Soulive's new-school jazz knows its history
The Hammond B-3 organ is both a relic and time machine. It's a physical artifact left behind by the early gospel, bugaloo and soul-jazz civilizations. But it's also a vehicle for firsthand exploration of those musical cultures. The B-3's bulky wooden presence on stage is unmistakable; like the flat silver finish of a Technics 1200-SL turntable, or the hot orange glow of Marshall vacuum tubes, the moldy brown varnish of the Hammond is a visual testament to the enduring alchemy of analog technology.
Try as we might to dice this beast into bits of digitally sampled information, the B-3 resists synthesis, its relevance to contemporary music as weighty as its sturdy lumber frame. And if the look of the instrument recalls the past, the chunky, clean notes of the B-3 are an aural time warp.
So it's no wonder that the upfront B-3 arrangements of new-school jazz trio Soulive, one of the headliners at this weekend's Harvestfest, have prompted comparisons to the legendary Jimmy Smith, Jack McDuff and Groove Holmes organ ensembles of the late '50s and '60s. More than their matching jazz journeyman suits, or even their affinity for the word "cat," Soulive's strong B-3 voice tends to peg its three players as organ jazz revivalists — a designation with which they don't particularly identify.
"The only thing that ties us to those old-school cats in the end is just the instrumentation," says drummer Alan Evans. "There's so many differences. One is that it's 2002, and we grew up listening to so much different music than the cats like Jimmy Smith and Groove Holmes did in the day. Right there, just growing up in different worlds really makes all the difference."
Indeed, Soulive's jazz machine has something more urgent and contemporary rumbling under its hood. Like the belt-driven, rotating horns of the B-3's Leslie speaker cabinet, Soulive takes the clean signal of the past and alters it with the experiences of the present.
"We can obviously try to play some straight-ahead jazz-organ-trio thing," says Evans. "But there's so many other things that go into music other than music. Your environment, everything that's going on around you, makes the music what it is. So for me growing up, a lot of what really influenced me was the world of the late '70s and '80s, and even early '90s. It's just totally different than Jimmy Smith growing up in the '20s or '30s."
While the funky lockstep of Alan's brother, Soulive organist Neal Evans, and guitarist Eric Krasno often recalls the acidic Reuben Wilson/Grant Green battery of 1969, Alan's punchy, relentless snare owes more to Grandmaster Flash circa 1982. But as a collective, the trio is quintessentially 2002, building unique sounds by patching together old content in new ways. Which, of course, is what innovative musicians have always done.
"It's funny. We get a lot of comparisons to the old-school cats, but we've actually had some of them check us out. And, boy, they'll tell you the differences real quick," says Alan. "And they would know better than any of us young people what the difference is. It's cool to carry on the jazz tradition in some ways, but also do your own thing — which I guess in itself is carrying on the tradition."
Soulive plays 8:30 p.m. Fri., Sept. 27, on the Harvestfest main stage.??