Eric Krasno, the goateed, beret-wearing, absolutely killin' guitar riff master for organ trio Soulive, told DownBeat recently of his inability to find the right feeling in an enclosed booth with headphones on and the meter running. Krasno, whose group might be described as a high-energy, open-ended update of Jimmy Smith and Brother Jack McDuff, can't get no satisfaction in the studio.
He's right. Over the course of two early-morning club shows during Jazz Fest week in New Orleans a couple of years ago Soulive -- Krasno, B-3 organist Neal Evans, and the incredibly funky drummer Alan Evans -- was a force to be reckoned with, an unstoppable font of deep, driving grooves and endlessly inspired improvisations augmented by sit-in guests Mark Whitfield and Joshua Redman. The crowd of young jam-band fans danced until dawn and a new crop of devotees was born. But on Memorex or, rather, straight into a hard drive, Soulive has tended to come off as a wee bit sterile. That's despite the contributions of assorted guests like Dave Matthews and rappers Black Thought and Talib Kweli on last year's Next.
The solution: Krasno and the Evans siblings, who first jammed together four years ago in Woodstock, N.Y., recorded a string of their shows late last year direct to digital. The result: The trio's live vibe, although adequately represented on hundreds of informally recorded and traded discs over the years, has finally been captured in first-class audio for the purposes of an official release.
It's all good if somewhat similar-sounding stuff, from the stair-stepping wah-wah melody of the album opener "Aladdin" to the shimmering closing track "Turn It Out," the title track from their 1999 release on the Velour label. "Solid" gets its kicks from a suspense-building intro anchored by Alan Evans's crisp trap-kit buildup and a catchy, color-shifting melody reminiscent of John Scofield. The trio drives hard down "First Street," spike stops, shifts, and hip-hop rhythms into "Shaheed," and nods to Hendrix through the scorched-out licks of "One in Seven." Another six-string god, Stevie Ray Vaughan, is saluted with a cover of his slow-burning "Lenny."
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But this album is more than just heroics, guitar or otherwise. Soulive, as the band's name suggests, is all about finding the heart of the groove and staying there until the inspiration runs out. So far, it hasn't.