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Soulive: Get Down!

These two CDs (Get Down! and Soulive) make interesting bookends to Soulive’s career up to this point. Get Down! is a rerelease of the trio’s 1999 self-released debut, when Soulive first took the classic organ-trio sound out on the modern dance floor. Meanwhile, after becoming the benchmark for the soul-jazz revival-working with artists ranging from rappers to roots rockers and touring in a three-hour revue complete with horns, DJs, MCs and vocalist N’Dambi-Soulive has gone back to their roots, so to speak, on their new eponymous album. Recorded at a number of concerts last fall, the band left all the guests out of the picture to record Soulive. The new recording reveals that the band knows how to excite a crowd-and will it reliably do that even if it means simplifying the solos.

Get Down! has all the trappings of a Blue Note homage, from the cover-pictures of each band member in narrow bars, next to a mod-looking arrow on an orange background-to the recording process, which pans guitar and organ to separate channels, with drums in the middle. The sound quality is a little raw and unpolished, but that only adds to the greasy feel of the album. While the music is straight out of the Grant Green/Big John Patton approach, the band’s execution puts a modern stamp on it. Drummer Alan Evans put the drum groove of James Brown’s “Cold Sweat” beneath “Uncle Junior.” His brother Neal was developing his own voice on the B3, playing short lines with riffs that didn’t get stuck in a rut. Guitarist Eric Krasno provided solid rhythm parts and some sharp leads. The reissue adds live covers of Lou Donaldson’s “Brother Soul” and “Boogaloo” Joe Jones’ “Right On” to the original program.

“Turn It Out” appears on Get Down! and Soulive and also served as the title of Soulive’s second album. What began life as a midtempo piece of funk, with Neal and Krasno playing the melody together, has become a full-blown, 12-plus minute showpiece on Soulive, complete with 90 solid seconds of a locked organ riff, and a corny call and response shout with the audience. “Alladin” kicks off the album with a dirty clavinet riff that could butt heads with “Chameleon”; an equally sinister keyboard riff drives “One in Seven,” which sounds like Sly & the Family Stone cutting loose.

But after nine songs, the beats start to blend together, and it often sounds like Evans brings out the wah-wah pedal to slay the crowd instead of putting his head into a substantial solo, of which he’s definitely capable of producing. Granted, music this animated easily lends itself to showmanship, but when the easy licks replace meaty solos, something is lost. Soulive might be best taken in small doses.

Originally Published