Boston' s Addison Groove Project turned their first visit to the new Higher Ground into a dance party for the new millennium this Thursday night. It was a testament to the infectious nature of their music as well as their direct connection to their young audience that when the dance floor filled up, it stayed that way through two lengthy sets.
That's no surprise however when you see the unabashed joy this quintet brings to their music, a fairly sophisticated mix of funk, R&B and jazz. It's not a left-handed compliment to compare the sound to that of vintage Average White Band or the earliest, Terry Kath-led Chicago when that band had real muscle (it almost sounded like AGP was going to launch into "I'm A Man' at a couple points): AGP have some very selective roots from which they're developing. And it didn't take Addison Groove too long to work up a full head of steam this brisk Vermont night: a dreamy opening called "Icarus"? gave way to the solid thwacks on Andrew Keith's snare drum (later to be replaced because of damage to it!) as the group slid into the sharp horn-driven vamp that is "Breathe."?
AGP excelled during February 3rd's first set because mixed it up and provided a vigorous flow to the music while allowing everyone in the band to strut their stuff. Certainly this is one unit whose whole is much greater than the sum of its parts: all five have their technical prowess, yet show the mature restraint not to fall prey to trying to dazzle the audience as they stretch out. Moving the music along and elevating its intensity is the motivation behind sax solos, keyboard turns'"either on electric piano, organ and old-school instruments like the clavinet'" or guitar interludes.
One of the latter was the definite highlight of the first set and would've been a welcome tonic for a second set during which AGP tended not so much to meander as get stuck grooving in place and not that deeply. But Brendan McGinn plays electric guitar with as much focus as abandon and with "Neo-Geo,"? he shook the group from its relative lethargy and restored its momentum almost singlehandedly. As with "The Reverend,"? it's clear he's as comfortable with rock as funk approaches and this is definitely an avenue for AGP to explore as they develop. This is a fine young band with potential to become truly great and it's already a tribute to their independence that they rely largely on original material, none of it lackluster, to fill their sets.
It was undeniable, though, that a couple of cover songs comprised highpoints of the evening. Set one ended with the a feverish take on Tower of Power's "What Is Hip,"? as AGP was joined by Ari Cohen on bass, Dave Diamond and Ben Yurco on guitar with Rick Davies on trombone Jen Hartswick on trumpet. The latter, a former member of Trey Anastasio's big band, led a fiery performance late in the second set where she belted out Heart's "Magic Man."?
AGP gave this classic rock nugget a fairly ingenious twist with the horn charts supplied by Dave Adams on alto sax and Ben Groppe on tenor, while a few healthy rounds between the three guitarists, solo and in tandem, reaffirmed what's best about Addison Groove Project: they love to play and hear each other play and, based on McGinn's enthusiastic praise of Higher Ground---'one of the best (expletive deleted) venues in the country"?---love playing this South Burlington club. The feeling was definitely mutual as closing time approached.
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