Jazz music has always made people dance, and the organ trio has been one of the most creatively dynamic and emotionally direct ways to dance. In 2003, Soulive (Alan Evans; drums, Neal Evans; keyboards, Eric Krasno; guitar) represents this new jazz organ trio paradigm â€“ their self-titled third release for Blue Note Records marking a stripped-down and infectious return to roots. Recording exclusively as a trio for the first time in years, Soulive shines on the album's nine tracks, incorporating elements of soul, funk, and hip-hop. On a range of new material the group continues to push boundaries, never losing their trademark chicken-shack grittiness.
The new originals on Soulive hit home, from the loping funk of album opener â€œAlladinâ€? to the driving grooves of â€œFirst Streetâ€? and the explosive â€œElron.â€? On â€œShaheed,â€? the group's hip-hop instincts get a workout over clipped organ phrases, while the up-tempo â€œSolidâ€? mixes bluesy harmony over a staccato â€“ almost electronic â€“ rhythm section. The lone cover, â€œLennyâ€? represents a soulful take on the Stevie Ray Vaughan classic, and the album is rounded out with â€œTurn It Out,â€? the title track from their independent 2000 release. Following a year that saw the band headlining large clubs and theaters (and opening for the Rolling Stones and Dave Matthews, among others) the album's tracks were recorded live at several shows in November and December of 2002.
To Soulive, the organ trio is simply the most organic, most natural, most direct, most fun means of reaching a specifically righteous end: jazz/not jazz-freestyle satori. "When we first started out, the sound we had was definitely more a modern interpretation of the organ trios from the '60s and '70s", says Eric. "At this point, you'll find it's gone further and further away from that organ trio sound. We've really moved to incorporate more of the varied influences that we have."
Soulive's previous two Blue Note releases (Doin' Something, Next) were augmented by altoist Sam Kininger, trombone legend Fred Wesley, singers and rappers, and now, for the first time in years, it's Soulive straight, no chaser. Soulive captures a band at an artistic peak. "I think we've gained a lot", agrees Alan. "We had been playing differently 'cause we had been out with Sam and then on tour we had a whole horn section. I think everything got tighter and it just made the three of us gel even more." From the keyboard-squiggling-fatback-drumming-guitar-crunching grit on â€œAlladinâ€? to the sizzling 12:50 rendition of "Turn It Out", Soulive reveals three virtuoso players whose collective artistic vision, instrumental virtuosity and musical chemistry has matured and coalesced to a level that renders sidemen superfluous.
Each individual member has expanded his musical palate as well. "Alan reconfigured his drum set to where he uses the left toms and adds certain cymbals and percussion sounds," says Neal. "In Neal's case," offers Eric, "he added a bass keyboard and clavinet which really changed his sound a lot. Now he can go for a real edgy, rock sound on that clavinet. On my end, I have a lot more pedals and different guitars that I mess with so there's many different sounds we can go for."
Back in the mid-'90s, Buffalo, NYâ€™s Evans brothers led a popular funk/rock band called Moon Boot Lover. The group ended when Neal went to study with Jaki Byard at the Manhattan School of Music and Alan moved to Cali. Whilst working back-to-back tours with the Greyboy Allstars and Karl Denson's Tiny Universe ('98), Alan had a cool idea: Soulive; his own organ-drums-vibes trio. Though Soulive I didn't quite work out, a chance jam session with Eric in the brothers' Woodstock studio on March 2, 1999 not only created the Soulive we know, its best moments were selected for Get Down!, their Y2K debut on Brooklyn, NY-based indie label Velour.
When a jazzbo checks an old school organ trio, he's gonna hear nothing but the bluest, greasiest, mos' funky get-on-the-good-foot jazz. "But to stand there in the room and hear and to feel the bass and how it's gonna hit ya at our show, you're gonna know you're not hearing some jazz organ trio", Alan smiles. "Because you're gonna think you're seeing Led Zeppelin in the damn room!" "We're always just flipping stuff up in that way", agrees Neal. "To be impactful, explosive â€“ that's the challenge. To get up every night on and be open and ready for the challenge, make it happen."