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Soul - Released January 1, 2002 | Velour Records

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Jimmy Smith, Jimmy McGriff, Johnny Hammond, and John Patton have all been at the core of some of the legendary organ groups in the history of jazz, and it's time for the history books to make room for another group of truly talented musicians focused around that wonderful, warm, and expressive instrument. Soulive is considered an organ trio with Neal Evans playing the Hammond B-3 (usually through, the miraculous and luscious Leslie Speaker Cabinet), his brother Alan Evans on the drums, and compatriot Eric Krasno on the electric guitar. Get Down is Soulive's introductory EP effort and was recorded in March of 1999 at the Soulive Studios in New York City. The group happens to be based out of Vermont, but they've traveled and played so extensively around the country that they hesitate to identify themselves with any one particular geographic location. There's lots to say about Soulive, a lot of which is evident upon hearing the five selections featured on Get Down Not content with simply invoking musical themes similar to those created in part by the originators mentioned above, Soulive can take you back to the heyday of jazz when it was all about "the sound, man, dig the sound." These cats can really play, and they've achieved a balance amongst themselves that makes it a stretch to call this an organ trio -- they're just a hot trio. And while it is easy to say that they produce a sound similar to that of a Jimmy Smith or a John Patton, these three feature a modern sound rooted in hip-hop that none of the aforementioned legends could logistically claim. With the combination of their musical talent and their unique and modern style, this is a strong album that whets your appetite for more Soulive. © Qa'id Jacobs /TiVo

Funk - Released January 1, 2001 | Velour Records

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While the fervor of the acid jazz craze has long since chilled, a few bands pursue the funky jazz muse that powered it. New York City-based Topaz is one of those who continue to delve into the genre's intricacies, with passion and nimble chops. On their third album, The Zone, tenor sax player Topaz and his bandmates turn their sights toward the more soulful areas of the genre, mixing funky grooves with smooth arrangements. The Zone reaches such heights of cool that you almost believe you're sitting in a red velvet-draped lounge, highball in hand, cooing sweet nothings into the ear of your prospective mate. Though the band is named after Topaz, he generally lets his bandmates steer the music. Ethan White's electric piano drives a percussive melody on "Minha Mente" and provides a solid lead in almost all the songs; Mark "Tewar" Tewarson's guitar noodles front "Walkabout," which has a darker vibe than most of the album's upbeat tunes. Trombone player Squantch really impresses with his range of hot and cool emotion on "I Can See It in You," laying down some nasty blues tones. But the highest praise for the band is that the deft layering of each instrument in the arrangements makes it difficult to determine who is leading on any song. Each voice sounds integral to the whole groove machine. The lone jarring note on the record comes from the vocals: Topaz opts for highly repetitive lyrics that are often chanted more than sung. While you get used to them after a while, they get in the way a bit too much. Topaz has plenty of beautiful instrumental voices here; they didn't need to add another. © Michael Gowan /TiVo

Jazz - Released January 1, 2000 | Velour Records

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Topaz is a contemporary jazz tenor saxophonist who in some circles is an unknown and in others a legend. In a sense playing retro music that harks back to the late-'60s and early-'70s seminal jazz-rock fusion era, Topaz is more readily associated with the modern jam bands à la Medeski, Martin & Wood. Both aspects are prevalent in his music, played with a large ensemble fronted by a horn section and spurred on by electric keyboards and a middle core funk beat. Clearly one who has heard his share of Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, and Hank Mobley, Topaz himself has a refined approach, not overblown or histrionics-driven, but chooses to play a role in his band that lends to the overall sound that is unified and complete in many ways. Though the signposts of the Miles Davis Bitches Brew, Mwandishi, and Jazz Crusaders bands are quite evident, Topaz is playing the music with his own overview of that bygone but still vital era. Donald Byrd's "The Emperor" kicks things off with wah-wah guitar by Tewar, a breezy horn chart, and Fender Rhodes piano courtesy of Ethan White. A "free your mind" vocal chorus informs you that "Let It Go" has roots in the funky psychedelic music of the '70s, surrounding a Brecker Brothers or Jazz Crusaders trombone-led horn chart. The long title track really shows where Topaz is coming from, with spooky organ, light funk, and developed horn lines borrowed straight from the Miles Davis classic "Shhh...Peaceful." "Peyote Eyes" is parallel to what the Cinematic Orchestra does, with soulful organ from Oliver Von Essen, a pop vocal line sung by Rozz Nash, languid refrains from strings, and a lap steel guitar. There's rock & roll meeting the sitar on "Rez," and the 12-minute "Dharma" is a terrific piece of music, with a lengthy free intro, long tones and spacy incursions, and a fast and really beautiful middle section with breakbeats. It seems Topaz has also listened to his share of Julian Priester's ECM LP Love, Love, employing trombonist Squantch (yes, that's his stage name) and trumpeter Takuya Nakamura to lead the band with him in a formidable triad full of restrained power, grace, and witty repartee. If you are not hip to Topaz, it's time to get up to speed, for this CD is a portent of great things to come as he affixes his brand of jazz to the youth-oriented marketplace. © Michael G. Nastos /TiVo