Sunday, June 17, 2012

Soulive and Karl Denson Play a Quick Set

I went to Summerstage today to see Soulive play with Karl Denson. I've had mp3s by the goateed saxophonist for ten years now, and I was introduced to Soulive five years ago, when I worked with the Evans brothers' brother. This was right when they released No Place Like Soul, adding Toussaint the Liberator to their lineup as vocalist. Purists rejected the new sound and Toussaint moved on, which was a letdown for me because I found him to be quite a welcome addition. Admittedly, I've never been a huge jazz fan. I can appreciate it, but it's not something I listen to frequently. I'd never seen Soulive or Karl Denson, so now was the time.

The line to get into the event was long, likely due to opener Riq & Rah (Black Thought and Rahzel). I caught some of their performance, but mainly had to listen in line as they covered recent hip-hop songs like "Hip Hop is Dead" and "Otis." "If your friends are out there now, wave goodbye to 'em," informed the security guard who let our batch of the queue inside. I made my way in just as they took things way back with Slick Rick's "Children's Story." Their set ended with the last verse of "The New Style" in a tribute to Adam Yauch.

Soulive and Denson took the stage modestly, and then dropped a bomb on the crowd, with what would possibly be their funkiest song of the night. Guitarist Eric Krasno played with an intensity that suggested he was fighting inner demons, and Neal Evans spun sonic spiderwebs with his Hammond B3. Karl then traded out his sax for a flute, and they played the title track off their collaborative EP Spark! that comes out on Tuesday. The release is a tribute to jazz guitarist Melvin Sparks, but I'm not sure if the songs are covers or just similar in sound to his work. Song three featured an amazing saxophone solo by Denson (Maybe it was the funkiest?) and some slick drumwork by Alan Evans, who holds his drumsticks in the traditional grip, making it appear so effortless.

After three jazzy workouts, the final song was a misstep in my opinion. It began with some ominous bass keys and flute, but then Krasno started sprinkling Moroccan guitar riffs into the mix, causing the groove to sort of unravel. Amping up the licks with Hendrixian distortion towards the end of the song seemed a last ditch effort to bring it back together. It would've been less of a disappointment if they had played another song after, but those 37 minutes were it. It burned bright at the start, but before you knew it, it fizzled out and was over. Spark indeed.

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