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Soulive: South Burlington, VT, October 26, 2012

Doug Collette By

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Soulive
Higher Ground
South Burlington, VT
October 26, 2012

Opening its two-night run at Higher Ground on October 26, 2012, Soulive played one of the most memorable sets ever offered at either location of the venue. In fact, relying on some of the tried and true from its repertoire (such as "Turn It Out") and new material, it took the trio just a little over an hour to demonstrate how much it has progressed in those ten-plus years Soulive has been visiting Vermont.

Notwithstanding the Halloween masks the trio wore to mark the upcoming occasion, the band's stage dress may, in fact, have been a metaphor for its evolution. Once attired in matching suits and ties as they emulated the classic jazz ensembles of the 1950s, Soulive now sports similarly formal dress, but it's individualized to reflect its now well-established personalities as well as the collective persona of the band itself.

Guitarist Eric Krasno is much more prominent in the three-piece sound these days as he regularly introduces tunes and, more often than not, gets the first turn to solo. Keyboardist Neal Evans, however, doesn't retreat into the background by any means: as on "Uncle Junior," his bass keys resound more deeply than ever and, while his forté remains swells of organ alternating with the syncopation of the clavinet, the more abstract sounds he can generate, as during his extended interval on "Shaheed," is testament to his patience and attention to detail. A similar passage on "Steppin,'" near the end of the first set, proved that virtue to be no fluke.

For his part, drummer Alan Evans is more fluid than ever on his kit which is in keeping with they way Soulive has learned, over years of experimentation in the studio and on the stage, to luxuriate as deeply in melody as in rhythm. Introducing the title song from Spark! (Royal Family, 2012) as "a change of pace," the drummer then demonstrated how he's taught himself to maintain an insistent push for his bandmates as they together create sleek, tuneful variations on themes as they improvise, as on this homage to the late guitarist Melvin Sparks.

Such exercises in dynamics invariably resulted in an imperceptible elevation of energy and intensity. The progression was such that a dance floor that seemed to have filled in the blink of an eye, slowly but surely, began to undulate from front to back (and side to side) as the set evolved. While there was a readily discernible logic to the pacing of a set, the choice of material—as well as the way it was rendered—nevertheless contained its share of surprises: who would've expected an immediately recognizable rendition of The Beatles' "Get Back" to turn into a tough, bluesy shuffle?

Such fresh unpredictable thinking validates the way the members of Soulive now spend almost as much time involved in outside interests like Lettuce and The Alan Evans Trio, as what was once their core project. Still, as long as it creates music with the expanse and purpose displayed this unseasonably warm, near-full moon-lit night in the Green Mountains, Soulive will remain the nucleus of what has become known as "The Royal Family."

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