The pies are still cooking (they smell amazing, by the way) so I’m keeping on with the Jazz Boner theme this evening with an album I’ve been sitting on from Uncle Lance for a few months now, the ‘Spark!‘ album by Soulive featuring Karl Denson.
I usually devour everything Uncle Lance sends my way pronto but, for whatever reason, this one kind of slipped to the back of the “To get to…” pile and has the sat there ever since. Until now that is.
Released in 2012 on Royal Family Records, the album is actually an extended EP intended as a tribute to American soul jazz, hard bop and jazz blues guitarist Melvin Sparks. It features only four tracks that delve deep into the smoky vibe of 1970’s-era CTI Records by the likes of Freddie Hubbard, Grover Washington Jr. and George Benson; back in the days when a piece of vinyl only had two tracks per side. The grooves are dark and cosmic with space for the musicians to explore their deep jazz vocabularies as they revive material from the likes of Yusef Lateef, Freddie Hubbard and Art Farmer. So it is with Spark that Soulive (a funk/jazz trio that originated in Woodstock, New York featuring Alan Evans, Eric Krasno, and Neil Evans) and Karl Denson go head first into their jazz roots and emerge with their most exploratory recording yet, one that comfortably sits side by side with the classics they discovered before coming of age as soul jazz heroes for their own generation.
The first side opens with Yusef Lateef’s sultry ‘Nubian Lady‘, featuring Denson on flute. It was a mutual love for Lateef that brought the quartet together to begin with – Kraz having studied with the legend and Denson having idolized his records. The laid-back tempo lets the group simmer on the theme until Kraz decides to slice the whole thing open with some Middle Eastern fretwork, leaving Karl to pick up the pieces. ‘Povo‘ is a perfect evocation of the era, first recorded by Freddie Hubbard on CTI in 1972, featuring some of Kraz’s most sinewy lines and a caterwauling climax on tenor from Denson. When the two lay out, the Evans brothers remind the listener why an organ and a drum kit have always been plenty good for funky jazz. The band’s rendition of his 1972 tune ‘Soulsides‘ slips plenty of ideas into the deep pocket, putting Neal Evans out front on piano.
‘Spark‘, the only original song on the record, was written in homage to legendary soul-jazz guitarist Melvin Sparks, who passed away only days before Soulive entered the studio. Known for his fleet fingers and deft sense of the blues, Sparks made his name backing organists like McDuff and Dr. Lonnie Smith. Krasno grew up listening to Sparks play at a regular gig in New Canaan, CT, and credits the guitarist with inspiring many of his own sensibilities. When Denson asked Sparks to open for the Greyboy Allstars’ first East Coast tour in 1994, it revived his career.
It’s a quick, delightful listen which is perfect considering our turkey pot pies are almost finished. Well, that, and if Tina the Cat doesn’t get some solidarity on the Cuddle Front I’m sure she’s going to explode.