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Next by Soulive

Blessed with an infectious, groove-oriented sound that all but dares the listener to resist the urge to leave his seat and shake his thing on the dance floor, Soulive very nearly became a band that didn’t live up to its initial hype. After their Velour release Turn It Out sparked a bidding war between Blue Note and Verve to sign the band- with Blue Note coming out on top- their follow-up disc Doin’ Something was a mild disappointment. Their Blue Note debut missed the live energy and intense jamming of Turn It Out; many critics gave the album lukewarm reviews, if not altogether ignoring the album.

Soulive marched on, however, playing the summer concert circuit opening for jam band staples like the Meters and the Dave Matthews Band. Soulive in concert is more suited for patchouli-scented fans of jam bands than the apple martini sipping, single-stitch suit wearing bourgies that frequent jazz clubs these days. The kids who turned out for those shows were more receptive to the immediacy of Soulive’s blend of Grant Green-influenced guitar lines, B-3 grooves, and steady funk and hip-hop styled backbeats. Still, brothers Alan and Neal Evans (drums and keyboards, respectively) and guitarist Eric Krasno couldn’t go back into the studio and play it safe, the way they did with Doin’ Something.

Soulive made alto saxophonist Sam Kininger a full member of the band, enlisted in the help of Matthews, Talib Kweli, and Black Thought of the Philly hip-hop band the Roots, and went into the studio. The result, Next, is a good first step back to getting untracked. While Next still misses the energy that made Turn It Out such a standout album, Soulive is relying more on their instinct this time around. The sterile crystalline production that sabotaged Doin’ Something has been replaced by a gritty, greasy emphasis on funk, tube amps, and paying homage to the band’s seeming endless list of influences while maintaining their signature sound. Soulive mostly succeds, the opening track "Tuesday Night's Squad" and the slick modern R&B of "I Don't Know" being the notable tracks that fall short. Still, Soulive is taking chances, which is one of the staples of the band.

Kininger seamlessly slides into the band dynamic without altering the chemistry, pushing the fast funk of "Whatever It Is" to terminal velocity, plays sweet and low on the more pop-oriented number "Joyful Girl" and "Ne-Ne", and trades some furious licks with Krasno near the end of "Kalen." Krasno lends his signature vocoder guitar technique to "Kalen" and "E.D. Hambone" and tips his cap to George Benson on "Flurries". Neal Evans largely shelves the B-3 for most of Next, using a keyboard rig that includes Wurly, Rhodes, Hammond, and Moog pedals. Alan Evans is the MVP of the record with his steady time-keeping switching from the hip-hop of "Clap", the hard funk of "Interlude" and the breakdown of "Flurries".

Next is probably not going to make many jazz critics year-end best of lists. The album is geared to neither jazz purists, fusion fanatics, or more discerning soul jazz afficionados. But with such a mixture of influences that is probably what Soulive are hoping, anyway. This is a good rebound for the band.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Soulive
  • CD Title: Next
  • Genre: Soul / Funk Jazz
  • Year Released: 2002
  • Record Label: Blue Note
  • Rating: Three Stars
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