Soulive, McDowell Mountain Music Festival, 4/15/12

McDowell Mountain Music Festival at Compound Grill
Sunday, April 15

Groove is what you make of it, and Soulive makes plenty of groovin' music. This trio from New York City--brothers Neal and Alan Evans, on Hammond B-3 organ and drums, respectively, and guitarist Eric Krasno--draw inspiration from mid-1960s soul jazz. This style of primarily instrumental music relies heavily on funky or soulful grooves that move the listener while providing plenty of space for the musicians to improvise, stretch and push or pull that groove in new directions.

Modern masters of the genre, Soulive wasted no time in firing up the Sunday afternoon crowd on the final day of the McDowell Mountain Music Festival. After getting some organ difficulties straightened away, the band launched into the first of many fiery instrumentals. The playing was tight, gripping and full of flavor with tasty guitar leads and heaping organ swells on a platter of tasteful, but not overdone, drumming.

With no bassist, the bottom end is handled by Neal Evans' left hand. Throughout the night the bass lines were there, but via the organ came as a fuller more realized sound that perfectly complimented brother Alan's reserved drumming. Krasno too added some bass runs on occasion, often when Neal was running down some leads.

Soulive--nattily dressed in suits like classic jazzmen--didn't introduce their songs, and no set list could be found following the show, but names didn't matter, the music did. Whether guitar-centric or based around funky organ riffs, each number found its line and walked it cleanly. Improvisation found a way into most tracks with each member having a shot at individual expression. And while each player was extremely astute at making the most of his moment, there was no excess, no showboating, just a go for it encouragement from the fellow music lovers on stage.

Being a lovely sunny afternoon seemed to inspire the band, and the bulk of the songs of the nearly two-hour set were faster paced, locking into a speedy groove that often rose to great heights on guitar or organ leads before cooling out, only to repeat the action. The crowd showed its appreciation by flailing about in glorious release.

Halfway through Alan addressed the crowd: "We're actually going to do a few tunes we haven't done in a little while," he said as Krasno dug deep into the opening and unmistakable notes of the Beatles' "Come Together." The rendition was dark, greasy and sinister with slippery guitar lines and bouncing piano bleeding into sudden organ swells. Was this the way keyboardist Billy Preston, the unofficial fifth Beatle who played on the original sessions, thought the song should have been played? It certainly seemed of his making.

As the rolling drums and far-out center jam gave way to the tell-tale rhythm, Soulive brought the heat down and smoothly transitioned into "Something," with Krasno's guitar "singing" the words effortlessly over chunky Hammond fills.

This segued into "Eleanor Rigby" followed by the blues powerhouse "I Want You (She's So Heavy)." The band played off the blues base with gritty guitar leads, down and dirty drumming and massive black key organ bumps. Damn. This was a powerful song, already heavy by Beatles' standards, and even heavier (beautifully so) in the soul jazz context.
The audience was fired up for the unexpected renditions, so when this portion was over, Soulive helped the crowd chill, dropping into a cool groove for the next number, followed by another hot and heavy jam filled with stunning musicianship.

Taking a request from the audience, the band rocked it with "Steppin'" from Turn It Out. The song popped with swirling, almost psychedelic organ and rapid scale work on the guitar and kinetic drumming that forced the beat to the breaking point again and again.

As the band closed out the show with one more outtasight number, Soulive made it clear that, despite the fact that the music they play isn't the best known or most popular style out there, nothing can stop them from kicking musical ass song after song.

Critic's Notebook:

Last Night: Soul jazz band Soulive

Personal bias: I've been collecting music from this genre for years and Soulive is one of the top young bands covering the style.

The crowd: Lots of kids; a wide range of adults young and old

Random notebook dump: It's like the three musketeers. All for one groove and one groove for all.

Overheard: Crowd conversation between two 20-somethings: "Holy shit. I didn't know music like this existed." "Where the hell ya been?"

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Glenn BurnSilver
Contact: Glenn BurnSilver

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