First Appeared at The Music Box, June 2003, Volume 10, #6
Written by John Metzger
Much like its previous outings, Soulive’s recently released, self-titled effort is perplexing. The group is clearly a jazz ensemble with a penchant for dabbling in funk-rock grooves. Its members — Eric Krasno plays guitar, while brothers Neal and Alan Evans perform on Hammond B-3 organ and drums, respectively — all have the chops to improvise unreservedly. The band is even signed to a jazz-oriented record label. But instead of delivering the sort of freewheeling rhythms and soulful expressions one might expect to hear, Soulive peddles in typically tedious jam band idioms. Making matters worse, the group often sounds exactly like Medeski, Martin, & Wood — another fine ensemble that generally fails to live up to its capabilities. It’s a shame, really, because Soulive (as well as MMW) certainly could do a lot to revitalize the acid jazz and jam band scenes.
Indeed, when Soulive gets on a roll, it can leave a rather mind-bending impression as evidenced by the many fine moments scattered throughout the group’s eponymous release. The trouble, however, is finding them. Many of the tracks, which were recorded in concert on the band’s Winter 2002 tour, meander about their introductions and conclusions, placing the better segments somewhere in between. For example, Aladdin repetitively rides a funky guitar groove, occasionally breaking free to slip into a supremely impassioned jazz fusion jam; both Solid and First Street contain some interesting ideas but linger on them for far too long; Turn It Out dissolves into an annoying audience chant; and Shaheed — arguably, the album’s best tune — takes flight right from the start, soaring for nearly eight minutes before abruptly fading out on what is presumed to be a clichéd drum solo.
With just five albums under its belt (in four years, no less), Soulive is obviously a young band still exploring its musical universe. One gets the feeling, however, that if the group is able to keep a healthy distance from the jam band scene, thereby allowing itself to develop a more diverse palette, it just might become the next great jazz ensemble. Of course, the currently lucrative market also might become the group’s downfall.
Soulive is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2003 The Music Box