I’ve got to say that one of my favorite things about the current music industry is this strong resurgence of jam band music and culture that’s been going on for the past several years. As someone who wishes they had been alive to witness the explosion of psychedelic rock, progressive rock, and the jam band scene in the ’60s and ’70s, I am extremely happy about the genre’s relatively unimpeded longevity. After the Grateful Dead’s disbandment in 1995 as a result of guitarist and frontman Jerry Garcia’s death, the band Phish stepped in to fill the gap. Although they never achieved quite the amount of success and popularity that the Dead had, they certainly helped to keep the scene alive for the next decade. They were also an integral part of the rise of large-scale music festivals in the modern era. If you think about all of the festivals that host yearly events now – Bonnaroo, Coachella, Camp Bisco, Rootwire, Lightning in a Bottle, All Good, Wakarusa – the list goes on and on.
Dopapod is a group that is quickly rising to the forefront of the jam band scene. Born in 2007, they recently released their third studio album, Redivider, on 12/21/12. The entire record was recorded in a barn at Tyrone Farm, a solar powered farm in Pomfret, Connecticut. Despite the fact that it was released less than a year after their previous album, Drawn Onward (side note: if you haven’t picked up on this yet, the band really likes palindromes), there is nothing about Redivider that gives away any sense of rushed preparation. As a matter of fact, the entire thing is pure, musical gold.
I’d say it’s about time I dig into the archives of music released earlier than just the past few years. As soon as I made that decision, one specific artist popped into my head almost immediately: Herbie Hancock. And why not? He’s only one of the most influential musicians ever to exist in the jazz fusion world. I would bet money that a large majority of the artists that I’ve featured previously on the site were influenced either directly or indirectly in some form by Herbie Hancock. He was a man who extended his creative genius far beyond the world of jazz. He was a musical innovator that made breakthroughs in the use of electronic synthesizers and freeform improvisation. He combined stylistic elements of jazz, blues, funk, and modern classical music into a totally unique fusion of genres. The legacy which he has created will last for many long years to come and influence many new generations of musicians. Anyone who claims that Hancock was “before their time” deserves to be slapped senseless.
The album that I’m focusing on in particular today is one of his 1974 releases, Thrust. As the followup to his ’73 release Headhunters, Hancock was now firmly entrenched in the widely popular, highly competitive funk-jazz-fusion game of the era. But Herbie is never one to be outshined or assimilated into a much greater collection of mediocre artists. No, he has always been the one to push the limits past the point where anyone thought they could go. In order to accomplish such a gargantuan undertaking, he’s assembled a legendary cast of characters to accompany him. On bass guitar is his main man, Paul Jackson, who went on to play on nine of Hancock’s subsequent releases. Bernie Maupin, a master multireedist, takes care of all the lead woodwind parts. Aside from his work with Herbie, he is most well known for his performance on the seminal Miles Davis album Bitches Brew, his role as a bandleader, and his collaborations with the likes of Horace Silver and McCoy Tyner.
Album artwork for Funkengruven: The Joy of Driving a B3
Perhaps it would be unwise to say that Kevin Coelho is one of the best jazz organists this world has ever seen. To make such a bold statement, given the genre’s rich and expansive history, would surely step on many people’s toes. The boy is only seventeen, after all. For all we know, he may not even be allowed to legally drive anything, let alone a B3. Why is it, then, that I can feel him channeling that same energy that we hear from all the jazz and blues superstars we’ve come to love? As a rising star himself, Coelho is a living embodiment of the power of music; it doesn’t matter who you are, or where you come from, as long as you create honest, impassioned music. This is certainly the case with his debut album, Funkengruven: The Joy of Driving a B3.
Right off the bat, it is easy to tell that Kevin Coelho truly is basking in “the joy of driving a B3.” The record starts off by immediately throwing you into the swing of the title track, “Funkengruven.” Coelho teams up with guitarist Derek DiCenzo and drummer Reggie Jackson to form one of the most tightly-knit trios I’ve heard in quite some time. It quickly becomes evident that all three of them are instrumental masters in their own right, and the chemistry between them shines through. As the group starts off by running through the head of the first tune, we are lured in by a relatively calm, modest opening. And then, before you can say “jivin’ jitterbugs,” Coelho kicks it up a notch with his first organ solo on the album. This is one it starts to get real. Although he starts out soft, he continues to escalate more and more, until you suddenly find yourself wondering how such creative ingenuity is even possible. Definitely a fantastic way to kick off the record.
Every once in a while during my continuous search for new music, I have the incredible fortune of stumbling upon an artist or band that is indisputably one of most talented acts of today’s music industry. That was definitely the case with Snarky Puppy. No, I’m not talking about an ill-tempered mongrel; I’m talking about one of the most inventive and original instrumental fusion bands that I’ve heard in quite some time. I went to see them at one of their live gigs a couple months ago on a whim, and I’ve been hooked ever since. The reason for this is simple: creative ingenuity.
Of course, all of the music that I post on this blog is here for it’s creative ingenuity, so perhaps I am simply rehashing old themes. Maybe so, however there is something that sets Snarky Puppy apart. I believe that they capture the true meaning of the word “fusion” as it is applied to music. Cicily Janus, author of “The New Face of Jazz: An Intimate Look at Today’s Living Legends and Artists of Tomorrow,” writes that “Snarky Puppy is one of the most inventive [groups] in sound and funk since Maynard Ferguson’s fusion years.” Michael League, the bassist, principal composer, and leader of the group, has aptly labeled their sound as “jafunkadansion.” Now we could probably argue over what exactly such a term means for quite a long time, however the only way we would ever find the answer to such a philosophical question would be to listen to groundUP, the latest (and dare I say greatest) release from Snarky Puppy.