Somnambule - Writing About Music

Groove Collective ~ New York, NY 20.12.2002

A drum roll… a voice works the crowd up while the players tune their instruments… there’s the sound of the crowd talking in the background… in other words the ambience of a real live, sweaty club - a gig happening in real time before your ears. This is a double cd live recording of Groove Collective joined by guests Josh Werner, Eddie Bobe and Toni Blackman who together supply bass, percussion and vocals to the core quartet.
“ The Messenger” kicks off with distant piano and a groove cutting a deep furrow through the crowd. Jay Rodriguez plays an inventive, funky, at times soaring solo - the sound isn’t airbrushed or smoothed out – it’s like you can almost see the fingerprints, sweat and spit on his sax. His solo is succeeded by what sounds like a middle-eastern wind instrument which creates an interestingly different souk-like atmosphere. The groove is ragged and tight at the same time.

“The Natural Kid” begins with a quotation from Nature Boy before hitting its stride and seguing seamlessly into the 11 minute “Time For The Groove Suite” which marks the first appearance of Toni Blackman’s rhythmic, good natured rapping. She builds the crowd up using the music as the focus of her lyrics. Rodriguez again adds a different emphasis, this time on flute: as it interacts with the percussion he makes the Collective sound temporarily like an African precursor to the blues. Next “Rhumba Abierta” connects the rhythmic dots to Cuba for some fine flexible, percussion-led sashaying.

“Frequency Search” spotlights Barney McCall’s wacky keyboards which become increasingly cartoon-like as his solo progresses – I don’t know whether The Clangers (a UK children’s series) ever made it over to the States, but he convincingly imitates them getting all worked up… As the track fades down at the end of disc one, you might feel like taking a well-earned breather, but disc two fades up with the music still going for a 25 minute rendition of “Big Beautiful You (Epic)”.

Toni Blackman returns for vocal duties, singing on “Count to Two” and rapping again on “Oops You Got Caught”. The latter is a more pensive, moody affair which returns to middle-eastern territory via its sax, guitar and bass solos. The recording finishes with “Navigator”, a driving, fast paced track which allows Rodriguez to stretch out on sax.

This is positive, upbeat music to shake your booty to, but it also manoeuvres through a number of different styles, possibilities and shades and successfully stirs Arabic, African- and South American idioms into a tasty brew. Rodriguez is a particularly attractive, inventive soloist on flute and saxes. The sound is not that great, the source might be a high quality microphone placed near the stage rather than a soundboard recording, some instruments (the percussion for instance) sound like they’re physically closer to the mic. As a result there’s a slightly unfinished feeling to the recording which is compounded by the rapid fadeout of the mc midway through a sentence at the end.

What you get ultimately, however, is a sonic snapshot of the group and for fans of infectious, involving, rhythmic jazz, the sound could be viewed as an advantage underlining the gritty, real feeling of a night out clubbing with Groove Collective.
Colin Buttimer
August 2003
Published by All About Jazz