw edginess that Soulive established on Turn It Out.
Soulive is the collaboration of past, present and future. This blend is represented not only by contributions of new material by Alan Evans, Eric Krasno & Neal Evans, but horn arrangements by Fred Wesley & Jacques Schwarz-bart as well as the brimming silk of Stephanie McKay on vocals. And organ-based what? After listening to this album, I wish Soulive could bring a piano for Neal wherever they go. It represents a well chilled soul that's carried throughout Doin'
Something which stands apart, but not far, from that adrenaline infused dance hall atmosphere they create on stage.
Their new release welcomes listeners with the core lineup of the band in a song written by Neal called Hurry Up...And Wait [Stream It with Windows Media Player]. It's an easy hook I often repeat in my head as the background to my thoughts because it gets things moving quickly. The name is inspired by the band's experiences rushing to gigs only to end up hanging around for a while until they go on. It has the itch that can only be scratched by moving your body so sit down if you must when you pop this album in, just don't expect to be down there too long. The title track picks up on the energy of the first and adds more fill to the groove which is quickly heightened when the horns swing in. Fred Wesley (trombone), Sam Kininger (tenor saxophone), Jeremy Pelt (trumpet) and Jacques Schwarz-bart (alto saxophone) cohese with each other from the moment they take the baton. The lead is passed back and forth between the horns and Eric and just Fred at one point in Doin' Something. This high speed juggling is enhanced by how fluidly each of the musicians urge the others until the end comes around squarely on the nail's head.
I was going at a strong pace by the time the third track, Evidence, began but as soon as Neal started lacing in the piano, my heart stopped. Neal marries the high and low ends through his organ and, here, he fits his piano tones with the harmonic form of Eric's guitar work as well. Their combination sent chills up the back of my neck as I relaxed into the web created by Alan's hands and feet. Evidence stirs on the top at the end and then Soulive drops down to some serious bass in the next song from Alan and Neal that woke my hips up from that dream. One In Seven spreads quickly so, by the time Eric's guitar gained more prominence, every part of me was at it again, trying to express it all. Like the beginning of the first three tunes on the album, One In Seven represents the same power Soulive produces from the minimalism their lineup represents on stage.
Jacques Schwarz-bart sneaks in again shortly into one of Eric's new songs, Bridge to Bama. His arrangement moves all around the central groove from moody wandering to sharp connotations that flare away but lose nothing of their link to the rest of the players. This song is a great example of the shared complexity in Soulive's music. Jacques feeds back to the central groove so everyone can come back together. They then take off in another direction on the piano which smoothly arcs the pace upward where everyone meets again. Swinging the door open to the echo chamber became another moment on the album that froze me and gave even more impact to the bring it home reunion of the song's original line.
The pace picks up again in Cannonball. Neal's basslines firmly get the rhythym going as Eric and the horns rip it up to shreds to the beat of Alan's encouragement. Towards the back end, Fred Wesley's horn arrangement shows that his fire still burns hot. There are a few cabbies in New York who must know it by now because it's become an involuntary blurt from my mouth. That minute and twenty seconds or so of music is why I love how easy it is to reset a CD to whatever moment you want and listen to it over and over.
Doin' Something is not only an album to be considered by the song. It has a sense of itself and it's overall movement which shows nicely in the blend from Cannonball to Shaheed and into Romantic, the sly curve that leads gently into a set of three songs the band doesn't play much as far as I've seen. The deeply stretching burn of love isn't a theme that Soulive covers much in the live forum so Romantic will definitely expand the portfolio of how you understand them. Stephanie McKay sings of the intangibles and details of caring consideration in soft, appreciative tones. Romantic strongly conveys connection in both the lyrics and the instrumentation.
On the up turn, Alan's fleet combinations mark one of his credited songs, Solid, and continue through Roll The Tape. While Solid also lets Eric fly, the motivation shifts in Roll The Tape by nature of the bassline and some trippy interludes from the horns blended in between tighter movements. Like Cannonball, Solid fades off which sets the tone for expansion at one of their shows but, in the context of the album, that fade makes a nice contrast to the definitive style that opens Roll The Tape.
Capping things off, Joe Sample carries the slow baked soul which I find to be the string in Doin' Something. They bring it out and hide it, using it as a springboard or a rolling cover of warmth and shows that these are not just musicians out to rip. They have the maturity and patience to let the groove and the inspiration take control while always keeping an open ear. They don't forget the excited vitality of their beginnings, represented by a short tease of Steppin' at the end. But please don't press stop there.
There's already a wealth of knowledge and stimulation to be gained from Soulive's music. Their recent tour in Japan inspired a great amount of positive energy around them fueled by many music lovers who made Turn It Out and Doin' Something the number two and one albums, respectively, on the Japanese charts. This summer sees the guys expanding to their fourth continent, extending the bridge from the basement even further. Sharing Doin' Something is taking that walk with them which is a path that's only bound to get more and more interesting.
The more I write, the more I think about that Zappa quote: "Writing about music is like dancing about architecture." No opinion is right, no opinion is wrong and there's always more to say no matter how long you analyze it. I hope this album moves you as much as it did me. It'll be with me wherever I go even if I don't have the actual CD on me.
JamBase NYC Correspondent
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