It Sho' Git Funky
Masters of Groove
Lilli's, Somerville, MA
It had the beginnings of a really bad night. Through a series of mishaps and circumstances that involved the torments of friendship and romance, I almost missed Masters of Groove play at Lilli's in Somerville, Mass. on March 30th. Disaster was everywhere. There was a cold early-spring New England wind/rain blowing, and I almost missed a great show. Luckily, the gods were with me and I managed to make the set (and early!).
Masters of Groove is an organ-based group with legend Reuben Wilson out front. People keep saying the same old shit time and time again about organ groups. We've heard it all before: chitlin's, barbecue, fried chicken, soul, funky, groove. These terms that revolve around this music form have become so hackneyed that they’ve essentially lost any meaning. The heyday of Jimmy Smith and Wes Montgomery is over (whether Jimmy himself knows it or not). Things are different now, and not just with respect to the music. Hip-hop and rock and roll have reared their heads and made way into mass American culture, in essence creating a new cross-pollinization among music forms. Turntables are now a force to be reckoned with, despite the reluctant complaining of the traditionalists. The people at these shows are different as wellyou'll be at a cool show and these lost hippies are standing around with masked faces in search of Jerry, dancing in their grand mal, tonic-fucking-clonic seizures. What is new about this music? The jury may still be out on this one.
The name of the group itself implies some skill acquired over the years. Wilson undoubtedly plays with amazing mastery, having made a name gettin’ down alongside such greats as Grant Green (and check out Love Bug on Blue Note, recorded in '69 with Lee Morgan and George Coleman). Wilson looked like Danny Glover at a nursing home, with his sweater and wide-brimmed hat. He seemed very content up there behind that wooden beast, the Hammond, with its liquid sound. And man, was he in the pocket. He is the pocket. His effortless playing up there was almost obscene to watch: without clichéd riffs or gimmicks, he played his ass off. When he soloed, the band seemed to slip into the groove, especially on "Freedom Jazz Dance." Wilson makes Jimmy Smith sound like an imitation of himself these days. His sound was pure and untouched by the years.
Of course, some things have changed. And that's not just the crowd, with its abundant share of dot-commers. These people come looking for the groove, and the groove of old may just be a lost art. Unfortunately, the newspaper advertisement announcing that Bernard Purdie would join the group was a lie. Merely saying the name Bernard Purdie brings shivers to the spine of any hard core music fan. Purdie is one of the most recorded artists of all time, with records alongside Miles, King Curtis, and possibly even the Beatles (rumor alert!!!). But he wasn't there. Despite the fact that he plays on the album, he was not with the band for the show. And unforunately, the drummer just couldn't get behind the beat: he spent too much time on top of it. With this type of music, the funky beat (and a great deal of the tension) is created by the drummer getting his ass behind the beat. Even though the guy played well, and did a solid solo, he still didn't pull it off. Neither good Tarus Mateen, the bassist. Mateen went nuts running arpeggios during one of his solos, but in the process he abandoned any sense of lyricism or funkiness. In this music, the bassist and drummer have to lock in; they have to make love to the same beat. If not, the rest of the music doesn't gel like it should. This is where hip-hop and rock have made their presence felt, and it's not necessarily for the best.
Leo Gandelman, known best for his work playing Brazilian music, handled the sax. Gandelman grew up playing classical flute, featured with the Brazilian Symphony Orchestra as a soloist at the age of 15. He went on to record with luminaries of Brazilian music. Unfortunately, his previous experience did not translate well into this new format. He's obviously been listening to his Maceo Parker recordings, perhaps a bit too much. He played gimmicky old honks and riffs made popular by the KC jump blues scene in the forties and fifties. Gandelman's recordings betray much more potential than he realized during the show. It would have been much more interesting, for example, to hear him integrate Brazilian music into this very American music form.